sophocles ftw

Yesterday I reread five of Aeschylus’ seven plays and today i’m rereading Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus (my least favorite Sophocles play) and it’s occurring to me that I just do not like Aeschylus that much.

Like, the Agamemnon is absolutely to die for. but everything else?

Especially putting Oedipus at Colonus up against Suppliant Women. both of them are pretty similar plotwise (Oedipus and Antigone come to Athens to ask for sanctuary vs. Danaus and his daughters come to Athens to ask for sanctuary), but Oedipus at Colonus just works so much better for me. This is the play of Sophocles’ that I find least compelling, but I’m still having feelings about Oedipus’ speech about fate and Theseus’ speech about the rule of law and Oedipus and Creon’s argument about whether Athens should protect him and, like, this bit:

CHORUS [of Athenian citizens]: This is unjust!
CREON: No, just!
CHORUS: Why so?
CREON: I take what belongs to me!

Where “what belongs to me” is oedipus’ whole self? That’s got me feeling feelings on today of all days. Plus:

CHORUS: Is this not criminal?
CREON: [laying hold of Oedipus] If so, you’ll bear it!

And it’s wild for me that it’s Oedipus at Colonus that’s inspiring the topical feelings when Suppliant Women is literally about escaping forced marriage:

DANAUS: Bird consumes bird, how could that be pure?
And how could a man, taking an unwilling
bride from an unwilling father, still be pure?

The thing is, it also has lines like this:

CHORUS [of Danaids]: Women are nothing alone; no Ares is in them.

Obviously misogyny in ancient Greek lit is hardly surprising, but it’s kind of true for these women in particular. They do have a nice exchange with Pelasgus in the middle there, but they’re weirdly…almost absent? The entire story is about them but it’s not their story, really; it’s Danaus’. They’re just kinda there for stuff to happen to them.

Honestly, I find a lot of Aeschylus’ characters crushingly flat except in the Agamemnon. The characters in the Agamemnon are such characters! Like, obviously Clytemnestra is So Much, but also Cassandra! When she’s talking with the chorus, you can practically feel her urge to stare straight into the camera like she’s in the office. She’s there but so many of Aeschylus’ characters are just not and it drives me nuts. The Electra of his Libation Bearers in particular comes to mind (do not get me started).

Oh, and speaking of Electra, that particular bit immediately called to mind this exchange from Sophocles’ Electra:

ELEKTRA : By Artemis unbroken! I would not dignify with fear the dull surplus of females who huddle in that house!
ORESTES : Careful! There is war in women too, as you know by experience, I think.

Anyway yeah Sophocles FTW.

Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus quotes as translated by Robert Fitzgerald in Sophocles: The Oedipus Cycle, trans. Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald, 1939.

Aeschylus’ Suppliant Women quotes as translated by Seth Benardete in The Complete Greek Tragedies: Aeschylus I, ed. David Grene and Richard Lattimore, 3rd ed., 2013.

Sophocles’ Electra quote as translated by Anne Carson in An Oresteia, 2009.