Oedipus, Sophocles & the Greek tragedy

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Oedipus, Sophocles & the Greek tragedy


ATHENS - When you stand at the top of the Acropolis, you get a view of the entire city of Athens. Athens is surrounded by high mountains and hills on three sides and faces the Aegean Sea.

The natural environment defends the city from foreign invasions while the access to the sea provides trade routes to other regions. Athens had all the reasons to become a powerful city state and bloom the ancient Greek civilization. In Greek, “acro” means high. Literally, Acropolis means “high city.”

The Acropolis is also home to the Parthenon, the temple built in honor of the guardian goddess of the city, Athena. Reconstruction of the Parthenon, which was the first to be named a World Heritage site by Unesco, is now in progress, but no one knows when the project will be completed.

The ancient Greek temple was used as a Byzantine cathedral during the Eastern Roman Empire, and then an Islamic mosque under Ottoman rule.

The fate of the Parthenon seems to be an embodiment of Greek tragedy. In 338 B.C., the tragedy began when Greece was defeated in the Battle of Chaeronea and became subjugated by Macedonia.

The glory of ancient Greece, the cradle of democracy and Western civilization, stopped at that point like a broken clock. The 2,300 years of Greek history since then has been a time for reminiscing about the good, old days.

Now, tragedy has returned to Greece once again. It is burdened with unmanageable debt and has to submit itself to the economic rule of the troika of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

The Greeks, however, keep saying the days of the drachma were better and are not willing to make sacrifices to revive the economy.

They would probably find the story of Koreans’ donating gold to overcome the financial crisis of 1997 far-fetched. But patriotism without action is useless for any country.

The literary creativity of the ancient Greeks set a standard for tragedy. “Oedipus Rex” by Sophocles is considered the quintessential tragic play.

In it, Oedipus is agonized and tries to escape the restraints of his fate, but eventually has to accept a heroic death in the end.

Through “Oedipus,” Sophocles provides catharsis to the audience through his profound insight into the limitations of human fate. In its telling, he may also have predicted the tragedy of Greece.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Bae Myung-bok
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