To the first-time reader of Sophocles’ tragedy, Oedipus Rex, it seems that the gods are in complete domination of mankind. This essay will seek to show that this is not the case because the presence of a tragic flaw within the protagonist is shown to be the cause of his downfall.
In the opening scene of the tragedy the priest of Zeus itemizes for the king what the gods have done to the inhabitants of Thebes:
A blight is on our harvest in the ear,
A blight upon the grazing flocks and herds,
A blight on wives in travail; and withal
Armed with his blazing torch the God of Plague
Hath swooped upon our city emptying
The house of Cadmus, and the murky realm
Of Pluto is full fed with groans and tears.
The power of the gods seems quite awesome in their ability to inflict great injuries such as these on the population. King Oedipus, seeing Creon returning from the oracle at Delphi, addresses a brief prayer to King Apollo as the ultimate source of assistance in time of trial: “O King Apollo! may his joyous looks /Be presage of the joyous news he brings!” Creon brings to Thebes the message of the gods from the oracle: “Let me report then all the god declared. /King Phoebus bids us straitly extirpate /A fell pollution that infests the land, /And no more harbor an inveterate sore.”
The gods know that Oedipus is a “pollution,” a “sore,” which must be gotten rid of, expelled from Thebes. Charles Segal in Oedipus Tyrannus: Tragic Heroism and the Limits of Knowledge supports this view:
In his growing strength Oedipus begins to act as the ritual scapegoat, the pharmakos, the figure who is ritually laden with all…
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…s Rex, edited by Michael J. O’Brien. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968.
Segal, Charles. Oedipus Tyrannus: Tragic Heroism and the Limits of Knowledge. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1993.
“Sophocles” In Literature of the Western World, edited by Brian Wilkie and James Hurt. NewYork: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1984.
Sophocles. Oedipus Rex. Transl. by F. Storr. no pag.
Characterization of Antigone in Sophocles’ Antigone
Sophocles’ tragic drama, Antigone, presents to the reader a full range of characters: static and dynamic, flat and round; they are portrayed mostly through the showing technique.
In “Sophocles’ Praise of Man and the Conflicts of the Antigone,” Charles Paul Segal takes the stand that there are two protagonists in the drama (which conflicts with this reader’s interpretation):
This is not to say that there are not conceptual issues involved in the characters of Creon and Antigone. But the issues are too complex to be satisfactorily reduced to a single antithetical formulation. We must avoid seeing the protagonists as one-dimensional representatives of simple oppositions: right and wrong, reason and emotion, state and individual, or the like (62).
Werner Jaeger in “Sophocles’ Mastery of Character Development” pays the dramatist the very highest compliment with regard to character development:
The ineffaceable impression which Sophocles makes on us today and his imperishable position in the literature of the world are both due to his character-drawing. If we ask which of the men and women of Greek tragedy have an independent life in the imagination apart from the stage and from the actual plot in which they appear, we must answer, ‘those created by Sophocles, above all others’ (36).
The dialogue, action and motivation revolve about the characters in the story (Abrams 32-33). Surely it can be said of Sophocles’ main characters that they grow beyond the two dimensional aspect into really rounded physical presences. This is done through mostly the showing technique, though the chorus at times is involved in the telling technique, telling the audience various pieces of information. The drama begins with Antigon…
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…ment of his edict; he changes after Teiresias’ visit and warning. Ismene and Haemon become dynamic later in the tragedy. Rarely does the dramatist use the chorus to convey information; most of this comes from exchanges of dialogue, which would be the showing technique.
Abrams, M. H. A Glossary of Literary Terms, 7th ed. New York: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1999.
Antigone by Sophocles. Translated by R. C. Jebb. no pag.
Heidegger, Martin. “The Ode on Man in Sophocles’ Antigone.” In Sophocles: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Thomas Woodard. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1966.
Jaeger, Werner. “Sophocles’ Mastery of Character Development.” In Readings on Sophocles, edited by Don Nardo. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1997.