"I should never have written that damned play."
Sophocles' ghost keeps haunting me. That's always
His opening line. I know what play he means:
Oedipus Rex. "It didn't even take first prize," he grumbles.
"An audience once started to stone me for revealing
The secrets of Eleusis. They stopped only that I
Shouted, 'I am not an initiate. I don't know the
Secrets.' But I might have guessed if I'd thought of it.
I didn't because one does not snoop on secrets of
The Gods. It's bad taste." He wants me to
Write something, of course. That's why he keeps haunting
Me, that and the fact he likes my taste in
His writing. I like Oedipus At Colonus, his last work.
He wrote it at eighty-nine. His son, impatient
For inheritance of so-long-lived a father, brought suit to have
Old Sophocles declared mentally incompetent to inherit before
The old man kicked off. As defense of his mental
Competence, Sophocles read, in court, excerpts from the
Play he was working on: Oedipus At Colonus. The judge
Not only dismissed the son's case, but personally
Escorted Sophocles home....But, "I don't write
About writers," I reply. "To do so is my idea
Of bad taste." "Who said I'm a writer?" Sophocles
Snorts in reply. "I was an Athenian warrior. Says
So right on my tombstone." Such logic. Arrgh!
"You call me a writer," he growls. "And that miserable
Aristotle called Oedipus Rex the greatest of plays.
How could I know? The wretch wasn't even born till
I was long dead. People ought to have more sense
Than to listen to the judgment for twenty-five
Hundred years of the teacher of a madman." "A madman?"
I ask. "A warrior of no honor, then," Sophocles replies.
"I fought for Athens. For what did Alexander fight
But to conquer? What does that serve? Madness!
Oedipus' tragedy was to act without seeing what
He should have. Why do you think he put out
His eyes? So what if that tale carries strongest
Drama? Does drama itself carry nothing but
Blind desire for ever-greater drama? Should we
Learn from tradgey only to repeat the blindness
That caused the tradegy? Did we err to think
We'd civilized the God of the vine? Why do
You think we performed tales of Gods and heroes at
The Festival of Dionysus?" "To tame intoxication?"
I ask. "The subject raises much ire in my time."
"We thought we had tamed the vine," Sophocles replies.
"Thus we thought to learn from it. But the opposite
Happened." "Intoxication couldn't be tamed?" I ask.
"Who knows?" he fairly shouts. "Ever since Alexander,
Since that wretched Aristotle, you've treated learning
With the same respect Alexander showed the Gordian Knot.
Drama, conquest, war without warriors' honor, you've
Trampled learning in the dust." "My day believes we've
Learned a lot," I reply. -- "Technology. Information.
Means of communication." "You have learned a lot," he
Replies, "but you've learned it all by a madman's
Priorities. Why do you think Oedipus blessed
Theseus rather than his own sons? Why do you
Think Oedipus had any blessing to give anyone?
Perhaps even the third actor I introduced was a
Mistake. Who would have guessed then that the
More dramatically to present the Gods' tales would teach
People only to hunger for ever-more drama and disdain
The tale itself?" "My day calls the opposite of
Drama too boring a tale to tell...or at least
To sell." "Your day descends from a madman."
Sophocles' ghost does not depart,
but does rest.
- Uncle River