Please enable javascript to view this page in its intended format.

Queen's University

Supporting Materials for Lectures

Lecture 4: Turning Points


  1. Dramas of Choice
    1. Choice
      The question, "What shall I do?" (Greek ti draso?, Latin quid facerem?) is common in drama - in fact the word "drama" is related to the word draso. Those tragedies that do not, like Aristotle's beloved Oedipus the King, enter on an ignorant character's recognition of himself or another, involve instead a moment of dilemma and choice and hence some such question as this. Consider these moments of choice. Relate this topic to the moment of crisis in epic as discussed by J. Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness (Toronto 1976). Consider the possibility of repenting one's choices, as in the nurse's line in Eur. Hippolytus 436, "in this world second thoughts, it seems, are best." Oedipus chooses to know the truth, however painful; compare the character in Missing who says, "the worst thing is not knowing". If persuasion can manifest itself as temptation or seduction, can choice manifest itself as conversion?

      Relevant ancient passages are Aesch. Suppliant Maidens 379-80, Agamemnon 206-7, Libation Bearers 899, Soph. Ajax 457, Oedipus the King 1443, Philoctetes 908, Herodotus 1.11.3-4, and the Gyges-tragedy (fr. adespoton 664 TrGF 8f Euripides Alcestis 380 (cf. Medea 502 and Ennius' translation), Dresphontes 36 (Mette's emendation, see Hermes 92 [1964] 391-5), Neophron Medea (in Stobaeus Florilegium 20.34; cf. Catullus 64.177), Vergil Eclogues 7.14, Aeneid 4.534, Ter. Eun. 966, etc.


      • B. Snell, Aischylos und das Handeln im Drama (Leipzig, 1928) 13, 32f, 131f.
      • B. M. W. Knox, "Second Thoughts in Greek Tragedy, " Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 7 (1966) 213-32.
      • R. L. Fowler, "The Rhetoric of Desperation," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 91 (1987) 5-38.


    2. Persuasion
      In those tragedies in which the tragic action hinges upon the deliberate choice of the main character, that choice is often brought about as a result of the persuasion (peitho) of another character. Consider the nature of this persuasion. You might contrast persuasion on the one hand with brute force (bia), e.g. in Aesch. Supp. between the Argives and the Egyptians, and on the other with cunning guile (dolos) and note that persuasion usually occurs in stichomythia while deception takes the form of a set-speech, rhesis. Compare the Platonic opposition of philosophic dialectic versus sophistic rhetoric.

      Relevant ancient passages are Aesch. Agam. 918-98, Eur. Alcestis 1042-1108, Bacchae 787-846. Does persuasion ever fail in Greek tragedy (cf. Aesch. Lib. Bearers 89608)? What is it about Sophocles' characters that prevents them from resorting to persuasion? Persuasion in a sexual context is seduction, in a moral one is temptation.


      • A. P. Burnett, "Human Resistance and Divine Persuasion in Euripides' Ion," Classical Philology 57 (1962) 89-103.
      • G. Kennedy, The Art of Persuasion in Greece (Princeton 1963).
      • A. F. Garvie, "Deceit, Violence and Persuasion in the Philoctetes," in Studi classici in onore di Quintino Cataudella (Catania 1972) 213-26.
      • N. S. Rabinowitz, "From Force to Persuasion: Aeschylus' Oreteia as Cosmognoic Myth," Ramus 10 (1981) 159-91.
      • R. G. A. Buxton, Persuasion in Greek Tragedy (Cambridge and New York 1982).
      • K. Wilkenson, "From Hero to Citizen: Persuasion in Early Greece," Philosophy and Rhetoric 15 (1982) 104-25.
      • H. Konishi, "Agamemnon's Reasons for Yielding," American Journal of Philology 110 (1989) 189-209.


    3. Warning
      The opposite of persuasion is the warning figure (nouthetes), e.g. Oceanus in Aesch. Prom. Bound 307-20, Ismene in Soph. Ant. 1ff, Croesus in Herodotus, and the "restrainer" on the Boston Oresteia crater.


