Classical Mythology Images and Insight, Third Edition

Following is an outline of the chapter along with the main learning objectives.  To help coordinate your studies, this outline and the learning objectives are organized to match your textbook.  This organization is also utilized in the chapter review section.

  Part 1:  The World of Sophocles

  1. You should be aware of the major elements of the life of Sophocles, starting with his birth in 496 B.C., and continuing for ninety years; he was recognized as one of the most prolific playwrights of his time.

  2. You should be aware of the influence of  Athens in the Classical Age of Greece -- including the development of Greek democracy, and the rise of Athens into a position of prominence both politically and culturally.

  3. You should be able to discuss the significance of the major themes prevalent in Sophocles' work in relation to the concerns of the Greek culture at a transitional period in that culture, one in which the citizenry were beginning to question the commitment of the gods to act accordingly and, instead, put their trust in human experience.

  4. You should be able to discuss the relevance of the Peloponnesian War in regard to Sophocles' work as the Athenian public turned their trust to their generals in much the same way as they had previously turned to Heroic myth.

Part 2: Oedipus Rex

  1. You should be aware that of the 125 plays credited to Sophocles, only seven survived, including the three plays of the Oedipus cycle and that the plays were not written in as a set or in chronological order -- Oedipus Rex is the Second, following the first play "Antigone" and the last play  (written possibly as much as forty years later than Antigone) Oedipus at Colonus.

  2. You should be able to discuss the significance of the opening scenes of Oedipus Rex in relation to its relevance to its Athenian audience -- who were also suffering under the ravages of plague as a result of the thousands of people seeking safety in Athens during the Peloponnesian War.

  3. You should be aware of the concepts of Sigmund Freud in relation to the major themes in the play; his theory that all male children unconsciously wish to kill their fathers and marry their mothers (often creating a neurosis, which Freud named the Oedipal complex) and that he saw Oedipus' need to ferret out the mysteries of his identity as analogous to the psychological method of ferreting out the contents of the unconscious. 

  4. You should be able to discuss the significance of the major themes in Greek tragedy; in terms of their concern with the breaking of universal taboos such as  matricide, patricide, and incest.

  5. You should be able to discuss the role of the God Apollo, in terms of his Oracle; with regard to the concept of free-will and destiny; referring to such examples as the Oracle's first prophecy regarding the fate of Oedipus, and including the references to the plague which the God Apollo sends to the  Thebans for not punishing the murderer of their king -- were they simply playing a part in the overall circumstances or did they precipitate the events?

  6. You should be able to discuss the significance of the character, Tiresias, both in terms of validating the authority of the God Apollo and in terms of his blindness -- taking into consideration the events surrounding his blinding (as punishment, possibly for viewing a bathing Goddess) and the effect that he then can see beyond the surface appearances. You should also be aware of his special gifts of perception due to his spending a year as a woman (another divine punishment).

  7. You should be aware of the relationship between the seemingly primary concern of the God Apollo -- which is the matter of regicide that the Thebans have left unsolved -- and the concerns of the Athenian audience, who would have been gratified to see the Thebans (enemies of Athens in the Peloponnesian War) punished for self-absorption.

  8. You should be able to discuss the significance of the actions of both the father, Laius, and Oedipus in trying to divert their fated destinies -- and the importance of the Heroic attributes, such as pride and arrogance that form the basis of those actions and as often the ultimate basis for the violence and anger that pervade many of their actions (such as those that lead to the violent  confrontation of Laius and Oedipus when their paths cross).

  9. You should be able to discuss the significance of the riddles that are central to the play, especially the concept that Oedipus' virtues become the sources of his unhappiness (such as his solving of the riddle of the Sphinx -- in solving that riddle he saves Thebes and is rewarding by the hand of his own mother in marriage).

  10. You should be able to relate the female principles in the play -- represented  in part by the outwitting and destruction of the Sphinx, with her female head and other animal attributes that are considered symbolic of the Great Goddess, as well as the role of Jocasta -- to the male principles inherent in the Heroic ideal; the journey for self-knowledge that aligns the psychological dwelving to that of the return to the womb often symbolized by the journey into the underworld.

