Looking At The Old Classics

October 8, 2012

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One of the oldest classic literary works is Oedipus. This three part play has been studies by academics and high school students for generations. As with last week’s article, I am taking inspiration from my son’s classics course assignment. This week, his class is finishing up reading and analyzing Oedipus. They are to choose a character and find an equivalent in another work. Beyond that equivalence, they are to create imagery of their own to show that they actually understand and can defend the characteristics they have chosen to analyze.

My son chose Oedipus as his character and the biblical Job as the equivalent. Neither character had personally done anything that would lead to punishment, yet both were punished by the gods. In the case of Oedipus, it was jealousy between gods and the crimes of his ancestors, both conditions that he was unaware of, that caused his suffering. In the case of Job, it is a rather odd bet between God and Lucifer, again without any knowledge or provocation from the victim. Both characters whine and complain about their fate, but neither actually blames the gods or God. They are both led through the trials and tribulations without any choices except the choice to honor the gods or not.

The imagery that my son chose was that of sheep. Sheep follow their herder both out of habit and necessity. The habit is the association with the herder from birth and not knowing any other life. The necessity is the herder leading the sheep to food, protecting them from predators and searching for them when they are lost or separated from the flock. In fact, domesticated sheep would not survive without the direct and constant intervention of the herders.

Many classic Greeks and modern religious people believe that the direct and constant shepherding is essential to their lives. Others live their lives either hoping that such attention is not needed or convinced that it is not provided. Regardless of your individual belief system, the story in Oedipus allows a certain amount of soul searching, as does the story of Job. If the shepherd purposely allows harm even if it is not fatal, is the shepherd actually doing his job? One could say that the Judeo-Christian God is better since Job gets some of what he lost back in the end, but in both cases the suffering does not help the victim at all. In the case of the Oedipus, the moral is “don’t upset the gods” and “the gods will punish you even if you have no clue why”. In the Job story, the moral seems to be “bad things happen, but if you believe in God, it will not be all bad”.

Building on the question from last week of what makes a classic a classic, consider the implications of a moral or teaching within a story. Most religious texts, fables and myths include morals and teaching. Any story has to have a point and many of the classics depend on moral imperatives to make that point.


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