Great Books Paper 3 - Jerald Shi Professor James Bos Great...

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Jerald Shi Professor James Bos Great Books 191 December 20, 2011 Changing of the Code: A Conflict Between Traditional and New Values Throughout all societies across history, one of the most prevalent conflicts is the conflict between traditional and new values. As the Trojan War ended and Greece entered a new period of peace, the heroic code was replaced with a more civilized and democratic code. We see the same generational conflict as great warriors failed to adapt to a new way of life, deliberation and cunning replaced swift, bloody justice as the best way to end conflict, and women became as powerful and influential, if not more so, then men. Both the heroic system and the democratic system settle conflicts effectively, though neither is perfect; however, the Greek playwrights always depict the new code as being preferable to the old. In Sophocles’ play Ajax , the title character loses his honor in the same way that Achilles from Homer’s Iliad does. Whereas Achilles is insulted when Agamemnon forces him to give up Chryseis, Ajax loses his pride in a similar manner when he loses Achilles’s armor to Odysseus even though Ajax makes the stronger argument (Sophocles, Ajax , 41). Against a cleverer Odysseus and a cleverer argument, even Ajax’s strong argument is not enough to win out. This is the first sign that cunning will ultimately trump brute power in the new generation. In battle, Ajax had never lost before because he was the strongest man, but in the new democratic system, an impartial third party controls the outcome of the “battle” between Ajax and Odysseus. Like Achilles, Ajax acts like a sore loser and feels a great sense of menis for being wronged, but Ajax has no enemy Trojans to unleash his wrath upon, only his enemy Odysseus, his former ally in battle. In addition, he fights hopelessly by a heroic code that Sophocles finds unacceptable in a new era of democracy and peacetime. Rather than attempting to settle the conflict in a calm, civilized manner, Ajax resorts to the old, eye-for-eye method of regaining his honor. Had he
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succeeded in killing Odysseus, the conflict between the two could’ve ended just as easily as if he had not committed suicide; however, because of the absurdity of the two codes coexisting and the impermissibility of Ajax’s code, Athena arrives to intervene and save Odysseus, the other
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This note was uploaded on 01/17/2012 for the course GTBOOKS 191 taught by Professor Cameron during the Fall '08 term at University of Michigan.

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Great Books Paper 3 - Jerald Shi Professor James Bos Great...

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