Comparing Iliad, Oedipus, Poetics Essay, Research Paper
Comparing and Contrasting the Purposes and Methods of Communication of three important literary works: The Iliad, Oedipus the King, and Aristotle’s Poetics. Upon reading a piece of literature, one of the first things a reader does is to identify the purpose and the mode of communication employed by the author. Thisknowledge is extremely important in order to fully understand the complete message presented by the author. This essay will treat three major literary works takenfrom Greek culture: Homer’s The Iliad, Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, and Aristotle’s Poetics. These works obviously have many differences; even from first glanceone can see clearly that there is a difference in style of communication, but upon further analysis, one can find traits common in these works by carefully consideringthe background and content for each work. With this analysis, one can synthesize a greater idea of the author’s message when compared with another of theseworks. First, each work will be analyzed in regard to purpose and method of communication, and then these works will be compared and finally contrasted with theothers. Some historians are not sure about the initial form of Homer’s epic The Iliad, but whether or not Homer actually wrote down his poems, it now seems certain thatThe Iliad and The Odyssey are part of an ancient literary tradition of oral composition. These were performed for groups mainly comprising the more wealthymembers of society. This is made evident since Homer gives a great deal of information even about the horses of the aristocracy (p. 24, near bottom), but one seesno mention of the lower class. Homer’s epic was also tailored to the rich to allow them to bask in the glory of their ancestors, as he often enters into a great ancestralhistory, which often does not seem to have any relevance in the context in several parts of the work. Another purpose of this work could be to showcase the poeticgenius of a man like Homer. His audience certainly knew the story of the Trojan War and many of its important figures (p. 2, bottom) and thus the presentation couldeasily become a spectacle of the poet’s skill in representing the plot, and using the most beautiful language possible to mesmerize his audience. Thus, one begins todiscover the mode of communication in the work. Homer presents a narrative poem where he is often able to paint wonderful pictures of the action taking place. Hehas the liberty in a narrative form to give his own idea to the story both in dialogue and also in giving details of the background or character in question. The toneused to present his epic is often very vast and lofty, but also very serious. Homer’s profound character development possibly is the most important element toachieve his ultimate purpose in the work, which is entertainment. Like Homer’s epic, Sophocles’ wonderful tragedy Oedipus the King is also written for the goal of entertainment. Sophocles also attempts to cause very strongemotions to be brought to the surface during his work. Aristotle says that Oedipus allows the audience to undergo the ultimate emotions of fear and pity through thecourse of several events (p.379-380). Sophocles’ goal is to cause serious thinking on the part of the audience, as they consider the terrible situation that Oedipusfinds himself in. This leads to the mode of communication used to cause such emotion. The play does not rely on brilliant description or d ictique, a French termmeaning an act of physical demonstration or detail. Rather, Sophocles relies entirely upon intense dialogue to achieve his extraordinary character development. Hedoes utilize the Chorus, which acts to communicate general opinion, but apart from that, everything communicated is in dialogue between a few major characters.This will be an important comparison with The Iliad later on in this analysis. In a genre quite different from the first two is Aristotle’s literary criticism Poetics. Aristotle’s purpose in this work is to rigorously analyze elements in literature. Sodeeply is Aristotle involved in the literary tradition of tragedy that he actually intends to create a formula to create the perfect tragedy. With the same methods of hisLyceum, Aristotle uses a very scientific, methodical approach in attaining his purpose (p.376, top). His communication is very organized and very logical. Althoughhis style of writing is obviously very different from these other two works, it can actually be an interesting tool for comparison. The first comparison to make is with The Iliad and Oedipus the King. These two works are both for the purpose of entertaining, and both are traditionally thought ofas oral presentations to an audience. A very interesting point is realized in light of the fact that the audiences for both plays were well acquainted with the plot of the
