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The following tape recorded program is a presentation of the National Association of educational broadcasters. The ego S-10 tragedy. The University of Chicago radio office presents the first in a series of three talks by David Greene poet translator and professor in the committee on social thought at the University of Chicago. Today's program is entitled if elected to use of Sophocles. Mr. Green the idea I had tonight about your previous lecture was that I would like to for about. Somebody 40 or 50 minutes and then I give you about 10 minutes for questions. I'd like to get any questions on points that you don't understand and points where I feel as a matter of fact in the development of the rest of the lecture if you could help me. Now to start with I want to give you a definition and just suggest I think. The definition I'm pretty sure about
the team is in the process of development. The definition is the description of the kind of man I'm going to talk about the kind of man. Who is the central figure in these three tragedies. By the Greek the Englishman and the Norwegian so far apart in time. The theme is the kind of tragedy which overtakes him. I want to try and relate both the man and the theme to the occurrence of both of them in the life outside of the theater. That is to say I want to relate the artificial theatrical image to the human material which suggested to the writer. In a way I suppose I probably don't need to explain that to you
but perhaps I should. It's not that you wouldn't know it but just that so that we're agreed on our terms so to speak. I mean that the work of art whatever it is be it painting a poem or play is in my opinion something entirely artificial. But it is something which is closely related to the experience of the writer are. All the painter. In other words whatever are the artificial composition is that he has put together. It is something which in a new way. Recreate the experience. That it was his. Now my ego just is a peculiar sort of egotist. He's not essentially a man who desires power hour on money.
Or success for their own sake. Whatever that may mean it's a phrase in current use. What I mean is that he doesn't want power or money or success to make him feel secure or happy. But he wants to impose on life. On his relations with other people. On the system of causation operating in the world on the great shapeless mass of advance. A firm full of meaning and beauty. He wants his imaginative power to be unfettered to creation without impairment of the design by accident or ugliness. He wants to break the barrier between fantasy and reality. That's my definition and now I want to tell you about that theme. The eagle just tragedy on the stage must in its simplest form
be the impact of the world outside of himself on his dreams and the destruction of the dreams in consequence. But the complication arises that the order is rather I'm easily aware that the ego just has brought his tragedy on himself that he is raw and by that I mean that he is attempting something which the very nature of existence in this world will not bear and that he will be destroyed by this wrongness. The sense of his run and theatrically experience is very closely related to the real outside of the theatre life. We all as human beings have a sense of the continuity of
life which is based on the existence of cause and effect in a very particular way. We all recognize love or hate or joy or sorrow in ourselves. As the beginnings of similar sentiments in others and the acts of others. We know the issuance of feeling Act and the sequences of act. Something which carries the first feeling. And the first act. To a conclusion which makes it irrelevant to the foregoing. It has been actually swallowed up by what happens after and everybody in it day to day consciousness. Is aware that this moment is over and that this feeling has already led to another. And the continuity of life that we so know
possesses for us ultimate play. A reality superior to any other. Now opposing this recognition is our desire. To have an absolute independence and value for each of our sensations and reactions. In each of them. We want to be ourselves as his or her most complete. When I Feel Love or hate or joy or sorrow I want to feel not only that I am part of a cause and effect train of action but that I am apt that moment most completely myself. The love or hate I feel the joy or sorrow and I offer the moment one and the essential attribute of myself and my emotion is that
I can believe that it is not transitory that because it is truly it cannot be overwhelmed and obliterated by the events which happen after it. Now in fact none of us achieved this moment if we achieve it at all. For more than a very few. Moments because we're almost continuously aware of ourselves in the contexts other people's actions and this does not actually allow the sense of vital permanence for our emotions. In one way every tragic play is an image of these two opposing forces the desire for the integrity. And indestructibility of our moment of emotion and the acceptance of the submergence abstract moment
in an unending sequence of cause and effect. When we watch a tragedy to its end we must feel some of pain yesterday. Conviction of the necessity of the submergence and pain added It is the hero of the tragic day who is ourselves. It is he who is fighting for the survival of our moment of indestructibility and its the course of events which is the destroying force. Rockey and destruction consists in is the assertion. That the love or hate all the joy or sorrow. That we see in the Person of the tragic hero experience is not single is not lasting and by implication is not real.
That is it has only to be exist outside of the succession all the loves and hates and joys and sorrows of every man in the world. And I have said that all tragic theater are is in a way an effective mediation between these two realities. And that is because it invents an artificial continuity of a real word which is technically satisfying. What I mean by that is that an image is created which conveys the continuity of life. Which does not alter it just dry. Our belief in the reality of the passion which died with the hero. The dramatist invents various forms of retribution for instance
actions in balance in such a way that even the formlessness of the world takes for the thing I'd remind you about that for instance is the end of such tragedies as Hamlet in which the succession vested in Fortune brass is very significant for Hamlet because it's not just the succession as Prince of course but the succession of a prince would always be significantly different from Hamlet. There are however certain plays which push the conflict between these two realities. To another sort of conclusion. These are plays the do not actually employ a conclusion. Which is is there to Calais. And finally acceptable. But the image are the conclusion. Which
mirrors the formlessness of life. The hero in this case is not someone whom one can call the normal exponent. Our desire for emotional reality. But the abnormal He is the egotist the egotist being someone who has cultivated his love of his emotions. Past the point at which there can be any reconciliation between them and the rest of life. He has found the means to live in them a form which brings him satisfaction. And he totally lacks willingness to let the necessity of change of a rule them. The wrongness of the egotist is theatrically an exaggeration of the spark of imaginative creativity which is in every one of us.
