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Thread: November '11 / Ancient Greek Reading: The Theban Plays by Sophocles

  1. #16
    In the fog Charles Darnay's Avatar
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    On the topic of Sophocles, sort of, has anyone read either Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus or Phoenician Women by Euripides (both telling the same story). They are plays about the fight between Oedipus' sons, alluded to but not a huge part of Oedipus at Colonus.
    I wrote a poem on a leaf and it blew away...

  2. #17
    The Poetic Warrior Dark Muse's Avatar
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    One of the things which I have noticed in reading these plays is the several occurrences of suicide which take place which left me a bit intrigued on the significance of it and what it is intended to convey. The Greeks heavily believed in the ever presence the strong influence of fate, and people being more or less pawns for the gods having little real free will or choice in what becomes of their lives. Which made me wonder where does suicide fit into that?

    Is one choosing to take ones life a form of them establishing control and breaking free, do they essentially escape their fate by ending their own life on their own terms. Or is it that their death's were already ultimately pre-determined and they were driven to kill themselves by the events in which were fated to them.

    I also found it a bit ironic that in a story which revolves around the idea of the self-fulfilling prophecy we have all these characters taking their own lives.

    I was also intrigued as to just what was the Ancient Greek's thought about suicide and so I looked it up to see what I could find and from what I could gather, the general view was that while suicide was essentially wrong, and though there were varying different views on way, it seemed that it was generally believed that our lives belong to the gods and so to take ones own life was committing a crime against the gods, in some cases it was also seen as a way of one freeing themselves and thus escaping the punishment which the gods had chosen for them.

    But there also seemed to be a general consensus that there were varying circumstances which could make the exception and which suicide would be considered acceptable.

    Some of the different reasons in which it was considered acceptable to commit suicide include:

    The gods send some signal in which they themselves compel you to take your own life
    When one's mind is morally corrupted and one's character can therefore not be salvaged
    When the self-killing is compelled by extreme and unavoidable personal misfortune
    When the self-killing results from shame at having participated in grossly unjust actions.

    So it seems that the actions of the cheaters within the play in choosing to commit suicide by the audience of the day it would have been considered "justifiable" as I think their circumstances and reasons fit into the above exceptions made. And would have by the Ancient Greek audience been seen as a favorable action to take in considering their situation.

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. ~ Edgar Allan Poe

  3. #18
    In the fog Charles Darnay's Avatar
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    It is a really interesting thought - it happens a fair bit in Greek tragedies (mainly Sophocles) - but there is no clear philosophic thought from the time on suicide.

    As far as these plays are concerned - I agree with your idea that suicide is a way of controlling your own destiny - the only way of controlling your own destiny.

    On the other hand - from a purely theatrical perspective - suicide in these plays are meant to influence the characters around (and by extension the audience) the person committing suicide.
    I wrote a poem on a leaf and it blew away...

  4. #19
    The Poetic Warrior Dark Muse's Avatar
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    There are a couple of things which struck out at me that I am curious about. The first is that it seemed that the gods were set out to see that all whom were involved in or the results of the sin of Oedipus were destroyed, as if the slate had to be wiped clean and all evidence of what happened removed.

    Oedipus himself eventually died, his wife/mother killed herself, his two sons were slaughtered and his daughter Antigone took her own life after having been condemned to die.

    Yet his other daughter Ismene is the lone survivor, and though we do not really know what becomes of her, she is not essentially killed off as the others but her life is spared, and I was curious as to why this might be.

    Also I thought it was interesting that it seemed that entire Kingdom of Thebes was cursed, three kings and thier families were destroyed on account of the prophecy against Oedipus. I wondered, did they all have to suffer the punishment of what Oedipus did becaue of thier relation to him however indirect. Or were they being punished becasue of thier attempts to defy the fate which the gods had laid out for them?

    Laius attempted to defy the gods by sending Oedipus away and leaving him to die hoping he could thus avoid the prophecy agasint him, but of course this served only to ensure that the prophecy would indeed befall.

    And than Creon went agasint the wishes of the gods when he refused to allow for the body of the son of Oedipus to be buried and punished Antigone for doing her duty in choosing the law of gods over the law of men to see to her brother's burial.

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. ~ Edgar Allan Poe

  5. #20
    In the fog Charles Darnay's Avatar
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    The curse of Thebes extends as far back as Cadmus - when he killed the dragon sacred to Ares. Since then, pretty much every generation has had its misfortunes, including Oedipus, his sons, and Antigone.

