Read The Three Theban Plays by Sophocles Free Online
Book Title: The Three Theban Plays|
The author of the book: Sophocles
ISBN 13: 9781101033401
Edition: Penguin Books
Date of issue: February 7th 1984
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 12.94 MB
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Reader ratings: 4.3
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The Three Theban Pays are the absolute pillar stone of ancient Greek drama, and in my opinion they contain two of the best plays ever written: Oedipus the King and Antigone.
Oedipus the King- because sometimes life's a real bitch.
Fate is unavoidable in ancient Greek Tragedy. Trying to avoid it will only lead to it, and doing nothing will lead you there too. So if a God tells you that you will die at the hands of your son, and that he will then go on to steal your wife, you’d best do nothing because it’s going to happen anyway. Any preventative action you take will only lead to the same ending. So, you’re pretty much screwed. You might as well lie down and accept it. The God's are mean.
But, nope, if you’re like the King of Thebes you’ll leave your infant son for dead instead.
Poor Oedipus. He really didn’t have much chance in life. He could do nothing to intervene with his own destiny, mainly because his tragic flaw is his lack of awareness about his true origins. He hears a rumour of the prophecy told to his farther, so he endeavours to stay away from him. But, in doing so he is pushed ever closer to his real farther. That’s the problem with being abandoned at birth; you just don’t know who is who in the world! There’s some irony in this somewhere.
Indeed, it suggests that no free will exists at all because any exertions of the supposed free will lead to the predetermined fate. So every action has been accounted for already. The intended audience may have been aware of these powers but Oedipus and his farther were hapless in their wake. They had to both learn the hard way. Oedipus had to recognise it, and in the process he shattered his life: it made him tear out his very eyes. Now that’s real grief. There’s no wonder Aristotle made this his model for the perfect play because this is masterful.
Aristotle’s theory can be used to assist the reader in understanding how the plot contributes to the tragedy. I couldn’t have read tragedy without it. The tragedy is created, in part, by the complexity of its plot which leads towards the catharsis. According to Aristotle’s Poetics the complexity of the plot is established through reversal, recognition and suffering. A simple plot will only establish one of these; therefore, it will have a limited catharsis. The reversal (peritpeteia) is the change of a state of affairs to its opposite, such as the reversal of Oedipus’ identity. The recognition (anaghorsis) is achieved through the acquiring of knowledge, like the knowledge Oedipus gains of his birth. Aristotle argues that an effective plot has its anaghorisis bound up with the peritpeteia. This is because it, “carries with it pity or fear” such as these following lines:
All come true, all busting to light!
O light- now let me look my last on you!
I stand revealed at last-” (Lines 1305-9)
I hope I didn’t lose anyone or bore them to death with my summary of Poetics. The structure is the key; it is everything in delivering the plot. If, in the cathartic moment, the action can evoke suffering through a combination of a reversal of circumstances during a brutally stark recognition, then the ultimate delivery of pity and fear will be achieved. Such is the case with Oedipus. Oedipus’s hamartia, his tragic flaw at the core of his being, is his ignorance, and when the veil is lifted he realises the tragedy of the situation; he realises all too late that fate is unshakable and unconquerable.
He has unknowingly committed incest with his mother and murdered his farther, so, like I said, life is a real bitch.
Oedipus at Colonus
Oedipus has been cursed by fate. After unwittingly killing his farther and marrying his own mother, he was cast out of his own land: he was banished by fate. He is now blind, old and has but only one wish: death.
His sister-daughters (children born of incest with his mother) wish to help in this but his son-brothers want him to return to the land of Thebes alive and well. They have heard a new prophecy concerning his fate, and they have grown to fear it. However, as readers of Oedipus the King learnt, trying to change fate only leads to destiny changing the path; ultimately, the destination will always remain the same: there is no escape. Oedipus is resigned to let the wind take him wherever it may go. He has learnt that he has no power. His past remerges, a dangerous past that the world considers criminal. It is one he tried to avoid, but, again, he could never escape from it. King Creon, Oedipus’ taciturn brother in law is especially angry at Oedipus for the death of Jocasta hurt him severely. It's very easy to judge others in such a situation, but as Oedipus retorts:
"One thing, answer me just one thing. If,
here and now, a man strode up to kill you,
you, you self-righteous --- what would you do?
investigate whether the murderer were your farther
or deal with him straight off? Well I know,
as you love your life, you’d pay the killer back,
not hunt around for justification. "
As a sequel to Oedipus the King and a prequel to Antigone this play is very much the middle of The Three Theban Plays. Oddly, it seems to be read far less than the other two plays, which I think is a bit of a shame. Granted, it lacks the autonomy of the others, but it is just as important in understanding the trilogy. And this is the crux of the play; it is Oedipus’ moment to defend himself, and give voice to his actions which he was not responsible for. At the same time, the plot foreshadows and leads straight into Antigone and explains much about King Creon's choices.
