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The Heroic Temper: Studies in Sophoclean Tragedy (Sather Classical Lectures) Paperback – May 4, 1983

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Bernard M. W. Knox, Director of the Center for Hellenic Studies, Washington, D.C., was formerly Professor of Classics at Yale University. He is the author of numerous articles and monographs including The Serpent and the Flame, and Oedipus at Thebes.
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Product Details

  • Series: Sather Classical Lectures (Book 35)
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (May 4, 1983)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520049578
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520049574
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #493,180 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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First, a caveat: Knox very emphatically examines Sophocles on the basis of what Sophocles actually wrote. This has the virtue of accuracy and of keeping out fringe theorizing, but the vice of adding a modest Greek component. Knox always puts the Greek in a parenthetical (i.e., you'll never fail to understand a sentence because of the Greek), but there is a lot of it. If you don't know any Greek, this might encumber your reading somewhat.
Having said that, _The Heroic Temper_ is a fantastic little book. Knox spends two chapters discussing the "Sophoclean Hero" in terms of all seven surviving tragedies, showing that the same character types, the same narrative tropes and even very consistently the same vocabulary is used in all seven. He compares and contrasts Sophocles and Aeschylus (especially with respect to "Prometheus Bound") and analyzes the Sophoclean hero in terms of Sophocles' political context and religion.
This alone is eye-opening and ought to precede any reading of Sophocles, but Knox then goes on to discuss in greater detail "Antigone" (two chapters) and "Philoctetes" and "Oedipus at Colonus" (one chapter apiece). I wish I'd had this book in college -- it's worth more than all the lectures I heard on Greek tragedy.
The six chapters were in fact originally six lectures, and (Greek parentheticals aside) the book retains a verbal, even conversational tone. Well written, insightful, powerful -- the book is a winner.
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Format: Paperback
Recently, I've read a fair number of books relating to Greek tragedy and of them all this is the best. In it Knox offers a profound and compelling examination of the nature of the heroes of Sophocles' plays. His arguments are persuasive, being based on a study of the actual words that occur and recur throughout the plays. Thus, there is quite a bit of ancient Greek quoted in the original; fortunately, it is all translated so that the argument can be easily followed by those who have no Greek.
Unlike most scholars, Knox writes beautifully. The English is unhampered by theoretical jargon -- there is no mention of hermeneutic circles, metatheatre, metanarratives, or
metapsychology. In an age when Martin Heidegger appears to be the model of style in scholastic writing, Knox's elegant
and clear writing makes for a refreshing change indeed.
Another refreshing change is that he treats Sophocles as though he were an ancient poet rather than as though he were an ancient structural anthropologist with an interest in depth psychology, something which is almost eccentric nowadays. Moreover, Knox's passion for Sophocles is palpable and infectious.
So, an excellent read. If you read only one book about Sophocles, this is the one I would recommend.
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