Classics - J ae Shin Classics 28: Section 116 Final Paper...

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Jae Shin Classics 28: Section 116 Final Paper 30 April 2010 No awesome, forbidding hero in Greek drama more powerfully and tragically exemplifies the paradoxes of man’s civilizing power than Oedipus. Ruler of a grand and ancient city by virtue of his intelligence, conqueror of a mysterious half-human and half-beast monster, Oedipus represents a man of great achievement. And yet this solver of riddles does not know the most elemental thing about himself. He lacks the fundamental information about his origins that gives man his human identity and sets him apart from the undifferentiated realm of nature and the realm of beasts. Oedipus’ very identity conceals an appalling violation of civilized norms, the deliberate exposure of a child by its parents on a perilous mountainside. Cast out from the shelter of his own house, Oedipus is made a creature of the wild, a child of
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nature and a child of absolute chance. He is saved from death by shepherds, men who also portray men’s ambiguous position between the wild and the civilized community. Thrust from his oikos or household, he has no name, no fundamental human identity, the most basic possession of even the humblest human being. The very name which he does possess, the “Swollen-Footed”, confirms of the atrocious act which separated him from the civilized world to his equivocal position in the wild. And yet the Oedipus whose very name places him in the untamed world is also, ironically, a civilized man. Intelligent but petulant, humane but vicious, compassionate but pitiless, Oedipus embodies all the fundamental paradoxes of man’s nature. Alienated from the nurture of his house, Oedipus, though king, is also a stranger to the town or city he rules. His synthesis of nearness and distance causes him to cut off from stranger and townsman; when he fears that he may have killed Laius (Sophocles, Oedipus the King , 804-824), he is still sheltered from the most dreadful part of the truth by his blind assumption that Laius is a stranger. Only after telling how he killed the whole group at the crossroads, he solemnly concludes, “Oh, but if there is any blood-tie between Laius and this stranger… what man alive
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more miserable than I? More hated by the gods? I am the man no alien, no citizen welcomes to his house.” ( Oedipus the King , 899-903) In the context of the play, Oedipus’ exile as a human scapegoat or pharmakos , is ambiguous and complicated. At the end of the play, he is not actually expelled, but remains suspended between exile and the house. Thus in some sense Oedipus continues the ambiguities of his previous life. Yet at this point, the hero, revealed as homeless, who most desires exile and homelessness, is made to feel most fully his
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This note was uploaded on 02/13/2011 for the course CLASSICS 28 taught by Professor Bulloch during the Spring '10 term at University of California, Berkeley.

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Classics - J ae Shin Classics 28: Section 116 Final Paper...

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