  11. You should be able to discuss the metaphysical implications of the riddle of the Sphinx as representative of humans' inability to ever understand the mysteries of life and their inability to ever be in control of events even by virtue of wit or logic. 

  12. You should be able to discuss the concept of Oedipus as, ultimately, a figure of  triumph; by virtue of his accepting responsibility for his own actions rather than seeking to blame the God Apollo's interventions; by accepting the truth that he can never assess the extent of the God Apollo's intervention in his life or the mysteries of the God's purpose and thus the limits of his own abilities; by accepting his own willingness to accept the burdens of fate; and by accepting the pain that leads to knowledge in his sacrificial self-blinding that he might truly see (as does the blind Tiresias).

Part 3: Oedipus at Colonus       

  1. You should be aware of the significance of the setting of Sophocles' second play: Sophocles was born in Colonus and there was a shrine erected there in his honor.

  2. You should be aware of the basic plot of the story as it follows the exile of Oedipus, who is now sought after by his warring sons due to a prophecy that whichever city gained his favor would be victorious; that his grown daughter, Antigone has guided him on his journey.

  3. You should be able to discuss the relevance of the play's warring cities to the contextual Athenian audience who was engaged in battles with Thebes.

  4. You should be able to discuss the contrasts between the two plays, particularly concerning the changes in the character of Oedipus:  he now does not take responsibility for his actions but plays the victim; he now claims to be innocent and blames the gods for his unwittingly sinful acts; he is now concerned with love of his daughters and recognizes his dependence on others; now he has learned patience.

  5. You should be able to discuss the reconciliation of opposites in regard to the conditions of the two plays: Oedipus is no longer the victim of fate; before he was sighted but could not see, now he is blind but a seer; he now is the one who curses; and now is reconciled with the gods.

  6. You should be able to discuss the reconciliation of Oedipus to the Great Goddess -- no longer the destroyer of feminine aspects he is admitted by the chthonic aspects of the Goddess, the Furies.

  7. You should be able to discuss the significance of Oedipus as ultimately deified.

Part 4: Antigone

  1. You should be aware that Antigone is the earliest play of the Oedipus cycle even though the story line starts after Oedipus' death and the warring of her brothers and their subsequent death.

  2. You should be able to discuss the story line -- that following the conflict of the brothers, the now-ruler Creon, refuses to allow one brother to be buried (he was fighting against Thebes in his new role as the husband of the daughter of the King of Argos); defying her uncle's orders, Antigone buries the brother under the threat of death.

  3. You should be able to discuss the conflict between the loyalty to family honor and civic lawfulness, religious principles versus political order.

  4. You should be able to discuss the role of Creon in terms of tyranny versus anarchy; his reversal of the role of Oedipus as ruler who takes the sins of the community upon himself and unfavorable public opinion; and the conflicts of his loyalties as uncle and father versus his role as ruler.

  5. You should be able to discuss the effect of Tiresias' prophecy (that the gods are angry that Creon has refused to allow the burial of Polynices) in terms of the role of Creon -- who, though he relents to the warnings of the prophecy, does so too late to save Antigone or his son, forfeiting his bid for authority  and instead becoming an example of what a ruler should not do.

  6. You should be able to discuss the role of Antigone in terms of gender roles (in terms of  her sister's complaint that they are "just weak women" who "cannot fight with men"); in terms of compassionate daughter to Oedipus and faithful sister to Polynices in his death; the quest for personal honor, casting her into the role of Hero impersonator especially in terms of courage, integrity and aggressive behavior.

  7. You should be able to discuss the concept that women in Greek mythology who "liberate" themselves from gender roles and are ultimately punished for it (usually by death), as well as her acceptance of Death (in true Hero fashion) that can be seen referred to in some cases in erotic terms that substitute Death for conventional marriage.

  8. You should be able to discuss the role of Haimon as a nexus between feminine and masculine -- between sacrifice of love and the reason he tries to use to dissuade his father from his tyrannical stance; instead of rescuing the maid, as would the Hero (though he does try to save her), he dies with her.

  9. You should be able to compare the story of Antigone and Romeo and Juliet in terms of the lovers deaths (willing or bad timing) and the conflicts with and duty to authority.

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