Tragedy and After: Euripides, Shakespeare, and Goethe by Ekbert Faas

By Ekbert Faas

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Long before Aristotle told his fellow citizens that they were "city-state animals,"17 Aeschylus gave them the appropriate god. Hegel's philosophy, in I. "18 Similar accusations could be levelled at Aeschylus when he makes Athena, the main executor of Zeus's political theodicy, pronounce herself in favour of Athenian imperialism (Eumenides 864-5) or brag about similar exploits accomplished just before Apollo called upon her to review the pleadings of Orestes' case: I was beside Scamandrus. I was taking seisin of land, for there the Achaean lords of war and first fighters gave me large portion of all their spears had won, the land root and stock to be mine for all eternity, for the sons of Theseus a choice gift.

Aeschylus, especially at the beginning of the trilogy, misses no opportunity of raising questions and expectations, of guiding and even misguiding his audience. There are few other plays introduced by a comparable abundance of comments on destiny, the gods, their grace and retributive justice, of how good will win out in the end, how suffering brings wisdom, how the future will be known only once it has come, or how From the gods who sit in grandeur grace comes somehow violent. (182-3) It is easy enough, upon rereading the play, to pick out a phrase like the last one, link it with similar notions elsewhere, and conclude that the poet from the beginning guided our attention in a specific direction.

Once we know, we have all the more leisure to study the author's ingenuity in bringing about his solution in such intricate yet none the less inescapable ways. And where else do we find greater ingenuity of this kind in a drama not directly or indirectly influenced by Oedipus Rex itself? The play is a unique achievement, and as such its impact on Western literature and on tragedy in particular, thanks mainly to Aristotle's Poetics, is without parallel. The story of Oedipus, who, as predicted by the oracle, kills his father Laius and marries his mother Jocasta, is too familiar to need repeating except for 37 The Birth of Tragedy some of its more intricate details.

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