I'm sure all of us are familiar with the phrase "Pride comes before the fall." Interestingly enough, this common saying may hold some significant weight according to an article from The Speculator
entitled: "On Wall Street, Pride Signals a Fall."
In this article, pride is referred to a hubris
which is defined as: "Presumption, originally toward the gods; pride, excessive self-confidence."
Looking at the world of business, we can see how hubris affects success. When businesses are doing well, their leaders often start to develop hubristic views. The hubris feeling often leads to boasting and a sense of feeling "above the world." This overconfidence and pride is often followed by a drop in business.
To test this, The Speculator writers looked at magazine covers featuring CEO's and company leaders. Data showed that companies appearing on covers like Forbes and Time started doing worse after the issue was published. If we look at this, it seems to make sense. Someone who agrees to be on the cover of a prestigious magazine most likely thinks highly of themselves and their company. They are full of hubris, and that triggers their decline. The article then goes on to show similar results with companies who purchase stadiums and who start to take over other corporations.
This sense of hubris ties in directly with tragedy. If we consider Oedipus
' play, we are shown a clear example of hubris. Oedipus is a powerful king and the savior of his people. He sees himself as a lofty individual, and in his efforts to prove his nobility, he uncovers the secret incest that brings shame upon him. Likewise, his brother-in-law/ uncle Kreon
is also full of hubris in Antigone
. He is very proud and eager to show his power by punishing Antigone for her crimes. In the end, his confident ways lead to the suicides of both his son and wife.
Hubris has left its mark upon once-successful individuals. Its distinct ability to cause destruction is a good indicator to us all that we need to eat our daily helping of humble pie.
There's no surprise in the fact that Antigone
, the sequel to Oedipus the King
, is a tragedy. It's only fitting that the continuation of such a dark, tragic tale be just as full of suffering and sorrow.
First off, we have our hero, Antigone
. She is a brave girl who represents goodness and virtue. Antigone is our tragic hero and therefore must make some sort of error. In her case, Antigone's mistake is based on her love for family. She is willing to break the law in order to bury her disgraced brother, and she if noble enough to own up to the crime, even though it means death. In my opinion, Antigone is a strong heroine figure because of her selflessness and compassion. These noble traits make her downfall all the more sorrowful and tragic.
I suppose just a little bit of back story might be helpful in understanding the tragedy of this story. Essentially, Antigone's twin brothers battled it out to see who would be the new king of Thebes. They both killed each other, but because Polyneices
was the rebellious brother he was not honored with burial but left to be ripped up by the dogs. Also, Antigone's egotistical jerk-of-an-uncle Kreon
decided to enforce the law that if anyone tries to give the body a proper burial, they will be killed.
Antigone caught in the act of burying her disgraced brother
So all that said, what makes Antigone
a tragedy is all the death that takes place because of this in the tragic outcome. First, after she is caught, Antigone is sentenced to die by being sealed in a tomb and left to starve. When Kreon's son Haimon
(who is also Antigone's fiancé) hears of this, he breaks into her tomb to rescue her, only to find she has hung herself. In response he kills himself, and then his mother kills herself out of grief. So in short we have one big suicide party going on down at Thebes. In all seriousness though, I believe this ending is meant to teach the reader specifically about love.
I found this ending rather interesting because it closely relates to one of the most popular tragedies of all time, Romeo and Juliet.
In both stories we have two lovers killing themselves when they can no longer be together. The fact that this theme lasted in tragic tradition all the way from Sophocles
shows that love is a strong catalyst in human suffering. Throughout history, the emotion of love has strongly influenced the lives of men and women. What these two works of tragedy may be trying to teach us is that love is a powerful thing that reaches beyond death and sacrifice.
' Oedipus Rex
is a clear, classic example of tragedy. Looking back on the standards Aristotle set for tragedy, we can see how this play fits the mold perfectly.
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First, the tragedy must have a hero who makes a mistake. Our hero is Oedipus
. He has become king of Thebes
by answering the riddle of the sphinx
, and now he is anxious to avenge Laius
, the previous king, in order to end the plague of misfortune on the land. Oedipus' mistake was made long before he was king. Since it was prophesied he would kill his father and marry his mother, he specifically stayed away from the couple who had raised him. On his journey he ends up killing the king of Thebes, and goes on to marry his wife. Little does he know that he was adopted, and the man he killed, along with the bride he now has are his true parents. This is truly a tragic mistake because Oedipus went to great lengths to avoid the prophecy, but in the process came to fulfill it.
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Another important requirement Oedipus Rex
fits as a tragedy
is the tragic outcome of the tale. When the truth of his deeds is revealed, Jocasta
, Oedipus' wife/mother, kills herself in shame and grief. Oedipus takes
the pins from her robes and gouges out his eyes in violent fashion. Also,
another tragic act is the murder of Laius by his own son who is unaware of his
Oedipus grows from this tragic experience, by
changing from a somewhat arrogant king to a lowly blind man who is disgraced.
The price of learning the truth of his identity is the fact that he has to live
with the horrors of that truth.
In my opinion, these requirements Aristotle puts into place which Oedipus Rex follows are a meaningful and useful view on tragedy. It is interesting to see that stories like this are not meant just to be sad or depressing, but they contain a lesson learned by the character that is applicable to the lives of you and me. The pattern followed in this story helps me see the sadness and loss within the play. Oedipus really doesn't know of what he's done. He has spent so much time and effort to avoid the prophecy, but it was all a waste. The harshness of this drives the point Sophocles is trying to make home for me: that pride comes before the fall.
In his essay "Tragedy and the Common Man"
Arthur Miller provides an in depth look at tragedy in literature. He starts out by correcting the common association of tragedy and nobility or royalty. Often, we view tragedy as something experienced by people in great power, such as many of the heroes of classic tragic works like Hamlet
and Oedipus Rex.
We think of it as something above ourselves but Miller argues that regular people like us can experience and relate to tragedy. Miller
goes on to explain that we can relate to tragedy because of the feelings evoked by it. The characters are ready to die in order to protect their dignity. Tragedies are defined by heroes struggling to "gain their 'rightful' position in society". The hero either loses his place or longs to gain a higher position, and spends the entire story in attempts to gain that dignity. What is then revealed is something called the "tragic flaw", which is essentially something that stands for the character's unwillingness to ignore whatever challenges his dignity. This flaw is used to make the character start to question things about the world which they have never doubted before. There is an "underlying fear of being displaced" that readers can directly relate to. I can relate to this feeling because in our society people are always watching to see you fall. Look at all of the tabloid magazines who broadcast and delight in the mistakes that celebrities make. Reputation is the hardest thing to keep clean, and redemption is near impossible. Everyone fears that they will lose the favor of the world.
The tragic flaw also leads to a revelation of moral laws to the character. This allows the character to grow and realize his fears in order to weigh how much he is willing to give to regain his dignity.
Lastly, Miller talks about the misconception that tragedy is full of pessimism. He claims that even though a story has a "sad" ending, it can actually be rather optimistic. The hero in a tragedy gives his all to achieve his rightful place, reaffirming for readers the "indestructible will of man to achieve his humanity." Tragedy has to hold some hope for victory. If it does not, it is defined as pathos rather than tragedy. Pathos
involves characters fighting battles they have no chance of winning, while tragedy has a "nicer balance between what is possible and what is impossible. In the end, tragedy embodies hope in the "perfectibility" of man.
Miller's view of tragedy was very insightful for me. I like how his formula helps draw meaning from tragedy and helps identify themes within the stories. I can also see just how tragedy can relate to common people. We all have flaws and fight to keep our dignity and reputation.