We know that we must make terms between this power of fantasy and the real world. But there's always something in us that resists the compromise and the egotist is the champion of that protest of ours. Now the elemental creative quality is of course. The undeveloped version of a general artistic impulse. But the eager trust that you're going to see in these three plays that I've chosen. Is a very particular form of artist. He stands in relation to particular relation. To the actor. And particularly the actor who represents him. The actor is someone who creates a figure with the geometry of movement with his voice.
With his face and expression. Unlike that of the painter or the writer. His work his work vanishes once it has been externalized. He canna and anybody else cannot. Examine it again and know whether the creation is good even whether the creation was real. His reality is always in the between and between his personality using voice face and expression and motion instinctive. And these physical properties manipulated systematic play and indirectly to produce the likeness of somebody and something else. So the actor who
was defending his creation. Is defending it against the onslaught of time and sequence. He's defending a power and a beauty we can understand and love. And yet never have proof that he just existed the moment after he ceased acting. In the three place I chose the hero is in a certain particular sense an actor. And the rendering obvious role is that of an actor representing an actor. Now it's probably also fair to indicate to you that arbitrary plays. The hero of only one the Master Builder would be immediately admitted by everybody to be in my sense of the term an egotist. I'm not absolutely sure that that would happen but for the fact that very conveniently Epson has called
him such in his own mouth. So there can't be any question about it. In the case of the other two the collective is of a car an anus. And when I have done is really to greet them with a lamp slanted a certain way. Now I don't mean by that but the theme is there. Because I don't believe one should really place for anything everything one can find in them. I think one should be by the way a historian is by the fact by what one really believes was. The central element of the author's interest and I believe that the theme as I have described it is the central element of the author's interest in all three but such themes hardly exist apart from the words one uses and keeps in is the only one of the three dramatist. Who
would have seen the play. Perhaps that's an Irish boy who would have used the same words about the play that I would have done. I mean if you say you see it in the same words I am in the position of the late. Irish Member of Parliament who said. When when the day come that nations see the British lion walking arm in arm with the floodgates of democracy. My my. Now if you can listen to these lectures with interest in the slant. That is to say if the slant brings out things that you wouldn't otherwise see. I'm satisfied. And afterward you can if you like you see something that you don't like just glad. You even can say there isn't any
land which I would personally regret because it would mean that you ultimately disagree with me that the theme was fair and that is what I think is there. That's to say you would disagree with me. The theme was there the first two plays I don't think my last one. Now if I take up the predicted it in detail. I have some apologies in a way in the public sector for giving you such a very detailed examination of it activities that's why I suggested. In the announcement that you could get a translation thing if you want to. I think that any honest examination of the play reveals that it has a quite extraordinary degree of compulsiveness which is marred by two things. The first but the ending seems to us wrong. Essentially. It's a violation
of our usual sense of tragedy for the denouement by means of Harry Glee really seems mechanical and wrong. And secondly we are both bored irritated by the whaling on Phillip TT's as physical sufferings and the amount of time that the writer has given to describing them. Now I'd like to make an analysis of for the kiddies for you this evening. Which assumes just these two. Impressions of yours that there is a strong compulsiveness out about the play and that. They just put it in this for there is something wrong with the end. And there is something irritating about the amount of Alas I know how my foot hurts and all that sort of thing and it's in the play. I'm not trying you see to defeat your theatrical
reaction. Because what really matters about theatre are from the beginning to the end is the reaction of the audience. It matters far more than they rather pedantically conceived rules of what is the right kind of play and what isn't. But I don't want to say I do. That since the verdict is in part adverse the Filioque treat it as a bad play but I don't think that. I want to suggest certain ideas about the planes meaning and construction which I think will show up for volunteers. Which is in my terms a very illuminating distortion of the ordinary tragic theme. The divisions in the play first of all are quite clear. That's the first movement which contains the laying of the plot between a disuse and the
uptightness. Second the execution of the clock by NEAP Thomas and the assumed trade are the third of Thomas's revelation. The deception. I do see is this appearance. And Philip TT's rejection of the conspirators are. The first on the reversal of Thomas's decision in regard to predict TT's. And Philip de Jesus second rejection of the offer and finally the coming of characters. Now even a bold sketch like this indicates the enormous importance of the part of me of Thomas and I think any deeper recollection of the play indicates how much would involved ourselves in the relation of Thomas and for the activities I was had this forcibly brought home to me when I was in England a couple of years ago when I talked
with Brady. Perhaps the greatest living classical scholar. Like talk to him about his activities and he said to me really seems to me quite extraordinary that this is such an impressive play because it's really a play a play about how a fairly decent drunk man makes up his mind to do a very dirty didn't just do it. I want to notice. I want you to notice a single point. In the interpretation of the road of me of Thomas. It's quite a small thing in itself but it raises the issue of the meaning of this part. In an important way in a way which I feel is very important for my theme. When your tolerance engages to persuade Philip TT's tells this he is here to do so. He says. But if you suggest to me agrees. That he tells me
of to tell for the 30 years that his father's at his knee and tell him his father was a killer his arms. Were stolen from him by the Greeks after his father's death. And when he came back and asked for them they went given him and that indeed any indignation of that would quit the whole outfit and started home. Now if you're like myself you assume I think at first but that of course is a pure fabrication. In that case you're brought up rather short. By a statement after the case after the whole plot has been explained to him. When he says. To me of tallness 20 of Thomas's then trying to persuade him on his own to come home. He says you shouldn't be persuading me to go to Troy. The Greeks have wronged you too for they took away your rar.
