Tragic Vision

Nietzsche presents his theory of Greek Tragedy in The Birth of Tragedy. Under the yoke of marriage the god Apollo and Dionysus are bound together to create the artistic moment, the expression of potential civility and truth through encounters with wildness. Through the power of Apollo, the playwright articulates specific ideas--mental discipline, lucid expression, tangible form and structure. Within the poetic line, for instance, Iambic Pentameter is the voice of Apollo. Apollo encourages limitations to human freedom, what some scholars have called "ethics." I suggest that this is quite similar to Freud's "superego" and Plato's declaration of "reason" over appetite.

Dionysus represents human passion and emotional power, the intangible and intoxicating margins of human experience--the journey into the wilderness. The Dionysian drive toward self-exploration through freedom explores the urges that violate the taboos of civilized life.

Tragic vision is about social consciousness, self-knowledge, and empire building. Heroes open themselves up to a full-range of irrational (and terrifying) potentials. The journey is inward into the abyss; the experience breaks barriers yet the heroic outcome is transcendent--the hero glimpses his or her connection to the unknown or the incomprehensible and then uses this new knowledge to build a better society.

Setting: Cosmos is a riddle, presented only in indirect ways: dreams, parables, God as a whirlwind in The Book of Job. Justice is not always rational; the doctrine of retribution does not always apply. Therefore justice is not always fair and the punishment doesn't always fit the crime. Even the gods face uncertainty. Thus the source of change is unaccountable, except through heroic action, for usually the hero will accept full responsibility for his fate even though the gods are said to be at fault. In some cases, heroes reject the role of victim and define themselves as free agents, wrenching their fate out of the hand of god(s).

The extraordinary qualities of the heroes are often what causes their predicaments: a blessing can become a curse and a curse may become a blessing--the Story of Joseph in Genesis.

Zeus, the helmsman, lays it down as law--we suffer into truth. As representatives, heroes are trapped between conflicting demands. Their suffering moves outward, affecting others, but their role is to take on the communal suffering, much like a scapegoat. In Oedipus the King, the city of Thebes is ravaged by plague. A delegation of citizens comes to urge Oedipus, King of Thebes, to find a remedy. Years ago he rescued the city from the Sphinx and Oedipus was made ruler. He married the recent widowed Queen Jocasta. Her former husband, Laius, had been killed on the way to Delphi in a quarrel over precedence at the junction of narrow roads; his killer was the young Oedipus, who fails to see that the man he killed in the fight was the King of Thebes. Nor does he realize that Laius was his father and Jocasta his mother. The play presents his discovery of this dreadful truth. He becomes the prototype of the Freudian detective.

1. Does Sophocles intend for us to think of Oedipus as a good man? Why is this important?