Who Am I?: (Mis)Identity and the Polis in <i>Oedipus Tyrannus</i>

Who Am I?: (Mis)Identity and the Polis in Oedipus Tyrannus

by Efimia D. Karakantza


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Oedipus’s major handicap in life is not knowing who he is—and both parricide and incest result from his ignorance of his identity. With two questions—“Who am I?” and “Who is my father?”—on his mind (and on his lips), the obsessed Oedipus arrives at the oracle of Delphi.

Unlike the majority of modern and postmodern readings of Oedipus Tyrannus, Efimia Karakantza’s text focuses on the question of identity. Identity, however, is not found only in our genealogy; it also encompasses the ways we move in the public space, command respect or fail to do so, and relate to our interlocutors in life. But overwhelmingly, in the Greek polis, one’s primary identity is as a citizen, and defining the self in the polis is the kernel of this story.

Surveying a wide range of postmodern critical theories, Karakantza follows the steps of the protagonist in the four “cycles of questions” constructed by Sophocles. The quest to piece together Oedipus’s identity is the long, painful, and intricate procedure of recasting his life into a new narrative.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674237940
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 05/05/2020
Series: Hellenic Studies Series , #86
Pages: 270
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Efimia D. Karakantza is Associate Professor of Ancient Greek Literature at the University of Patras.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements ix

Note on Translations and Editions of Oedipus Tyrannus xi

Part 1 Prologue: How It All Began

Chapter 1 Sophocles' Hypsipolis-Apolis Antithesis, and Castoriadis's Imaginary Institution of Classical Athens 3

Part 2 Theoretical Considerations

Chapter 2 Defining the Polls 11

2.1 Tragedy as a Self-Restraining Mechanism of Athenian Democracy 20

2.2 Summing Up 23

Chapter 3 The Self in the Polis 25

3.1 The "Lonely" Sophoclean Hero As Not-So-Lonely After All 31

Part 3 Close Reading Of Oedipus Tyrannus

Chapter 4 Who Am I? A Tragedy of Identity 41

4.1 Cithairon: Naming the Baby 46

4.2 In the Webs of Interlocution: Delphi, the Crossroads, and the Sphinx 52

4.3 In the Space of Questions at Thebes: Reconstructing Identity 62

4.4 Questions with Teiresias: A Preview of Identity 64

4.5 Questions with Jocasta: Dislocating the Origin (or Jocasta's Body and Mind) 70

4.6 Contesting Human Intelligence: One and the Many 81

4.7 Intermezzo: Scholarship Thinks Oedipus is a Tyrant 84

4.8 Questions with the Corinthian Messenger: The Baby with the Pierced Feet 99

4.9 Questions with the Servant of Laius: Articulating the Truth 110

Chapter 5 I am Oedipus. Reframing the Question of Identity 117

5.1 Self-Blinding 118

5.2 Who is to Blame? Apollo, Oedipus, or Shared Responsibility? 125

5.3 Oedipus as a Human Agent 133

Appendix 1 Cornelius Castoriadis 149

Appendix 2 Cleisthenes 151

Appendix 3 The Heroic Self 153

Bibliography 157

Index Locorum 171

General Index 173

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