In terms of action- I speak of the technical connotations of the word as defined by Aristotle in Poetics- the play is lacking. There is very little in the way of tragic elements. It was only performed after Sophocles’ death when the glory days of Athens had set. The play was a reminder to its audiences of what had been lost, Oedipus served as a reminder of an age gone by, one that would never return. Reading the play today, I see the same sense of departure. This line for example as spoke by the Chorus:
“Then it’s the end of Athens, Athens is no more!"
I love reading Ancient Greek drama; it is so well crafted; it is straightforward yet complex; it is sophisticated yet bold and bloody. Sort of odd really when considering the fact that all deaths were off stage, but you still get the idea from it. I’d love see some modern reproductions of it live.
Antigone is a real heroine; she stands up for what she believes in. She was faced with a strong dilemma. The law of man, the word of her uncle the king, demands that her brother's body remains unburied in the open with no funeral rights, to be savaged by animals. For King Creon, this is a symbolic justice for a traitor and a rebel, but the laws of the God’s, and the ruling of Antigone’s own mind, demands that she gives him libations (death rights) that all men deserve. She buries the body and faces the consequences of the crime.
Creon: And still you had the gall to break this law?
Antigone: Of course I did. It wasn't Zeus, not in the least,
who made this proclamation-not to me
Nor did that justice, dwelling with the gods
beneath the earth, ordain such laws for men.
Nor did I think your edict had such force
that you, a mere mortal, could override the gods.
So, like I said she’s a heroine, for standing up against tyranny, but she isn’t the play’s tragic hero: it’s clearly King Creon. Who has the right of this situation? It is easy to brand Creon a tyrant, though to do so overlooks the reasoning behind his actions. In punishing Antigone’s dead brother, her rebellious dead brother, he is sending a political message to those that threaten the peace of Thebes. In reality he is being an effective, albeit harsh, ruler. When his niece breaks his law, he has no choice but to punish her as he would any man. He couldn’t allow her to be an exception to the rule, to do so would be to undermine the law of the land and his politics: it would be to make him a hypocrite. But, to sentence her to death, that’s a little extreme.
Thus, Sophocles presents a beautifully conflicted situation. There is no longer a discernible sense of right or wrong, only a thin line of morality that separates a tyrant from a man of justice. And his conviction only gets worse; he refuses to hear what his son and the city (the chorus) think about the situation. He only sees his narrow-minded sense of justice, and ignores the effects it will have on his loved ones. He has no doubts about his actions, and demonstrates the questionable nature of a cold approach to kingship. The laws of man are not always right. Something Creon simply cannot perceive. To his mind, he is morally right, a man of good character and a king of honour. Is this not the most dangerous of leaders?
Creon: I will take her down some wild, desolate path
never trod by men, and wall her up alive
in a rocky vault, and set out short rations,
just the measure piety demands
to keep the entire city free of defilement.
There let her pray to the one god she worships:
Death—who knows?—may just reprieveher from death.
Or she may learn at last, better late than never,
what a waste of breath it is to worship Death.
And this is what makes him the play’s tragic hero. His hamartia, his tragic flaw in Aristotle terms, is his severe lack of judgement, and his inability to perceive the wrongness of his decree. The reversal, recognition and suffering come in the form of the priest Tiresias, an old wise man who speaks to the Gods. He tells Creon what will happen if he persists down his current path, and after much resistance, Creon finally relents his folly. But it is far too late. The blood has already been shed. Tragedy has already struck, death has already struck: Creon is left in tatters. It is the hardest of lessons to learn.
So what do we learn from this? Greek tragedy was didactical in purpose; it was used as a learning tool, a means of imparting wisdom to the audience. What is Sophocles message? For me it’s quite simple: open your eyes and your heart. Never presume that you are right and an absolute morale authority. For Creon, his realisation came too late. The result was a sacrifice he will never forget, Antigone's death, and the one most readers seem to sympathise with. But I implore you to look further into the play, and consider the full role of Creon. To overlook him is to overlook the point of the work:
“All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong, and repairs the evil. The only crime is pride.”
This play is a spectacular piece of work, though I think reading the other two plays helps to elucidate its greatness. For me, this book is one everybody should read at least once in their lifetime.
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Read information about the authorSophocles (born c. 496 bc, Colonus, near Athens [Greece]—died 406, Athens), (Greek: Sophocle) was an ancient Greek tragedy playwright. Not many things are known about his life other than that he was wealthy, well educated and wrote about one hundred and twenty three plays (of which few are extant). One of his best known plays is 'Oedipus the King' (Oedipus Rex).
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