      • R. Lattimore, "The Wise Advisor in Herodotus," Classical Philology 34 (1939) 24-35.


  2. Dramas of Error
    1. Error
      In his Poetics 13.5 (1453a 8-23) Aristotle says that tragedy presents a great man brought low by a megale hamartia (his examples are Oedipus and Thyestes). The phrase is taken to mean very different things by different people: either (i) a moral failing or character-flaw (German Schuld; Harsh) or (ii) an intellectual error in judgement or even a mistake about the identity of a person (Van Braam, Breme) or (iii) some kind of combination of the two (Stinton). Which of these views is closest to describing the central problem of Greek tragedy? Comment on the possible relationship of the term hamartia (rarely used by the tragedians themselves) with ate (see Dawe and Golden). Is ate itself just a fancy term for "the Devil made me do it"? If so, why do those who plead ate accept their punishment like Agamemnon in the Iliad? (See J. Stallmache, Ate [Meisenheim am Glan 1968] and R. E. Doyle, Ate: Its Use and Meaning [New York 1984].) Consider the Latin term culpa as applied e.g. by Vergil to Dido (Aeneid 4.19; Moles).

      Compare the paradoxical words of Prometheus in Aesch. Prom Bound 266, "willingly, willingly did I do wrong", Antigone's claim that she knew what she was doing, Socrates' statement, "no-one does wrong willingly" (Plato Prot. 345d, cf. Simonides apud Gorg. 509e, etc.) And that of St. Paul, "the good I see I do not..." (Romans 7.15). Medea says video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor (Ovid Met. 7.21, cf. Eur. Hipp. 380-1 with the comments of E. R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational [Berkeley and Los Angeles 1951] 186-7). Does Dawe's equation of hamartia and ate with its implication that the Gods are to blame undermine the equation of hamartia and culpa or does the concept of "overdetermination" account for this? See G. Calogero, "Gorgias and the Socratic Principle of nemo sua sponte peccat," Journal of Hellenic Studies 77 (1957) 12-7.

      Error plays a role in comedy as well as in tragedy: there is a character named Agnoia ("misapprehension") in Menander's The Girl with the Haircut (Periceiromene) ; see H. W. Prescott, "The Comedy of Errors," Classical Philology 24 (1929) 32-41, R. Pack, "Errors as Subjects of Comic Mirth," Classical Philology 33 (1938) 405-10, and E. Segal, "The Menaechmi: Roman Comedy of Errors," Yale Classical Studies 21 (1969) 77-93.

