David Alexander's Reviews > The Complete Plays of Sophocles

The Complete Plays of Sophocles by Sophocles
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's review
Jun 17, 2012

it was amazing
Read from June 03 to 17, 2012

I just finised reading all of Sophocles plays, except the 116 plays they have not found or have found only in fragments. There is a moral impulse in Sophocles which strikes me as commendable. The first thing I think of when I consider this aspect of his writings is not, "The savage!" but rather of how he, writing thousands of years ago, shared in common with the best of us moral sentiments we commend and recognize as good. There is a timeless good to certain moral acts of mankind. I would even say I am edified by the thought of Antigone taking a stand against the king's edict to bury her brother. Sophocles also has a realism in his handling of tragedy which brings his work to the level of timeless art. When he deals with suicides, for instance, the causes and the emotional state of the characters are depicted convincingly. There is a lot of myth and the supernatural woven into his plays but his characters, even the fabled Heracles, still have a convincing human face. He can bring you to think about the tragic and about the morally awful and our reactions to it. There is also a dynamism of action in the plays that keeps them from lagging. The sequence of events moves quickly and is artfully well thought out. Even his last play, Oedipus at Colonus, is intelligently constructed in a way that it fits with Antigone, written much earlier, whose chronological sequence of events come after. His last play is especially profound in its reflection on mortality, given that Sophocles dies before the play was produced and he constructs the play as a loving farewell to his childhood home in the suburbs of Athens, placing in the mouth of the dying Oedipus Rex thoughts on death. There is a bleakness about the octogenarian Sophocles' thoughts about long life. More sorrows come with longer life. The message of this last play also has some resonant parallels with Christian teachings about love for neighbor, particularly Mother Teresa's teaching that Christ comes in distressing disguises which we must learn to embrace. Oedipus Rex, who unwittingly killed his father and bore children with his mother, awakens moral repugnance and fear of the gods, but Athens recieves a blessing by welcoming this outcast. I especially liked Philoctetes although the ending seemed to me a little forced, but still satisfying. The poor outcast Philoctetes struggles years alone and must overcome his rigid hatred of those who marooned him if he is not to maroon himself. The one who speaks to him most convincingly, apart from the final intervention, is one who acts with true sensitivity of conscience, honorably and therefore from true friendship, not instrumentally. Odysseus convincing Neoptolemus to decieve Philoctetes for the common good would be a good text for grappling with the ethical merits of the CIA. Words of Ajax words in Sophocles's play by that name remind me of the Rolling Stones when they sing, "I want to see it painted black, painted black, Black as night, black as coal. I want to see the sun, blotted out from the sky." The willful collapsing of the accesses of the light of the earth and the light of the heaven is something that happened thousands of years ago among some humans as it does among some today. Ajax: "Alas, you darkness, my sole light! O you nether gloom, fairer for me than any sunshine! take me to dwell with you, yes take me. I am no longer worthy to look for help to the race of the gods, or from any good men, the children of a day." Ajax's "I am no longer worthy" is the same thing one hears today with some- a feeling of being the Unforgiven. But note that there is a willfulness often behind this feeling, an indulgence of a kind of prideful exaggeration that wills the dark to enhance the feeling of being cast out by man and God, a subjectivity which closes the shutters on the light of the good shining in your life, though humbly it comes and humbly it knocks. "Listen, then. For the love of the gods, do not take heart to cast this man forth unburied so ruthlessly. Never let violence prevail with you to hate so utterly that you should trample justice underfoot." Odysseus says this defending the honor of his dead enemy Ajax against the anger of the king Agamemnon in Sophocles's Ajax. How many today need to hear the same advice. An evolutionary narrative or narrative of Progress presents a great peril to the heart's and mind's openness to the best observers of the timelessly human. "You could put a fair face on many a furtive villainy,"
Teucer, Ajax's brother, says, confronting the king Menelaus who with Agamemnon would prevent the burial of Ajax. Words which could be well-applied to many a politician today.

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