In this episode of Literary Tales we explore the great Greek poet playwright Sophocles and offer a reading of some of his surviving plays (Oedipus Rex, Antigone, and Electra) and how they revolve around the themes of filial decadence, dissolution, and deliverance in the broader movement of “Tragedy.” Family loyalty and dissolution, I argue, is the context to Sophoclean tragedy because it is so close to our own being and hearts which makes it all the more moving and tragic. But Sophocles also offers us a brief, if otherwise small, glance into the light of eternity.

Benigne Gagneraux, “The Blind Oedipus Commending His Children to the Gods,” 1784. Imagery of filial sadness and empathy are among the most common images produced in Sophoclean tragedy.
Charles Jalabert, “Oedipus and Antigone,” 1842. Filial loyalty is another theme that deeply concerns Sophocles in his plays. To whom do we love? Our family or the state?
Nikiforos Lytras, “Antigone in front of the dead Polynices,” 1865.
Sebastien Norblin, “Antigone Burying Polynices,” 1825. Implicitly, Sophocles advocates a “return to the old ways” which are the filial values that have been lost in his own time. Given that many of Sophocles’ plays also deal with state tyranny and destruction, Sophocles is also a poet-critic of politics. Sophocles identifies state tyranny with the destruction of the family which makes individuals easy prey for state control and demands. The family, according to Sophocles, is the most effective buttress against state-imposed tyranny. The trials of Antigone, especially, reveal this dynamic explored by Sophocles.
Jean-Baptiste Joseph Wicar, “Electra Receiving the Ashes of Her Brother, Orestes,” 1827. Filial deliverance is another one of the themes in Sophocles’ surviving plays. In “Electra,” Electra’s despondency is overcome by the arrival of her brother, Orestes. Departing from Aeschylus, Sophocles’ insistence on the good life being tied to the family life is given a glimpse of hope in “Electra.” Although a tragedy, there is also much hope in this particular play. Electra and Orestes avenge their father together and Electra’s “pure joy” is revealed in Orestes’ arrival (from the supposed dead).


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