By Thomas Van Nortwick
Michigan (2015) h/b 160pp £56.95 (ISBN 9780472119561)
Written in Sophocles’ ninth decade (V.N. places Electra close to 410 BC), Electra, Philoctetes and Oedipus at Colonus are far from being the mellow reflections of old age. Instead, they are contentious and innovative, redefining the rules of Greek tragedy, reimagining the role of the tragic hero and even re-evaluating the place of drama within Athenian society.
This short, clear and elegantly-written study considers how ‘the Sophoclean tragic hero—lonely, defiant, and self-destructive—undergoes a crucial transformation in the last three plays’. Assuming little technical knowledge, V.N. devotes a chapter to each play, outlining how the tragedy unfolds, developing cogent arguments illustrated with quotations in his own English translations (where appropriate including the original Greek, transliterated and in parentheses), and always taking care to set the drama firmly within the context of late-5th C BC society and beliefs.
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