Thursday, February 11, 2010

And the play goes on

I've started watching one of those Teaching Company DVD lecture series, this one consisting of 60 half-hour discussions on "The Great Ideas of Philosophy." Some of this stuff I'll know, but I expect that a lot of it I won't.

This morning the instructor, Daniel N. Robinson of Oxford University, detoured a bit to talk about the "sort-of" philosophy of the Greek tragedians - specifically Euripides' "Medea," and Sophocles' "Antigone." Medea, whose magic saved the life of her husband Jason (of golden fleece fame) but in return was dumped by the dude, became overcome by passion and killed Jason's sons to even the score. Antigone, on the other hand, buried her slain brother despite the king's order not to do so.

Medea represents a pre-civilization imperative to find a suitably serious revenge; Antigone represents a pre-civilization drive to do the right thing, whatever "modern" society says and whatever the consequences. Each is wrong in some sense, and yet each is compelled by the human nature within them. This human nature, it is suggested, is what philosophy is about.

Greek tragedies seem like ancient history - until you consider Dubya and that Alaskan pretender to the throne. Greek tragedy is old news; American tragedy remains on the stage. The curtain has yet to fall. And the wisdom of the chorus is too often overwhelmed by the cheers from the audience.

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