      • *P. van Braam, "Aristotle's Use of Hamartia," Classical Quarterly (1912) 266.
      • O. Hey, "Hamartia," Philologus 83 (1927) 1-17, 137-63.
      • S. E. Bassett, "The Hamartia of Achilles," Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 65 (1934) 47-69.
      • M. K. Flickinger, The "Hamartia" of Sophocles'Antigone = Iowa Studies in Classical Philology 2 (Scottsdale, PA 1935) 11-18.
      • R. A. Pack, "A Passage of Alexander of Aphrodisias Relating to the Theory of Tragedy," American Journal of Philology 58 (1937) 418-36.
      • R. A. Pack, "Fate, Chance and Tragic Error," American Journal of Philology 60 (1939) 350-6.
      • R. A. Pack, "On Guilt and Error in Senecan Tragedy," Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 71 (1940) 360-71.
      • *P. W. Harsh, "Hamartia Again," Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 76 (1945) 47-58.
      • I. M. Glanville, "Tragic Error," Classical Quarterly 43 (1949) 47-57.
      • H. B. Jaffee, "How Tragic is the Tragic Flaw?," Classical Bulletin 26 (1950) 13ff.
      • C. H. Whitman, Sophocles: A Study of Tragic Heroism (Cambridge, Mass. 1951) chapter 2 on Scholarship and Hamartia".
      • K. von Fritz, "Tragische Schuld und poetische Gerechtigkeit in der griechischen Tragödie," in Antike und moderne Tragödie 2nd ed. (Berlin 1962) 194-237.
      • G. E. Else, Aristotle's Poetics: The Argument (Cambridge, Mass. 1957) 376-99.
      • M. Ostwald, "Aristotle on Hamartia and Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus," Festschrift Ernst Kapp (Hamburg 1958) 93-108.
      • H. Funk, Die sogennante tragische Schuld (Cologne 1962).
      • R. D. Dyer, "Hamartia in the Poetics and Aristotle's Model of Failure," Arion 4 (1965) 658-64
      • *A. H. W. Adkins, "Aristotle and the Best Kind of Tragedy," Classical Quarterly 16 (1966) 78-103.
      • D. W. Lucas, Aristotle: Poetics (Oxford 1968) 299-307.
      • *R. D. Dawe, "Some Reflections on Ate and Hamartia," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 72 (1968) 89-123.
      • *J. M. Bremer, Hamartia: Tragic Error in the Poetics of Aristotle and in Greek Tragedy (Amsterdam 1969).
      • M. J. Anderson, "Kreon's Hamartia," Greece and Rome 17 (1970) 119-217.
      • *T. C. W. Stinton, "Hamartia in Aristotle and Greek Tragedy," Classical Quarterly 25 (1975) 221-54 = Collected Papers (Oxford 1990) 143-85.
      • S. Osterud, "Hamartia in Aristotle and Greek Tragedy," Symbolae Osloenses 51 (1976) 65-80.
      • L. Golden, "Hamartia, Ate and Oedipus," Classical World 72 (1978) 3-12.
      • L. Said, La faute tragique (Paris 1978).
      • J. A. Arieti, "History, Hamartia and Herodotus," 1-26 in D. V. Stump ed., Hamartia: The Concept of Error in the Western Tradition = Festschrift J. M. Crossett (New York 1983).
      • C. Lindsay, "Aphrodite and the Equivocal Argument: Hamartia in Hippolytus," 51-7 in ibid.
      • P. A. Cavallero, "La hamartia en el teatro de Sofocles," Agros 8 (1984) 5-32.
      • J. L. Moles, "Aristotle and Dido's Hamartia," Greece and Rome 31 (1984) 48-54.


    2. Recognition
      In plays of homecoming and in plays where the central character makes an intellectual error, there is often a scene inherited from the epic in which the returning character is recognized (Odysseus, Orestes) or in which the victim of hamartia recognizes the truth (Deianira, Admetus); in a famous case where both are true the homecoming victim recognizes himself (Oedipus). Consider the nature of these recognition-scenes (anagnorises, Latin cognitiones). Does anagnorisis relate in any way to the Platonic doctrine of anamnesis? Lichas recognizes Encolpius by his penis in Petronius Sat. 105. On recognition that comes too late, see the motif of the single day. Jesus was recognized after meeting his disciples on the road to Eumaus and breaking bread with them; he offers his wounds to Thomas as recognition-tokens.

      2.1 Recognition in Homer

      • J. A. Scott, "Helen's Recognition of Telemachus in the Odyssey," Classical Journal 25 (1930) 383-85.
      • E. Basabe, "Las ultimas anagnorisis de la Odissea," Helmantica 1 (1950) 339-61.
      • A. Auerbach, Mimesis (Princeton 1953) 3-23.
      • C. P. Segal, "Andromache's Anagnorisis: Formulaic Artistry in Iliad 22.437-476," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 75 (1971) 33-57.
      • A. Köhnken, "Die Narbe des Odysseus," Antike und Abendland 22 (1976) 101-114.
      • P. Han, "Recognition in the Odyssey," Revue Belge de Philologie et d'Histoire 59 (1981) 50-55.
      • N. J. Richardson, "Recognition Scenes in the Odyssey," Papers of the Liverpool Latin Seminar 4 (1983) 219ff.
      • S. Murnaghan, Disguise and Recognition in theOdyssey (Princeton 1987).

