Ancient May-hem: Sophocles’ Theban Plays and Wrap-up

Alas, I was unable to get through as many Classics as I would’ve liked in May, and only managed to finish one more book after the Aristotle. But hey, just because the month is over doesn’t mean the Ancient Awesomeness has to stop!

31. Sophocles – The Theban Plays (trans. E. F. Watling, Penguin) (23 May)

31 - Theban Plays

Blurb: The legends surrounding the royal house of Thebes inspired Sophocles (496-496 BC) to create a powerful trilogy about mankind’s struggle against fate. King Oedipus tells of a man who brings pestilence to Thebes for crimes he does not realise he has committed and who then inflicts a brutal punishment upon himself. With profound insights into the human condition, it is a devastating portrayal of a ruler brought down by his own oath. Oedipus at Colonus provides a fitting conclusion to the life of the aged and blinded king, while Antigone depicts the fall of the next generation, through the conflict between a young woman ruled by her conscience and a king too confident of his own authority.

Overall: Most of us probably know a little bit about Oedipus, the dude who (unwittingly) killed his dad and slept with his mum, and who inspired Herr Sigmund Freud to devise the psychoanalytic theory of the Oedipus complex. What’s become lost in popular culture representations (and re-representations) of Sophocles’ play is the sense of destiny and doom that affects mankind—when a prophecy is made, there’s absolutely no way to escape it.

What I really enjoyed about the trilogy was the sheer force of Oedipus’ personality, which also shines through Antigone. When Oedipus is certain about something, he makes his decisions and carries them out. This is particularly true in King Oedipus, where he declares that the person responsible for the curse on the land shall be banished from Thebes—when it turns out that he’s the perpetrator, despite it being due to cruel circumstances of fate, he not only blinds himself, but also carries out his self-exile. I find that level of resoluteness admirable and ennobling.

Reading as a Shakespearean: It always fascinates me (and is kinda my job) to see how much Shakespeare (and basically the entire Western literary tradition) has been influenced by the Ancients, so I thought I’d make some quick comments here.The relationship between Oedipus and Antigone, and specifically Antigone’s loyalty to her father/brother, reminded me a lot of Cordelia in King Lear. The inescapability of fate/prophecy also brings to mind Macbeth—there’s no way out, pal!


As for the overall challenge, I’m really glad I devoted my May reading to some of the Classics. Aristotle’s Ethics alone would’ve been worth it!

What’s next on the review list: Gabrielle Zevin’s The Collected Works of A. J. Fikry (for book club), an Amanda Hocking YA novel, and Aeschylus’ The Oresteia trilogy when I’ve finished it. Fun times ahead, and my to-read pile keeps growing!

 

One thought on “Ancient May-hem: Sophocles’ Theban Plays and Wrap-up

  1. I really like the Theban plays, and I look forward to the day I get to read them in full. I got to read/study parts of them when I did a Greek Mythology summer course, and really loved the character of Antigone.

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