Thursday 9 December 2010

Why is Greek tragedy not concerned with evil men?

A.D. Nuttall in Overheard by God: Fiction and Prayer in Herbert, Milton, Dante and St John (1980) answers:

Greek tragedy owes its special force to the stratified coexistence of two ethical worlds. The older stratum is one in which men delighted in the unimpeded energy and even the bragging of the archaic heroes: in the later stratum men view such behaviour not precisely as sinful but as peculiarly likely to attract the jealous anger of the gods. Thus Greek tragedy is not typically concerned with evil men who get what they deserve but is rather about heroes (Ajax, Heracles, Eteocles and Polynices) whose very superfluity of energy offends the infinitely more powerful gods. (pp. 106-107)


  1. Robert said: "On some level the tragedy is concerned with hubris. On another the protagonist is identified with Dionysus, the god who suffers. The old literary debate ploy is to begin, "It's more complicated than that..." :-)"

  2. As Apollo's temple in Delphi proclaims: Nothing in Excess

    After all, excess only gets you attention -- and often the attention of the gods is only going to knock you down a rung.


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