Literature to the Renaissance
April 25, 2012
Sophocles King of Catharsis
What is Catharsis? Aristotle describes catharsis as the purging of the emotions of pity and fear that are aroused in the viewer of a tragedy. Debate continues about what Aristotle actually means by catharsis, but the concept is linked to the positive social function of tragedy (english.hawaii.edu). A good example of a Catharsis play is Oedipus the King by Sophocles. Pity and fear are the dominating feelings produced by the play. The play is dripping with catharsis, from beginning to end. The prologue starts off the catharsis in the play. It produces in us pity and fear, pity for the suffering people of Thebes and fear of the future misfortunes that might befall them. The song the Chorus chants in the prologue heightens the feelings of pity and fear. The Chorus says “With fear my heart is riven; fear not what shall be told. Fear is upon us (Sophocles duq.edu).” Fear being mentioned by the Chorus builds up our fear for what might happen to the people and their king. Oedipus’s proclamation about tracking down Laius’s murderer brings a sense of relief for us. It helps us believe that by catching the murderer that Thebes will be restored; not knowing who the murderer is just yet. The curse he puts upon the unknown “criminal” and upon all who might be harboring him, gives us a sense of fear due to the fierceness in which it is spoken. When Oedipus clashes with Teiresias it contributes to the feelings of pity and terror, the prophecy of Teiresias is frightening because it relates to Oedipus. Teiresias speaks to Oedipus in alarming tones, he reveals him as being “brother and father both to the children he embraces, to his mother son and husband both, he sowed the loins his father sowed, he spilled his father’s blood (Sophocles 624)” and accusing him openly of being a murderer and incest. Then tension comes into play when Oedipus’s suspicion on hearing from Jocasta that Laius was killed where...
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