AUB Common
CVSP 201/205
Athens / The Golden Age of Pericles
The Clouds
Athens / Democracy
The Acropolis
The Parthenon / Temple to Athene
The Marketplace / festivals in
honor of Dionysus (frenzy…)
Statue of Dionysus
outside the
A typical theater
and Masks
The Chorus immortalized
in Greek artifacts
The Homeric Cosmos
“Homer and Hesiod created the genealogy of
the gods by providing the gods with epithets
assigning them their functions and honors
and clarifying their shapes.”
(Herodotus II:53)
The Shared Cosmos/The Moirai
“No, no, great though he (Zeus) is, this that he
has said is too much, if he will force me
against my will, me, who am his equal in rank.
Since we are three brothers born by Rheia and
Kronos, Zeus and I (Poseidon), and the third is
Hades, lord of the dead men. ALL was divided
among us three ways, each given his
The Shared Cosmos/The Moirai
… I (Poseidon), when the LOTS were shaken
drew the grey sea to live in forever; Hades
drew the lot of the mists and darkness, and
Zeus was allotted the wide sky, in the cloud
and the bright air, but earth and high Olympus
are common to all three. Therefore I am no
part of the mind of Zeus. Let him in tranquility
and powerful as he is, stay satisfied with his
third SHARE.”
(Iliad, Book XV, lines: 184-195)
Impersonal-not made for human happiness
• “You are my great example, you, your life, your
destiny, Oedipus, man of misery---I count no man
• “People of Thebes, my countrymen, look on Oedipus,
he solved the famous riddle with his brilliance, he rose
to power, a man beyond all power. Who could behold
his greatness without envy? Now what a black sea of
terror has overwhelmed him. Now as we keep our
watch and wait the final day, count no man happy till
he dies, free of pain at last.” (1678-84)
ambiguity / aletheia
Zeus and Apollo know, they know, the great
masters of all the dark and depth of human
life. But whether a mere man can know the
truth, whether a seer can fathom more than
I-there is no test, no certain proof… (561-5)
Justice/the Cosmic Order of Things
What happens to Oedipus is the mechanism of
‘justice.’ He has broken a cosmic law and he
receives inevitable retribution (nemesis),
regardless of whether he knew what he was doing
or not.
• Apollo fails to inform him of his true parents, so
unknowingly he kills his father in self-defense, and
weds his mother in good faith.
the gods
• Zeus! Great welcome voice of Zeus, what do you bring? (...)
Racked with terror---terror shakes my heart and I cry your
wild cries, Apollo, Healer of Delos I worship you in
dread…what now, what is your price? some new sacrifice?
Some ancient rite from the past come round again each
spring?---what will you bring to birth?
• And so, unknown to mother and father I set out for Delphi,
and the god Apollo spurned me, sent me away, denied the
facts I came for, but first he flashed before my eyes a future
great with pain, terror, disaster---I can hear him cry,
“ You are fated to couple with your mother, you will bring a
breed of children into the light no man can bear to see---you
will kill your father…”
• Not just a sociological or geographic term but
for the Athenians had come to express the
ideal for humanity---the necessary condition
for authentic human life.
• As seen in Herodotus and specifically noted in
the play The Persians, Athens was the
community of citizens and not primarily the
Apollo / Temple at Delphi
The Oracle at Delphi
Newsflash / ‫ملحق‬
The Sun will rise in the East tomorrow.
Oedipus will kill his father and marry his mother!
Socrates is the wisest man in Athens.
CVSP is the most enjoyable and beneficial
Program in the Cosmos!
For the latest revelations, log on to
Know thyself/Balance is best
• Not subjective inner feelings but objective,
active, dedicated quest for true identity
within the Cosmos : limitations as well as
• A call to excellence in all areas of human life:
the best way (balance)
The Story
• Childhood days in Corinth
• Off to Thebes (running away from home)
• Showdown at crossroads where three ways
• Rendezvous with Ms. Sphinx …
S: What walks on
four feet at dawn,
two at noon, and
three at dusk,
handsome ?
O: (what do you
think he said?)