      2.2 Recognition in Drama in General

      • D. C. Stuart, "The Function and the Dramatic Value of the Recognition Scene in Greek Tragedy," American Journal of Philology 39 (1918) 268-90.
      • F. Solmsen, Electra and Orestes: Three Recognitions in Greek Tragedy (Amsterdam 1967).
      • T. Tarkow, "The Scar of Orestes: Observations on an Euripidean Innovation," Rheinisches Museum 124 (1981) 143-53.

      2.3 Recognition in Aeschylus Libation Bearers 205ff (for recognition by means of footprints, see M. Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn chapter 4)

      • L. A. Tregenza, "The Return of Orestes in the Choephori," Greece and Rome 2 (1955) 59-61.
      • H. Lloyd-Jones, Some Alleged Interpolations in Aeschylus' Choephori and Euripides' Electra," Classical Quarterly 11 (1961) 171-84 = Greek Epic, Lyric and Tragedy (Oxford 1990) 335-52.
      • W. Burkert, "A Note on Aeschylus Choephori 205ff," Classical Quarterly 13 (1963) 177.


    3. Deception
      A number of heroes and heroines, particularly in Sophocles, are led to commit acts of hamartia because they are the victims of deception or apate. Apate involves active distortion, e.g. through suppression or ambiguity concerning motive as distinct from objective falsehood concerning facts (lying, pseudos such as Phaedra's letter in Eur. Hipp.); in this respect, deception is closely linked to IRONY. Consider these scenes: e.g. Aesch. Pers 352ff, Cho. [Orestes says that he himself is dead], Oedipus the King 123-5 and 783-5 and Trachiniae 248-90, 569-77 and 610-3, Electra 680-763, Ajax 644-92 (Does Ajax deliberately lie to his friends or has he unintentionally misled them?) And Philoctetes 343-90, Eur. Medea 964-75, Vergil, Aeneid 2.57-75. Note the artful word-order in Lichas' speech and the creative invention in the paedagogus' speech in the Electra.

      Consider the theological aspects of deception. Note that gods are capable of deception in Homer (Iliad 2.1-15, 14.153-352) and Aeschylus (fr. 350 Nauck2 = Plato Republic 383 A) but not in Herodotus (1.90-1) or in Sophocles, with the possible exception of Athena in the Ajax. Pindar and Plato react to Xenophanes' charge that the gods commit adultery, like and deceive one another by emending the relevant myths. Deception seems to escape censure in the Bible (Laban and his daughters; the blessing of Jacob).

      Deception is present in comedy, as when Xanthias claims to be a god (Ar. Frogs) or the Spartan woman claims to be pregnant (Ar. Lysistrata), but it becomes crucial to the plot only in New Comedy, e.g. the claim that the house is haunted in Plaut. The Haunted House. (See R. Z. Burrows, "Deception as a Comic Device in the Odyssey," Classical World 59 (October 1965) 33-6.


      • T. G. Rosenmeyer, "Gorgias, Aeschylus and Apate," American Journal of Philology 76 (1955) 225-60.
      • A. F. Garvie, "Deceit, Violence and Persuasion in the Philoctetes," in Studi classici in onore di Quintino Cataudella I (Catania 1972) 213-26.
      • J. H. Kells, Sophocles: Electra (Cambridge 1973) ad loc.
      • H. Musurillo, "The Problem of Lying and Deceit and the Two Voices of Euripides' Hippolytus 925-31," Transactions of the American Philological Association 104 (1974) 231-8.
      • J. Moore, "The Dissembling Speech of Ajax," Yale Classical Studies 25 (1977) 47-66.
      • S. Goodhart, "Leistas Ephaske: Oedipus and Laius' Many Murderers," Diacritics 8 (1978) 55-71.
      • R. P. Winnington-Ingram, Sophocles: An Interpretation (Cambridge 1980) 332-3.
      • D. A. Hester, "Deianira's 'Deception' Speech," Antichthon 14 (1980) 1-8.
      • D. A. Hester, "Some Deceptive Oracles: Sophocles Electra 32-7," Antichthon 15 (1981) 15-25.
      • W. J. Verdenius, "Gorgias' Doctrine of Deception," in G. B. Herferd ed., The Sophists and Their Legacy = Hermes Einzelschriften 44 (Wiesbaden 1981) 116-29.
      • P. E. Easterling, Sophocles: Trachiniae (Cambridge 1982) ad loc.
      • M. Davies, "Lichas' Lying Tale," Classical Quarterly 34 (1984) 480-3.
      • P. T. Stevens, "Ajax in the Trugrede," Classical Quarterly 36 (1986) 327-36.
      • C. M. Emlyn-Jones, "True and Lying Tales in the Odyssey," Greece and Rome 33 (1986) 1-10.
      • M. R. Halleran, "Lichas' Lies and Sophoclean Innovation," Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 27 (1986) 239-48.
      • K. V. Hartigan, "Salvation via Deceit: A New Look at Iphigeneia in Tauris," Eranos 84 (1986) 119-25.
      • D. Lateiner, "Deceptions and Delusions in Herodotus," Classical Antiquity 9 (1990) 230-46.


