Why is it that the Oedipus myth resonates so much with a Westerner (Generic collective)?

By: | Post date: 2017-01-10 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Ancient Greek, Culture

Thank you for your A2A, Daniel.

Jessica Lee has given an excellent answer; Vote #1 Jessica Lee’s answer to Why is it that the Oedipus myth resonates so much with a Westerner (Generic collective)?

I’m answering more because Daniel isn’t convinced:

As for the myth, it appears that the Westerner is afraid of being caught up in some spooky path of subordination to some higher authority. This is sorta the opposite of the Chinese Dao concept whereby one can “see” one’s fate and future trajectory if one observes himself and his relationship to his circumstances through deep insight and meticulous attention. But there must be more I am not seeing here.

I’m grateful that Daniel is resuming the challenge. Let me expand on Jessica’s answer, and ask them to weigh in.

Greek tragedy works on the notion that the protagonist has a flaw (typically pride), which prevents him from seeing the Right Way. His punishment is merciless and disproportionate. The protagonist is not a hero: he is not praised for his flaw, and the romanticisation of the rebel which the West has embraced is a recent child of romanticism. The protagonist is not a monster either; the audience is moved to pity, because the flaw is something that audiences recognise in themselves.

So. The Greek tradition in the West works with Oedipus’ story as follows.

  • We accept the Way, but we also fear the Way, as merciless and unfair.
  • We are fascinated by the individual’s struggle against the Way. We see ourselves in it, even if we disapprove of the individual’s rebellion.
  • We value Oedipus’ flaw, because it is also one of our most cherished treasures as a species: our pride in our intellect.
  • The defeat of Oedipus reflects our fear that our intellect, which sets us apart from the animals, cannot save us from a cruel Universe.
  • The defeat of Oedipus is horrific, which reflects a visceral strain in Western story-telling (shared in unexpurgated fairy tales and mythologies); transgression of taboos is used to communicate moral lessons, and horror at the cruel universe.

So, you tell me Daniel. Which of these does not sound like the traditional Chinese way of viewing the universe?

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