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The Oedipus Plays of SophoclesPhilosophical Perspectives$
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Paul Woodruff

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780190669447

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: July 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190669447.001.0001

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“Tyranny,” Enlightenment, and Religion

“Tyranny,” Enlightenment, and Religion

Sophocles’s Sympathetic Critique of Periclean Athens in Oedipus the Tyrant

Chapter:
(p.99) Chapter 4 “Tyranny,” Enlightenment, and Religion
Source:
The Oedipus Plays of Sophocles
Author(s):

Peter J. Ahrensdorf

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780190669447.003.0005

By opening Oedipus the Tyrant with a plague befalling Thebes that parallels the plague befalling Athens, Sophocles points to a parallel between Oedipus’s Thebes and Sophocles’s own, Periclean Athens: namely, that between the singularly untraditional, rationalistic, and even antireligious spirit of enlightenment that characterizes Oedipus’s “tyrannical” rule over Thebes and the similar spirit that characterizes Pericles’s Athens. That spirit is tested by the deadly plague that befalls each city, and the religious responses to the plague in each expose the grave difficulties that beset the effort of both Oedipus and Pericles’s Athenians to rule by reason alone. Through the story of a terrifying plague that leads the enlightened Oedipus to embrace the ultimately destructive guidance of oracles and prophets, Sophocles warns his fellow Athenians, who also face a terrifying plague, both against a self-destructive religious backlash and against an antireligious political rationalism that might provoke such a backlash.

Keywords:   tyranny, enlightenment, political rationalism, religion, religious backlash, plague, Oedipus, Sophocles, Periclean Athens, Thucydides

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