  3. Reversal
    1. Reversal
      The perfect tragedy, according to Aristotle Poetics 1450a 37, 1452a 23 does not march on relentlessly toward doom, but rather presents a reversal of fortune (peripeteia) by which the apparently fortunate hero is suddenly brought low. Consider this process. A tragedy with a simple plot has a gradual development from joy to sorrow (e.g. Aesch. Pers.) or vice versa (e.g. Aesch. Eum.); this development is called metabasis. A tragedy with a complex plot has a sudden reversal from joy to sorrow (e.g. Soph. OT, Eur. Her.) or vice versa (e.g. Eur. Alc.). Such a tragedy often involves the allegedly desirable coincidence of peripeteia and recognition. There are plays without any reversal at all (e.g. Aesch. Supp., Prom. Bound), although these may be structurally incomprehensible divorced, as they now are, from the tetralogies that originally contained them.

      In comedy, reversal may be a tool in the joke that operates through defeat of expectation (para prosdokian).


      • H. M. Reynolds, "Peripeteia and Allied Terms in Aristotle's Poetics," Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 11 (1893) xliv-xlvii.
      • G. E. Else, Aristotle's Poetics: The Argument (Cambridge, Mass. 1957) ad loc.
      • J. H. Lawson, Theory and Technique of Playwriting (New York 1960).
      • D. W. Lucas, "Pity, Terror and Peripeteia," Classical Quarterly 12 (1962) 52-60.
      • S. Smiley, Playwriting: The Structure of Action (Englewood Cliffs, NJ 1971).
      • J. A. Barlow, "Stereotype and Reversal in Euripides Medea," Greece and Rome 36 (1971) 158-71.
      • J.-P. Vernant, "Ambiguity and Reversal: On the Enigmatic Structure of Oedipus Rex," New Literary History 9 (1978) 475-501.
      • A. F. Garvie, "Aeschylus' Simple Plots," Dionysiaca = Festschrift D. L. Page (Cambridge 1978) 63-86.
      • A. C. Coolidge, Jr., Beyond the Fatal Flaw (Lake MacBride 1980) chapter 3.
      • O. J. Schrier, "A Simple View of Peripeteia," Mnemosyne 33 (1980) 96-118.


    2. Surprise
      A possible ingredient in reversal is surprise. How can we speak of surprise in a play whose story is known to everyone in advance, as is the case with all surviving tragedies?


      • R. G. Tetstall, "An Instance of 'Surprise' in the Hecuba," Mnemosyne 7 (1954) 340-41.
      • W. G. Arnott, "Euripides and the Unexpected," Greece and Rome 20 (1973) 49-64.
      • W. G. Arnott, "Red Herrings and Other Baits: A Study in Euripidean Techniques," Museum Philologum Londiniense 3 (1978) 1-24.
      • W. G. Arnott, "Tension, Frustration and Surprise; A Study of Theatrical Techniques in Some Scenes of Euripides' Orestes," Antichthon 17 (1983) 13-28.

Department of Classics, 505 Watson Hall
Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6.
P: 613.533.2745 | F: 613.533.6739