Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus, which was not awarded first prize when it was first performed, was praised by Aristotle as the most perfect of tragedies. Aristotle’s judgment has surely won the day, for Oedipus is probably the most famous tragedy ever written. Indeed, since the time of Aristotle, Oedipus has been a continuous source of inspiration for works of philosophy, art, literature, psychology, music, and more.
This course will examine the dramatic text closely and analyze its poetic construction. What makes this play so powerful, even after nearly two and half millennia? Class participants will explore oppositions the play raises, such as fate and free will, hubris and shame, reality and illusion, the sacred and the profane. Along the way, we will take some side journeys into the play’s Greek construction, its original social milieu, the performance of ancient drama, and its impact on culture and thought throughout the ages. Oedipus Tyrannus is not only timeless; it is also timely, raising personal and political issues that resonate with contemporary readers and audiences living at the start of the second decade of the second millennium C.E. After all, the play begins with … a pestilence.