Now I don't really think in spite of the years I spent teaching in the college that the assumption should be that Sophocles forgot what he was doing. And I don't think on so there one can assume that the lice have taken such a hold on him. That even after the revelation of the plus. Collect TT's can rid himself of the impression that it is made on him. I think there is another alternative. That in some important sense the story to buying the uptightness is true. And that the only effective eloquence of thoughts to which he is introduced. Are the insinuation that he was so angry at the loss of the arms that he was sailing home. Now if this is so it means
I believe. That the usual interpretation of Neapolis must be greatly modified. Now at this stage you mean see any very interesting difference between there are no use telling a complete lawyer or whether he is merely presenting a rather distorted version of the truth for his own ends but I don't you just suspend your judgment for a little bit. You see the whole pattern shape. I confess that as soon as I made this discovery myself my next thought was that perhaps the story which told was told that it was literally true. Let's just say that he had been robbed of the artist. But in some way I just had regained enough ascendancy over him to get him to go with him to lead us. I assume by the way when I'm telling you all this that you don't think I'm really treating play as a historical happening but I'd say you know Sophocles means you to understand this and this.
Now I think however the difficulties in the way about interpretation are too great. For instance can one possibly assume that in this case. NEAP Ptolemy's would be represented as being so obedient to disuse. He's only actually informed of the purpose of our coming to lenders when he gets there. What could be supposed to be his motivation in coming along so blind today. Now I must say of course that. There is another difficulty here because he doesn't appear aware of the prophecy of Helen and us. And Helen as the prophecy contains the general proposition that he NEAP columnist will be Troy's conqueror. And this is confused because later Helena says prophecy is linked expressed leg are links expressed lay me up Thomas and Philip TT's and the boat. And yet me up
Thomas says to be disuse. It is not I even but Philip TT's and the boat that would be trying to conquer. I don't know what about that I think that that is not as serious a break as the other one. I think however the solution of my difficulty is probably linked with a piece of evidence which is furnished by a by. AS. The data which is about 490. Now this shows a C which apparently represents additional giving back the arms to Neapolis and the story behind it seems to be that Achilles arms were given to a disuse by the other Greeks. But between me a columnist came he actually surrendered them. You see if this is the correct interpretation of the violence in the story.
The fact seemed to be that me up taller most retains at the back of his mind some sensation of resentment at what may have been an attempted rom by the Greeks and hence certain remarks of the course I talk about diminish. And that this is also the justification of collectivity is as common. The most important thing is to realize that me a poll of this assertion is not a lie pure and simple. Now let's look at another site. The story of Helen a switch is produced by the trader is also not a lie. And so a number of rather interesting things emerge Neapolitans is not strictly a liar. And perhaps the relevance appears then our CONNECT of a dishonest statement that is what is needed is not telling lies but
Egoist in tragedy
The Philoctetes of Sophocles, part one
Producing Organization
University of Chicago
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program features the first part of David Grene's lecture on Sophocles' Philoctetes.
Series Description
Three lectures by David Grene, poet, translator, and Professor in the Committee on Social Thought, University of Chicago. He discusses a particular kind of tragedy and focuses on three examples.
Broadcast Date
Sophocles. Philoctetes.
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Producing Organization: University of Chicago
Speaker: Grene, David
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 55-12-1 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:33
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Chicago: “Egoist in tragedy; The Philoctetes of Sophocles, part one,” 1955-05-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed January 28, 2023,
MLA: “Egoist in tragedy; The Philoctetes of Sophocles, part one.” 1955-05-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. January 28, 2023. <>.
APA: Egoist in tragedy; The Philoctetes of Sophocles, part one. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from