Aidos: The Psychology and Ethics of Honour and Shame in Ancient Greek Literature

By Douglas L. Cairns | Go to book overview

4
Sophocles

The extant plays of Sophocles belong to an age in which the idea that there are two sides to every story became a commonplace, and problems based in sophistic relativism--that people may differ over the meanings of words, may have subjective ideas of what is right and what is true, and find it difficult, sometimes impossible to communicate--loom large in his work. Sophocles understands partiality, aware that people often hold views or attitudes that are contradictory and that they interpret events and situations to suit themselves;1 accordingly, it is common in his work for one kind of aidōs to be set against another, and his characters often have only a partial grasp of what aidōs is, and of what course of action it dictates; conflicts of values, sometimes irreducible, underlie much of the tragic force of Sophocles' plays, and it is in such cases that his use and treatment of aidōs are most important and intriguing.

Von Erffa2 contends that we have no opportunity in Sophocles, as we had in Aeschylus' Supplices, to observe the operation of aidōs over the course of an entire play; with this I cannot concur. The first part of this chapter will consider the more incidental of Sophocles' uses of our terms, although even here we should note the importance of aidōs as an element of the supplication-theme in the Oedipus at Colonus. The second part, however, considers three plays, Ajax, Electra, and Philoctetes, in which the role of aidōs is such that it must be treated as a theme of great significance for our understanding of each play as a whole.


4.1. GENERAL

4.1.1. Oedipus Tyrannus

Our terms occur with relative frequency in the Tyrannus, but the relevant passages are largely heterogeneous, and are not central to the meaning of the play; few therefore require discussion, although some are

____________________
1
Cf. in general Blundell ( 1989), ch. 8.
2
( 1937), 107.

-215-

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Aidos: The Psychology and Ethics of Honour and Shame in Ancient Greek Literature
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xiii
  • Abbreviations xv
  • Introduction 1
  • I - Aidōs in Homer 48
  • 2 - From Hesiod to the Fifth Century 147
  • 3 - Aeschylus 178
  • 4 - Sophocles 215
  • 5 - Euripides 265
  • 6 - The Sophists, Plato, and Aristotle 343
  • Epilogue 432
  • References 435
  • Index of Principal Passages 459
  • General Index 472
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