    Sophocles uses Ismene to counter Antigone. She is the dutiful one who does not go against Creon and thus does not suffer the fate of Antigone. However, in Aeschylus' version, Ismene sings the funeral songs for both her brothers, just like Antigone - we do not have the final play in that cycle but it suggests that Aeschylus at least believed that she would have shared Antigone's fate.

    There is also some mention elsewhere, I don't remember, of Ismene being killed by Tydius - one of Eteocles' soldiers.
    I wrote a poem on a leaf and it blew away...

  6. #21
    The Poetic Warrior Dark Muse's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Charles Darnay View Post
    The curse of Thebes extends as far back as Cadmus - when he killed the dragon sacred to Ares. Since then, pretty much every generation has had its misfortunes, including Oedipus, his sons, and Antigone..
    That is interesting about Cadmus, I had wondered if something of that affect had happened to cause the initial curse upon Laius and all which followed. As it reminded me a bit of Agamemnon in which his all kingdom was cursed because of events which happened prior to him. I can appreciate the way the gods really know how to hold a grudge.

    Quote Originally Posted by Charles Darnay View Post
    Sophocles uses Ismene to counter Antigone. She is the dutiful one who does not go against Creon and thus does not suffer the fate of Antigone. However, in Aeschylus' version, Ismene sings the funeral songs for both her brothers, just like Antigone - we do not have the final play in that cycle but it suggests that Aeschylus at least believed that she would have shared Antigone's fate.

    There is also some mention elsewhere, I don't remember, of Ismene being killed by Tydius - one of Eteocles' soldiers.
    I thought perhaps the reason she was spared was related to something like that, because she did refuse to aid in the burial of her brother and remained more dutiful to Creon, and she stayed behind in Thebes' when Antigone choose instead to follow her father into exile. So I thought maybe it was because in a way she did forsake her family, but it is interesting that in other versions she was given the same fate as the rest of her family.

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. ~ Edgar Allan Poe

  7. #22
    The Poetic Warrior Dark Muse's Avatar
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    In a world in which it seems everything is predetermined by fate and there is nothing one can do to escape their fate, I wonder just what is the role and purpose of prophecy?

    What does it serve for events to be foretold is nothing can be done to alter the course and in which the very actions they take to attempt to evade fate may turn about to be the thing that insures it happens?

    Is the role of the prophet primarily a story telling device? Or is the very act of prophecy another way in which the gods manipulate people to do that which the gods demand of them?

    Is it a sort of vicious cycle in which the gods knew full well that by the telling of the prophecy of Oedipus, Laius would act just as he did, thus playing directly into the hands of fate.

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. ~ Edgar Allan Poe

  8. #23
    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
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    It should be pointed out that fate is not determined by the gods by the time Sophocles is writing, the Greek conception is difficult. They seemed to have thought of fate as a sort of force of the universe that even the gods were bound by.

    How fate works in Oedipus is interesting, the fact that the attempt to avoid fate seems to lead to its fulfilment sort of reinforces that sense of inevitability. We should remember that Tiresias didn't want to tell Oedipus the truth about who murdered the previous king, but that Oedipus' probing forces him to. I think, as a literary figure, he stands in as a representative of special knowledge, of the truth. He has experienced being both man and woman, so he knows the total experience of being human, but he also has access to prophecy and direct communication with the gods. Tiresias is like the audience, he knows where it's all going to end.

    What is more important in reading these plays is the visceral reaction to the events, rather than attempting to rationalize the logic of the Greek cosmology. If we accept that Oedipus' fall is something that just must have happened, then we can concentrate on his human qualities: how he experiences that fall and how he gets there. After all, the plot isn't really important, because everyone walking in to see that original production of the play would have known the myth already.
    "If the national mental illness of the United States is megalomania, that of Canada is paranoid schizophrenia."
    - Margaret Atwood

  9. #24
    In the fog Charles Darnay's Avatar
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    I'm not sure if that discounts the importance of the plot. Romeo and Juliet's ending is revealed at the start but we don't discount its plot. The agons I'm sure would have been as interesting then as they are now, and each playwright puts his own spin on the established myth. But I do agree with you in the importance of not over-rationalizing the why - the point of the the tragedy is to be taken in to it in order to achieve some form of catharsis.
    I wrote a poem on a leaf and it blew away...

  10. #25
    Registered User CarpeNixta's Avatar
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    The first time I read Sophocles I was in highschool, I loved reading this again... tough I couldn't stop singing the song of Oedipus at the middle of the book, (I'm still singing it now while writting)

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