S: Grrrrr…
Coises, foiled
Oedipus and the Sphinx (by Gustave
The story continues…
• Oedipus has saved Thebes from the curse of the
• Triumphant entry into Thebes /elected Tyrannus/
awarded widow of recently assassinated king
• Now follows an ideal reign as leader and protector
of the POLIS
• Trouble on the horizon!! Plague (swine flu?)
• Oedipus up to the challenge, sends Creon to Delphi
to find out what’s up (could not log on to!), and sends for the
prophet Teiresias…
Newsflash / ‫ملحق‬
(Apollo again)
• King Laius was assassinated and has not been
avenged !!!!!
• Cosmic / social / private chaos
• inevitable (nemesis) until the culprit is
brought to justice!...
The story continues…
• Oedipus reprimands Creon and the ancien regime, accuses them of
criminal neglect, vows to execute justice, proclaims a radical curse
on the guilty party, even if it is a member of his own entourage
• Teiresias arrives… they have a fruitful diplomatic exchange (they
• Oedipus concludes that Creon and Teiresias are part of a plot to
depose him
• The plot thickens… the murderer is exposed…
• Order is restored at the cosmic / societal/ and private levels
Thebes is saved again!
Three common interpretations…
• Oedipus is wicked (anger/pride)?
A morality play?...
• Oedipus is foolish? Should have listened?...
• Oedipus is a passive victim of “Fate”? ...
know thyself/balance is best
(the pursuit of excellence)
• Is Oedipus the embodiment of these
know thyself : Is Oedipus a
dedicated seeker of truth?
• Nothing stops him: Teiresias’ threats, Jocasta’s
story which appears to incriminate him, her
appeal to stop the search, the Corinthian
shepherd who further points the investigation in
Oedipus’ direction, the Theban shepherd who
begs him not to insist on knowing the truth, the
Chorus which expresses the wish that he had not
found the truth …
• Contests / Contrast : a “somebody” over and
against the others, (including Creon who did not
seek the murderer): “nobodies”…
The POLIS is saved by his
insistence on seeking to
know !!!
balance is best : does Oedipus attempt to fulfill
his role as ruler of the polis
in the best possible way?
 He identifies himself fully with the people…
“Your pain strikes each of you alone, each in the confines of himself,
no other. My spirit grieves for the city, myself and all of you.” (74-6)
”I grieve for these, my people, far more than I fear for my own life.”
 He pursues the remedy in the most thorough way, anticipating,
consulting, interrogating, gathering all possible evidence…
 He exhibits genuine political humility in yielding to the Chorus
despite his firm belief that this will cost him dearly…
“Know full well, if that is what you want, you want me dead or
banished from the land .“ (734-5) ; “Then let him go, even if it does
lead to my ruin, my death or my disgrace…” (742-3)
responsibility: guilty or innocent?
• He has breached the Cosmic Order and as such
he is guilty, by his own admission…
• The text gives ample attention to the other player
(accomplice) in the case: the radical ambiguity of
the world in which he operates…
• Blindness (inevitable) not wickedness nor
cowardice is his human condition…
• His guilt does not deny him his heroic stature...
Lamentation not Incrimination
• The Chorus at the climax and throughout the rest
of the play (lines 1311 -1680) never simply
incriminate Oedipus, but rather lament his horrible
fate (LOT)…
• Theatrically, the last segment of the play from
Oedipus’ entrance blind and on, is presented as
high Art with chanting and song. This is significant
in lifting the mood from abject misery to a
(complex) form of celebration. It also reminds us of
the lines from The Odyssey ( 8:579-80)…
anger/pride ?
BUT- what about Oedipus’ character ‘flaws’ ?
• Sophocles seems to take great pains to justify
Oedipus’ politically motivated anger…
• As to pride, he may in fact be presenting
Oedipus as a model of political humility?!?...
• Perhaps a misplaced confidence in the powers
of human reason is Oedipus’ real ‘tragic flaw’?
[heroism is not perfection (Oedipus is one of us?)]
the final verdict ?
• Oedipus is “the villain in spite of himself”
(apologies to Moliere)… ???
• More to the point, Oedipus is the icon of a
tragic hero ...???
(along with Prometheus and a few others…)
So- what is our human existence all about in
this ‘tragic perspective?’ (see flysheet,p.4)