Oedipus the King

I was expecting a lot of things from this play, mainly because I had always heard a lot of it, but I had never actually read it. After reading it, I could see what made it such a classic Greek literature, yet I really didn’t enjoy reading it. The way Oedipus is just working away to his own destruction was pretty disturbing to me. The amount of dramatic irony in this play is ridiculous, and it was a bit too much for me.¬†While I knew the story before I read it, the amount of dramatic irony just made it difficult for me to expect any surprises while reading. I knew Oedipus was going to have to find out eventually, and that being the hero of the story, he would punish himself.

I found that for the first time in our reading list, Oedipus is the first “hero” with which I didn’t have a very strong connection with. While I definitely pitied him, and felt sorry for him, I had difficulty relating or connecting with Oedipus. Particularly in certain parts, like when he picks on the blind beggar. While of course those parts are important to foreshadow, and add to the irony (of which there’s already plenty of), I felt like it made Oedipus inconsistent as a character, especially when as a king he is so adamant about righteousness and justice.

While the play is definitely a tragedy, I don’t feel like it is a traditional tragedy. This play is a tragedy from the very beginning, with absolutely no deviation or opportunity to surprise the reader. It essentially felt like I was just waiting for Oedipus to realize what we all knew the entire time. This isn’t a tragedy which is able to connect the reader to a pair of star-crossed lovers, before their tragic deaths ensue. This tragedy instead is one in which the reader simply knows everything, and just waits until the hero punishes himself. This tragedy wasn’t exactly tragic for me, while I definitely felt bad for Oedipus who constantly works away to his own demise I never felt remotely sad. Perhaps the only tragic part of the play is how cruel Oedipus’s punishment to himself is.

While I’m sitting here, bashing the play about not being tragic enough, I think it’s important to recognize how Sophocles most likely had a very different definition of “tragedy” than we do today. In the modern era, we have many defining archetypal tragedies like Romeo and Juliet which set the standard for what to expect form a tragedy. Sophocles had none of these classics to guide him in his writing, in fact, Sophocles is very probably ahead of his time. While I recognize how fantastic this piece of literature is, I was still disappointed by my expectations set by our modern definition of tragedies.

Beowulf

Reading Beowulf was very reminiscent of our first book, The Odyssey. That might be one of the reasons that I really enjoyed Beowulf, as the epic tale is one of action. The edition from the bookstore is absolutely gorgeous, and the pictures and illustrations inside give the book a lot of depth and context in helping understand the objects and culture of Beowulf’s world. A large part of why I enjoy reading stories like The Odyssey and Beowulf is because there is a central hero which the story tends to follow.

As it says in the tale, Beowulf is “no mere hanger-on in a hero’s armour.”, and he is continuously lauded for his feats of strength and courage. The presence of a character like this, a powerful and wise hero is calming, and really gives me someone to cheer for. It might be a really simple thought, but I like having a “good guy” and especially a community which is ultimately “good”. Whether it is because we as people always strive for a happy community, or if it’s just easier to see who the is monster in the story, having a character like Beowulf or Odysseus makes stories much more enjoyable for me.

And what more could you ask from a character like Beowulf? He is truly the peak of a man, travelling to slay evil, and restore peace throughout the world. It is from this that we also see how exchanges and gifts were made in the tale. Once Beowulf kills Grendel he and his men are greatly rewarded by the king Hrothgar, who also is happy to let them stay in Heorot for as long as they wish. These exchanges show respect and gratitude in their true form, giving treasures and gold stories behind them rather than just meaningless objects with a predetermined amount of value. It reminds me why I like concrete gifts more than just receiving money from relatives.

Yet ultimately the story of Beowulf is a tragic one. While the Odyssey might end in (relative) happiness, Beowulf seems to be quite different as our hero who fought so valiantly for the community is abandoned and left to die. While this is pretty sad, I really loved Beowulf as the story is a great example of what an epic tale should be like.