Ancient Athenian Drama
Sophocles: The Theban Plays
5th century BC, Ancient Greek.
He was swallowed by the Earth but was given no single grave, as though this was significant. As though a single grave might have been inappropriate.
'It's at the heart of tragedy,' said Quintin.
'How do you mean?' said Miranda.
'Suffering that is cast in one direction and lands in another place entirely,' insisted Quintin. 'Antigone, in Sophocles' play Antigone, for example, insists upon burying the body of her brother Polynices when the ruler of the city has forbidden this burial because he wishes instead that the body is mauled by dogs. He shuts Antigone up in a living tomb as a punishment for disobeying him – but the end result is that his own son kills himself and his wife commits suicide. He sets out to inflict suffering in one direction and it comes back at him from another. And in Aescylus's play Agamemnon, Agamemnon is killed by a sword, a murder arranged by his wife in revenge for sacrificing their daughter Iphigenia with a sword. He thrust out a sword and was cut down by one himself. That's tragedy.'
'Also in comedy,' said Miranda. 'When, in Aristophanes' play The Clouds, Strepsiades sends his son to the ‘Thinkery’ to be taught twisted logic by Socrates so that he, Strepsiades, can learn how to wriggle out of paying his numerous creditors, the end result is that he gets these same twisted arguments thrown back at himself.'
'Exactly,' said Quintin.
'But The Clouds is a comedy,' said Miranda. 'Also, Antigone’s own father and brother, King Oedipus, was not to blame when he killed his own father and married his own mother and had Antigone and his other children by her. The story of Oedipus is not so much about deflected suffering as about lost origins. But his sons despise him when the incest comes to light and banish him into poverty and exile, and he in his turn curses them. It was all just a tragic unfolding. And when Oedipus dies, near Athens, in Sophocles’ play Oedipus at Colonus, it's made into a very mysterious affair and this person, who has been both beggar and king, both King of Thebes and royal son at Corinth, this man who has been to a woman both son and husband, has no grave. He is swallowed by the Earth but is given no single grave, as though this was significant. As though a single grave might have been inappropriate.'