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Title: Time, alternation, and the failure of reason : Sophoclean tragedy and Archaic Greek thought
Author: Johnston, Alexandre Charles
ISNI:       0000 0004 7229 3092
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2018
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This thesis examines the place, influence, and deployment of archaic Greek thought in Sophocles’ extant tragedies, paying close attention to the ethical and theological content of the plays as well as to their dramatic and literary fabric. I use archaic thought as an umbrella term for a constellation of ideas on the human condition and the gods which is first attested, in Greece, in Homeric epic, but has a long and variegated existence in other contexts and after the archaic period. The thesis consists of six chapters, divided in two parts. The first part provides a general conceptual framework, which is then applied in the detailed readings of Sophocles constituting the second part. The first chapter examines some of the main texts of archaic Greek thought, and offers an interpretation of it as a coherent nexus of ideas gravitating around the core notions of human vulnerability, short-sightedness, and the principle of alternation. Using the examples of Homer’s Iliad and Solon’s Elegy to the Muses, I argue that the narrative structure of archaic poetry can be used to formulate and “perform” archaic ideas. The second chapter formulates the principal argument of the thesis: that archaic thought is central to the ethical and religious content of tragedy as well as to its dramatic and literary fabric, that is, to the form of tragedy as a complex artefact designed to be performed on stage. I explore possible models for the interaction between archaic thought and literature and tragedy, from Aristotle’s Poetics to recent interpretations of tragedy as a hybrid of other literary and intellectual forms. I then examine the ways in which archaic ideas are deployed and performed in tragedy, both in passages that are explicitly archaic in content and diction, and in the complex interactions of dramatic form and intellectual content. This general discussion is illustrated with preliminary readings of four Sophoclean plays: Ajax, Oedipus Tyrannus, Philoctetes, and Oedipus at Colonus. The third chapter contextualises the approach adopted in the thesis as a whole by exploring two interpretations of Sophocles in German Idealist thought: Solger’s reading of Ajax and Hölderlin’s reading of Oedipus Tyrannus. It argues that these analyses, albeit under anachronistic conceptual categories such as “the tragic”, seize on some of the fundamental questions of archaic and tragic ethics and theology: the relationship between the human and divine spheres, and the limits of language and human understanding. In Chapters 4, 5, and 6, I offer detailed readings of Trachiniae, Antigone, and Electra, three plays chosen to reflect the diversity of contexts in which archaic ideas exist in Sophocles. I argue that archaic thought is central to the intellectual and dramatic fabric of all three plays, even though the deployment and emphasis of archaic patterns and ideas differs from one tragedy to the next.
Supervisor: Cairns, Douglas ; Trepanier, Simon Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Sophocles ; Archaic Greek thought ; Greek tragedy ; intellectual history ; Greek religion