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  • Oedipus the Tyrant:A View of Catharsis in Eight Sentences

The following is an attempt at something new, an experiment in micro-criticism that proposes to solve the conundrum of Aristotelian catharsis in fewer than two hundred words. Reference is made to Oedipus Tyrannus.

  1. 1. According to Aristotle, the catharsis of pity and fear is a primary goal of tragedy.1

  2. 2. Pity is a response to “unmerited misfortune” (Aristotle, p. 45).

  3. 3. Fear depends upon pity—with the spectator fearing that he, too, may be subject to unmerited misfortune (Aristotle, p. 45).

  4. 4. Unmerited misfortune is an abomination, a condition suggestive of a defective moral order.

  5. 5. Aristotle regards Oedipus Tyrannus as an exemplary tragedy (Aristotle, p. 49).

  6. 6. Sophocles, by showing Oedipus behaving in ways that merit misfortune—rashly accusing his supporters of plotting against him, threatening to kill them, ordering the torture of the elderly Herdsman2—relieves a measure of pity.

  7. 7. Oedipus deserves exile for these tyrannies alone, irrespective of his impurity. [End Page 579]

  8. 8. The moral order is thus restored and we are purged of our sense of injustice—in the form of unmerited misfortune.

Roy Glassberg
Ashland, Oregon


1. Aristotle, Poetics, trans. S. H. Butcher (New York: Dover, 1951), pp. 23, 41, 49; hereafter abbreviated Aristotle and cited by page number.

2. Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus, trans. Hugh Lloyd-Jones, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994). [End Page 580]

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