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Reviews193 dissolutions of irony. If so, deconstruction is itself subject to the same critique that Kierkegaard levels against all the idealist dialectics: that because there is "nothing outside" their all-dissolving ironies of Becoming and "error," they are formalistic, deathly abstractions from actuality, truth, and life. Agacinski claims that because Kierkegaard confessed his life was spent in abstract "reflection" rather than in "immediacy" he had no interest in immediacy (p. 140). Yet his work is a sustained struggle to escape this melancholy ironic abstraction and grasp the "life" and actuality dissolved by the ironic "negations" of nineteenthcentury dialectics. Deconstruction has escaped the melancholy; but it does not escape the abstraction. He asked for it, of course; still, one can't help feeling a certain pity at the spectacle of S.K. being jerked, like a galvanically reanimated corpse, through this glittering danse macabre. Mount Holyoke CollegeLorrie Clark HelpingFriends andHarmingEnemies: A Study in Sophocles and Greek Ethics, by Mary Whidock Blundell; xii & 298 pp. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989, $42.50. This book consists of detailed discussions of five of Sophocles' plays, flanked by an opening discussion on traditional Greek ethics and a conclusion. The first two chapters give an account of the antique Greek principle of conduct summed up in the injunction Help friends and harm enemies. Now this principle was not only rejected by Socrates, it was demolished by Plato in the Republic, in the early arguments widi Cephalus, Glaucon, and Adeimantus. Though Professor Blundell does not make enough of this demolition -job, still, I found her early chapters the most interesting in the book. She explains that her motive in writing is pardy diat Sophocles' intellect, and therefore his ability to produce "an intellectually serious presentation of ethical issues" has been queried by a number of authors who contrast him unfavorably with Aeschylus and Euripides (p. 2). Her overall aim is to show that Sophocles articulates the problems inherent in die antique principle (help friends and harm enemies) which fifth-century Greeks inherited from the Homeric age. The difficulties arising from this principle include the problem of conflicting loyalties (between friends, family, city), and the problem of inconsistent ideals (e.g., expediency versus justice). Blundell writes that "the world of Sophocles' plays is in some ways an Aristotelian one . . . yet Sophocles does not criticize the traditional code as Aristode would, by enumerating its deficiencies. Rather 194Philosophy and Literature his plays illustrate human motives for acting on certain values and principles . . ." (p. 272). She goes on to say that Sophoclean drama "does not preach. It articulates a whole spectrum of responses to moral problems." (I must remark parenthetically that it had never occurred to me to suppose that Sophocles was not an intellectually serious person, nor that he was a Preacher, nor that, as a dramatist, he would be writing philosophy, Aristotelian or not, as the case may be. But classical studies is full of strange surprises for us nonclassicists. For instance, all the classicists I have interviewed about the matter, including many quite young ones, believe that Euripides was a mysogynist , seemingly on die grounds that all the other classicists say so. But what uncorrupted innocent reader could believe thatl) The five plays are: Ajax, Antigone, Electra, Philoctetes, and Oedipus at Colonics. Blundell's discussion presupposes that the reader is familiar with these dramas, at least in translation. She works her way through each play more or less page by page, pointing out how the protagonists give expression, explicidy or implicidy , with or without reservations, to the traditional principle; and how some of them sometimes modify or pardy reject this principle. The most notable rejection, of course, is Antigone's reply to Creon: "my nature is to join not in enmity but in love." Ajax is perhaps the only central character who accepts the "harm your enemies" part of the principle without any wavering. I have no doubt that this work is good of its kind, but its kind is not a book. It is more like a set of lectures. Like many lectures one has been to, it contains a good number of blindingly obvious remarks. Classics students who read it will get some useful uncontroversial ideas...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 193-194
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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