The Greeks' Tragic World View

The Greeks' Tragic World View

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The Greeks' Tragic World View

The Greeks had a tragic world view. I believe that a tragic world view is a view of the world in which there is little hope for any progress; everything grows, matures, and dies. The values taught by such a tragic world are bravery, fate, humanism, and reasoning. There are many examples of the teaching of these values in the Grecian literary works. Examples of such works are: the epic poetry of Homer, The Odyssey and the Iliad; works of Sophocles, Oedipus Rex and Antigone; works of Euripides, Media and The Trojan Women; and Plato's retelling of the trial of Socrates, The Apology.
The epic poetry of Homer had lasting impact Grecian society. It came to be the basis of Greek religion, teaching honor and bravery, as well as the elements of tragedy. The Iliad teaches that no one is invulnerable. The Iliad expresses the truth that " 'wicked arrogance' and 'ruinous wrath' will cause much suffering and death." This is shown in The Iliad in the quarrel between Agamemnon an Achilles. The Odyssey also teaches the same truth when Odysseus shouts his name to Polythemus. Dr. Owen Duncan said that The Iliad teaches another important lessons is the theme that "pride leads to disaster, yet not to be proud, is not to be Greek." This was illustrated when Achilles challenged Hector to a battle to the death, and Hector accepted although he knew he would be defeated.
Sophocles, one of the most celebrated playwrights in Greek history, played a large role in instilling the value of fate into Greek life. Sigmund Freud talked about "the Oedipus complex" in his book, The Interpretation of Dreams, saying:
Oedipus Rex is what is known as the tragedy of destiny. Its tragic effect is said to lie in contrast between the supreme will of the gods and the vain attempts of mankind to escape the evil that threatens them. The lesson which…the deeply moved spectator should learn from this tragedy is submission to the divine will and realization of his own impotence.
As Freud expressed, the trilogy of Sophocles (Oedipus Rex, Antigone, and Oedipus at Colonus) brought the aspect of fate or destiny into light. Fate was evident because although the actions and feelings of the characters were an integral part of the tragedy, nothing could change one's destiny or fate.

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Lee A. Jacobus states, " the main conflict in Antigone centers on a distinction between law and justice, the conflict between a human law, and a higher law." The title character struggles within herself about the importance of abiding by the laws of her uncle, the king, or abiding by her own principles of truth. Through reasoning, she decides that she must do what she knows in her heart is right, even if it conflicts with the law.
Euripides was the first to introduce reason into tragedy, and also introduced the importance of the individual's thoughts and feelings, or humanism. "Euripides subjected the problems of human life to critical analysis and challenged human conventions…The role of the gods, women's conflicts, the horrors of war, the power of passion, and the prevalence of human suffering and weakness were all carefully scrutinized in Euripides' plays." Euripides shifted the focus from gods to humans. In Medea, the title character is treated as an independent woman, not as someone's wife or mother, and is the first "fully developed" woman character in all of Greek drama. In the play, Medea's husband, Jason, marries King Creon's daughter in order to insure the safety of the children he has with Medea. The play is about the agony, torture, and abandonment that Medea feels. In this powerful play, the feelings of a woman are analyzed for the first time. In the play, Media states
Of all things which are living and can form a judgment/ We women are the most unfortunate creatures. /…What they say of us is that we have peaceful time/ Living at home, while they do the fighting in the war. / How wrong they are! I would very much rather stand/ Three times in front of the battle than bear one child."
Euripides showed in his plays showed that reason only gives "feeble resistance against these compelling, relentless, and consuming passions. The forces that destroy erupt from the volcanic nature of human beings." In one of his other more known works, The Trojan Women, he continued to concentrate on the feelings of women, this time with regards to war. He emphasized how the women felt having to send their husbands and children off to battle. War was described "as agony and not glory," while the warrior was "brutish and not noble." He went deep into the human soul to complete his writings.
The importance of reason was most convincingly portrayed in the life of Socrates, particularly in his trial, as recounted by Plato in The Apology. The Oracle at Delphi told Socrates that he was the wisest person. He felt that the Oracle must be incorrect, because he knew nothing. Therefore he sought to find someone wiser than himself. The talked to others that were considered wise, but had no avail in finding anyone wiser. His method of education was the dialogue which consisted of a person talking with others, and asking questions. Through this process, Socrates thought, one would know him. He said that he would rather die than give up philosophy saying:
As long as I have breath and power I will cease from philosophy and exhorting you and setting forth the truth to any of you whom I meet, saying as I am wont, "My excellent friend, are you a citizen of Athens, a city very great and very famous for wisdom and power of mind: are you not ashamed of caring so much for the making of money, and for reputation and honor? Will you not spend thought or care on wisdom and truth and the perfecting of your soul?
Philosophy and the pursuit of truth were more important to Socrates than anything else. He risked and eventually gave up his life for it
The Grecian outlook on live was very tragic. As I have explained, a tragic world elicits qualities of bravery, fate, humanism, and reasoning, all of which are illustrated in many works of Grecian literature. The works of Homer shows the importance of bravery, and the works of Sophocles illustrates fate. The works of Euripides and the life of Socrates demonstrate both humanism and reasoning.


Marvin Perry et al., Western Civilization: Ideas, Politics & Society (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000), 55. Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams
Lee A. Jacobus, The Bedford Introduction to Drama, Third Edition (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1997), 137
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