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5.0 out of 5 stars Man's bitter destiny, 23 May 2013
This review is from: The Theban Plays (Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
This small book contains three undisputable top masterpieces of world literature (written some 2500 years ago!) in a brilliant translation with an excellent introduction by E.F. Watling. Their author, Sophocles, draws through the ordeal of the House of Thebes a dark picture of man with Oedipus as a pars pro toto.

Oedipus as a pars pro toto (for mankind)
The chorus in `Oedipus King' proclaims: `Here is Oedipus, here is the reason why I will call no mortal creature happy.' Why? Oedipus: `I will know who I am. I cannot leave the truth unknown.'
And the truth is that Oedipus is innocent: `if any father was foredoomed by the voice of heaven to die by his own son's hand, how can you justly cast it against me, who was still unborn when that decree was spoken?' (Oedipus in Colonus)
But, for man `so strong is Destiny, no wealth, no armory, no tower, no ship that rides the angry sea her masterly hand can stay.' (Antigone)

Man's life
The chorus in `Antigone' proclaims: `Wonders are many on earth, and the greatest of these is man; he is master of ageless earth; he is lord of all the things living. O wondrous subtlety of man, that draws to good and evil.'
But, man is cursed by Fate; he is a defenseless plaything in the hands of `Fortune' and `Time': `For mortals greatly to live is greatly to suffer.' (Antigone), and. `Time, time, my friend makes havoc everywhere; he is invincible. The sap of earth dries up, flesh dies.' (Oedipus in Colonus)
Only fortune determines man's fate: `Chance raises a man to the heights, chance casts him down, and none can foretell what will be from what it is.' (Antigone), and, `yesterday my mourning of light, now my night of endless darkness.' (Oedipus King)

The character of man and woman
In Sophocles' plays the male and female protagonists have totally different characters. Men have `damnable ambition for power and kingly dominion', like the children of Oedipus: `Brothers sold their father for a throne, preferred the scepter and kingly power.' (Oedipus in Colonus)
The women are the champions of love: `Father, my love, in your shroud of earth we two shall love you for ever and ever.' (Antigone)
Oedipus in `Oedipus at Colonus': My children, to-day your father leaves you. This is the end of all that was I, and the end of your long task of caring for me. I know how hard it was. Yet it was made lighter by one word - love. I loved you as no one else had ever done.' (Antigone)
Antigone defends fiercely the universal law of `bury the dead' against the king's decree: `I do not think your edicts strong enough to overturn the unwritten unalterable laws of God and heaven, you being only a man.' (Antigone)

Politics
Also in politics, `great and terrible is the fall of mortal men, who seek their own advantage by using evil in the guise of good.' (Antigone)
Sophocles' plays are still highly relevant today. To Creon's `I am king and responsible only to myself', his son Haemon replies: `A one-man state? What kind of state is that? You'd be an excellent king - on a desert island.' (Antigone)

Sophocles wrote fascinating plays with raging deep emotions of love, arrogance and hate against a background of war and diseases. Their main themes are power and love expressed via tight family bonds, violent feuds and `fatal' destinies. He painted formidable `human', not always `humane', characters involved in universal/ personal, psychological, political and social conflicts. They are still highly relevant today, with `gods' as `implementers' of human fortunes.
These remarkable translations are a must read for all lovers of world literature.
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Luc REYNAERT
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Location: Beernem, Belgium

Top Reviewer Ranking: 922