Tag Archives: Sophocles

Tragic Posture and Tragic Vision

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Tragic Posture and Tragic Vision: Against the Modern Failure of Nerve by John A Ruprecht, Jr.

Louis A Ruprecht Jr Tragic Posture and Tragic Vision

This wide-ranging meditation combines several elements: a rehabilitation of the concept of tragedy, a condemnation of the “tragic posture” as a feature of modern reflection, and theory about continuity and discreteness in religion. Author Ruprecht first sets himself against his contemporary theorists Alasdair MacIntyre and George Steiner, whom he takes as exponents of the (false) tragic posture of fatalistic pessimism. Then, in order to clarify what he understands as the (true) tragic vision, he begins with the classics, focusing especially on Sophocles’ Antigone as an exemplar. He moves from there into Hegel’s ideas about tragedy, and then to Nietzsche’s. He is not in perfect concurrence with either of these thinkers, but he sees their ideas as a tonic against the tragic posture, even if Nietzsche seems to court it in his later works.

Finally, Ruprecht takes issue with Nietzsche’s “Dionysus versus the Crucified” motto, postulating instead (like some of the Romantics whom Nietzsche criticized) that Jesus was a sympathetic development of Dionysus rather than an oppressive reaction against the pagan tragic ideal. He makes his case by championing the gospel of Mark as a tragic “performance,” focusing on the garden of Gethsemane, and indulging in a full comparison of the four canonical gospels with respect to this episode. In this longest section of the book, Ruprecht conspires with Frank Kermode (whose Genesis of Secrecy he repeatedly cites, though not always in agreement) to get me to view Mark as the best of the four Evangelists, whether or not he is the most “primitive.”

Particularly in the chapter on Nietzsche, and in a related appendix regarding the history of the Parthenon, Ruprecht insists on continuity over discreteness in religion and human experience generally. His opposition to the “tragic posture” is in large measure an objection to a modern exceptionalism (even if what is supposedly exceptional about modernity is its suckitude). I am rather sympathetic to this argument, without taking it to perennialist extremes — and Ruprecht doesn’t — but he also seems to want to view the question of technology (yes, he’s read his Heidegger) as a more peripheral or even cosmetic aspect of the modern condition, with its most significant consequences in degradation of the natural environment. This attitude makes me want to protest: Moore’s Law isn’t just a river in Egypt. [via]

Honor Thy Gods

Honor Thy Gods: Popular Religion in Greek Tragedy by Jon D Mikalson, a 1991 paperpack from University of North Carolina Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Jon D Mikalson Honor Thy Gods from University of North Carolina Press

“In Honor Thy Gods Jon Mikalson uses the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides to explore popular religious beliefs and practices of Athenians in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. and examines how these playwrights portrayed, manipulated, and otherwise represented popular religion in their plays. He discusses the central role of honor in ancient Athenian piety and shows that the values of popular piety are not only reflected but also reaffirmed in tragedies.

Mikalson begins by examining what tragic characters and choruses have to say about the nature of the gods and their intervention in human affairs. Then, by tracing the fortunes of diverse characters—among them Creon and Antigone, Ajax and Odysseus, Hippolytus, Pentheus, and even Athens and Troy—he shows that in tragedy those who violate or challenge contemporary popular religious beliefs suffer, while those who support these beliefs are rewarded. Mikalson concludes by describing the different relationships of the three tragedians to the religion of their audience, arguing that the tragedies of Euripides most consistently support the values of popular religion.” — back cover