The Sophoclean Hero - Humble Independent School District

+ The Sophoclean Hero: The Birth of the Tragic Hero AP English Literature + Sophocles and the birth of the Tragic Hero Sophocles is often credited as the author of the tragic hero, a type of character that sets the stage for more modern examples like Hamlet, Othello, and Frankenstein. Perhaps the most marked difference is the concentration on the individual, typically characterized by a kind of heroic and splendid isolation. Of the seven surviving plays, only one is named for the

chorusthe rest names their protagonists. + Characteristics.. The circumstances differ, but in each case, the main character is faced with a crisis in which disaster can only be averted by a compromise that, in the protagonists view, would constitute betrayal of something that he or she holds to be supremely important. The protagonist often refuses to compromise, despite being urged to do so by persuasive speeches, threats, actual violence, or all three. The end result is usually complete destruction. + Deinos

In all six of these plays, the protagonist is referred to as a deinos, a Greek word meaning terrible, wondrous, strange. The protagonists are often paired with another character who is more normal, more like an everyday person. This second character often pleads with the protagonist to yield and is harshly rebuffed. (note how the chorus often fulfills that role) These protagonists are indeed deinosthey are both repellant and admirable. + The Greek Hero and the gods

The isolated protagonist is not the only important characteristic of Sophocles tragedy; equally obvious is the almost total absence of the gods though they are often referred to. With the exception of Athena in one of the plays, the gods do not appear at all. Yet, plays like Antigone demonstrate that the laws of the gods are paramount to human will and desireand look what happens when they are ignored. Thus, the characters are left to determine the will of the gods through signs, omens, and propheciesoracles which are often unclear and purposefully evasive. Clearly this underscores the isolation of the characters.

Furthermore, it offers us an understanding of the beginning of mans tragedyhis lack of certainty, his struggle to negate tragedy, his attempts to achieve solidarity. + Sophists and Humanism The question of mans will and the gods power was a topic hotly debated at the time, especially by a group of controversial thinkers called Sophists. The Sophists were a group of teachers who specialized in teaching rhetoric and techniques of argumentation. They often taught their students to make the weaker argument appear strongerit was not a matter of truth. Of course, the sophists questioned the very existence of truth. They espoused a naturalistic view of of morality and religion, questioning the universal validity of morals.

The most famous Sophist was Protagorus, best remembered for his statement man is the measure of all thingsa statement often misunderstood. ( he is also reported to have taught that moral beliefs are true for the communities in which they are held.) Most importantly, they questioned the validity of oracles, which implies questioning the very existence of the gods. + Ode to Man Terribly relevant to the questions of Sophism Often read out of context, the ode takes on something of a positive reading.Sophocles celebration of humanism and humanistic value.

Yet read in the context of the play, the ode seems much less positive First, the word translated wonders is deinos, which already gives a negative slant to the ode, and many of the skills for which the chorus praises man, such as shipbuilding, are themselves ambiguous. The chorus concludes that all of human cleverness has not found an escape from death (from our own human frailty). Seen in context, then, the Ode to Man is not a celebration of humanism, but rather a reminder of his limitations of the humanism of the Sophists and of its failing points.

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