play, or the general outcome of the events presented. Therefore, it is interesting to note that the real attraction to the works was in the poet, and the way hepresented the events. One can also see that these two poets took great liberty in causing the most interesting plots possible by adding details that were not preciselyknown. For instance, Homer must have fabricated the dialogue between Achilles and Agamemnon (p.6) as well as the details of the magnificent chariot race of Book23 (p. 24-27). Similarly, Sophocles’ audience knew of the tragic fate of Oedipus, but the captivating monologues of Oedipus and Jocasta (p.90-92, 93) must becompletely attributed to Sophocles. By this comparison, it is clear that the great moments of anticipation and agony were created by the literary prowess of thesetwo poets since the public already had knowledge of the major events. These poets stood out as a result of their skill in character development, and ability to causeemotion in their audience. Another comparison should be made with Aristotle and Sophocles. Both these writers, whether directly or indirectly, have the goal in communicating the mostintense of human emotions. Sophocles accomplishes this directly through his play, and Aristotle, although not directly, apparently wishes his findings to be used tolead to other magnificent works showcasing intense struggles and later shared with an audience in the same way as Sophocles. Aristotle’s style of writing is so logical,almost to the point of persuasion, that it may be understood as a strong plea for being a tool for other tragedies tantamount to that of Oedipus the King. With these comparisons made, one can now begin to take a look at the contrasts between these works. One interesting contrast can be found between the modes ofcommunication of Aristotle and Homer. Homer uses beautiful, exquisite language in his presentation. Compared to Aristotle and his scientific diction, Homer’s stylecan seem to be relatively free from formality and logic. This also makes evidently the fact that Homer is writing for the purpose of entertainment, while Aristotle istrying to logically encapsulate the most important elements of poetry. The destinataire, or the person “destined” to receive Aristotle’s literature must accept is as astudy of literature, which is intended to make generalizations about literature, extending perhaps to its application towards writing in our day. A final contrast which is extremely interesting lies between Homer and Sophocles and the method each uses to present their individual stories. The most obviousdifference between the methods in these two tales is the use of visual imagery in presentation. Sophocles obviously uses little if any visual clues to communicate thedesired emotions, but uses dialogue between characters for example Oedipus imploring, “Jocasta, why, why look upon the prophet’s hearth, the fires of the future?Why scan the birds which scream above our heads?” (p. 99, middle) Sophocles contains all of the intense moments of the play within words spoken by hischaracters, whereas Homer paints a visual picture for his audience. In the beginning of The Iliad is an intense confrontation between Achilles and Agamemnon, and ina few words, Homer explains visually what Sophocles must express with conversation. Homer recounts, “And the great runner Achilles game him a black look.” (p.6, bottom) This is an extremely simple example, but it illustrates the difference in communication between Homer and Sophocles. Whereas Homer is free to entertainwith visual descriptions, or d ictique, Sophocles must rely completely upon dialogue to allow his audience to know the emotions of his characters. Homer maycreate unbelievable battles and chariot races, but Aristotle makes mention of what he thinks is the true sign of great literature. He explains, “Fear and pity may bearoused by spectacular stage-effects; but they may also result from the inner structure of the piece, which is the better way, and indicates a superior poet. For theplot ought to be so constructed that, even without the aid of the eye, he who hears the tale told will thrill with horror and melt with pity at what takes place. This is theimpression we should receive from hearing the story of Oedipus.” (p. 381, bottom, emphasis applied) Although Homer certainly did not use physical special effects,he did uses special effects in the form of lavishly created visual imagery, something that Sophocles did not feel obliged to do. In comparing and contrasting these great literary works, we find many things different. Certainly some are for entertainment, and others for study. One also sees agreat difference in the mani re each poet uses to express himself. However, with each individual work, the reader finds a great outlook into the human condition,and how these works explain and recreate emotion for nearly any audience, and accurately portray the aspects of pride, fear, pity, social power, and grief that are beused as universal methods of communication, no matter what genre of literature.