There is an anonymous quote that says, “Family is like fudge – mostly sweet with a few nuts.” I’m sure most of us relate to the intense love and caring we have for our families, as well as the insanity they can sometimes evoke. Because of this, stories about families are not only relatable but they also often feature intense emotions and dynamics, which make for engaging stories. Aristotle believes that the best tragedies revolve around and focus on a family. Families often possess a complicated duality, they are a system of people who can show great love and almost superhuman caring for one another, but can also bring out the dark side like anger, resentment, and even violence. Examples of stories revolving around families are Oedipus by Sophocles, Agamemnon by Aeschylus and Libation Bearers by Aeschylus. These three plays all revolve around family and are some of the best writings we have saved from the 5th century. Aristotle’s theory of a story being better when it revolves around family also applies to modern day writings and works. Though they are perhaps less serious than tragedies of the 5th Century BCE, shows such as Keeping up with the Kardashians on the light side, and The Godfather on the heavier side, certainly contain their fair share of family drama. These modern-day examples support Aristotle’s notion that stories about families are the most compelling, and though the settings and situations of our modern day families may be different, many of the same underlying themes and dynamics still hold true today.
To prove Aristotle’s point the best example is Oedipus the King. In this written work, Sophocles doubles down on the theme of family and incorporates two different families all connected through the protagonist, Oedipus. The theme of family is very present because the entire play revolves around a family, but it also shows the darker side of families, with dynamics such as power, betrayal, and envy. In this play, Oedipus’ birth parents decide to get rid of him as a baby after the Oracle at Delphi tells King Laius of Thebes that he’ll have a child who is destined to kill him and sleep with his wife, Jocasta. King Laius pierced baby Oedipus’ ankles and left him on a mountainside to die. But soon after the baby is left alone a Shepard finds him and takes him to King Polybus and Queen Merope of Corinth who gives him the name Oedipus. He was given to Polybus and Merope because they could not conceive a child. At this moment is when Sophocles institutes the two families as major parts of the play and Oedipus, the connecting factor of the families, as the main focus. Already, in Oedipus, we see the two sides of families. The desperate and unethical ways of his birth parents, abandoning him to die, and the kind and caring side of King Polybus and Queen Merope, who take him in and raise him as their own.
Through the story, we continue to see the duality and the power of family, and what it means to Oedipus. As a child, Oedipus is still under the impression that Polybus and Merope are his birth parents. But as a young man he is told by a drunk that he is adopted. This causes Oedipus to leave corinth in shame and go off to ind the truth. Because of this, when he goes to the Oracle at Delphi later and is told the same prophecy his birth parents were told before his birth, he is astounded. Oedipus tries to run from his fate because he would never want to kill his father and sleep with his mother, but in the process, he runs straight into his destiny. On his endeavor from Corinth to Thebes, he runs into Laius at Davila where the three crossroads meet and unaware that this is his father, kills him. This is a major scene in the play because it marks half of the prophecy being fulfilled and foreshadows that the rest is going to be fulfilled. Later on in the book, after Oedipus has encountered the Sphinx, solved the riddle, and became king he marries Jocasta and fulfills the rest of the prophecy.
The play continues and a few years later in an attempt to bring the late Laius’ killer to justice. He says “on the murderer, this curse I lay (On him and all the partners in his guilt): –Wretch, may he pine in utter wretchedness! And for myself, if with my privity He gain admittance to my hearth, I pray the curse I laid on others fall on me. See that ye give effect to all my hest, for my sake and the god’s and for our land, A desert blasted by the wrath of heaven.” This is ironic because Oedipus unknowingly curses himself. Oedipus then consoles Tiresias, the blind prophet. Tiresias did not want to tell Oedipus who the killer was because it was himself, but because of this Oedipus grew frustrated and they started to go back in forth in a heated argument before Tiresias angrily tells Oedipus he was the killer. Oedipus is flustered by the remark and instantly blames Creon for the fake accusations. Here we see that even though Oedipus did not yet know he killed his father, it seems that something inside of him felt it, the power of family was already bringing out these strong emotions in him.
This shows just how much Oedipus was in denial of his fate and would do anything to change it. At this moment a messenger emerges and give the news that Polybus has died and Oedipus is relieved and thinks that the prophecy is now no longer valid because he was under the impression that Polybus was his birth father. This was a crushing blow for him to receive this news because it meant the family he thought he had, who loved him and cared for him was not, in fact, his birth family. At this point, he can no longer psychologically deny that he is adopted and begins to feel the heaviness of that realization. Along with this message, the messenger as well confirms that Oedipus is in fact adopted and Jocasta realizes at that moment that Oedipus is her son. This is the climax of the story because the prophecy has been fully completed and now Oedipus is facing the truth of his past. After this incident, Oedipus panics and goes out to find verify what the messenger said and finds the herdsman who had found him as a baby. The herdsman says tells Oedipus the truth and confirms that he in fact is the son of Jocasta and Laius. At this moment all of Oedipus “Perfect Life” falls apart and he is left in shambles. He then seeks out Jocasta for consolation and is astounded when he finds her dead after committing suicide. He then proceeds to blind himself as punishment for his actions and is exiled from Thebes. He is left blind being guided by his daughter Antigone through the country.
Even though things didn’t work out for Oedipus, the compelling story shows the twists of fate and painful emotions that only family can evoke. A modern example of this is the television show Keeping up with the Kardashians. This is a show about the ups and downs of the lives of the Kardashians, a family of millionaire celebrities to varying degrees in Hollywood. The Kardashians, even though the problems are a lot, lot, lot less bad than the plays we have read, go through a lot of modern-day struggles and the whole world can see it as if it were a play. From debating which luxury car drive that day to cheating scandals they go through it all together as a family. The show is quite ridiculous and what happens on the show to normal people can seem quite stupid (Because all the Kardashians are multi-millionaires and struggle with mostly 1% problems) it still manages to draw in 2 million monthly viewers and has run for 15 seasons with 226 total episodes. And these are only the statistics for Keeping up with the Kardashians not including the 15 spin-off shows. Despite the quarrels and blow-outs that routinely happen on the show, there is an underlying feeling that the Kardashians actually do really love each other a lot. Even though they are quite a different family from most of our families, we can relate to them and we see the dualism in their family, which reminds us of the dualism in our families.
If you want to find drama, you need not to look much further than your own living room. Since the dawn of time families have made for the most compelling stories because everyone can connect to them on some level. Family is usually the deepest most valuable relationship we hold so when we read or watch, or see things relating to families, such as OTK or the Kardashians, it taps into those strong feelings we have. These strong feelings allow us to immerse our selves in the story and, even if it’s just for a little, be in an entirely different world. In the Kardashians, some people are able to get so into the show that they cry with the characters, laugh with the characters, and even celebrate the characters victories as if they were their own. Even though we are just viewing a show, reading a book, or watching a play, the feeling and power of family is so strong that we are able to connect to it in our real lives. So, in the end, Aristotle was right, plays that focus on family are the best plays because they are the only plays that can really bring out the deep emotions, we hold so close to our heart.
Sophocles. Oedipus the King. Oedipus Rex.
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