No student of literature, and certainly Western Literature, has not at some point, encountered ancient Greek Literature. Whether, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey or Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Antigone, or Euripides’ Medea these literary masterpieces have stood the test of time for over two-thousand years. They have not only shaped Western literature, but psychology. Ideas such as the Oedipus-Complex, which adheres to the idea of little boys secret lust for their mothers and desire to kill their fathers; or the Medea-Complex, that describes a woman who tries to avenge her husband by killing their children. These works are classics. And yet, further investigation makes me wonder if the ancient Greeks weren’t a tad bit over the edge.
Life must have been rough back then, because surely we couldn’t be that twisted. I mean, think about it. If as a writer today, you tried to put a book out about a boy who is left to die by his wealthy politician father, who believes a psychic that tells him that his son is going to kill him. This son then grows up to be a serial killer (Oedipus kills FOUR people in one day—including his father—just because they pissed him off). Unbeknownst to him, he ends up going back to the city of his birth that has fallen on hard times, and through his cunning becomes the ruling politician. He goes on to marry an older woman—who happens to be his mother—and presumably they have lots of sex, because they end up with four children. When he eventually does find out the truth, he’s disgraced and blinds himself from the shame. Sweet, sweet, story. What sort of reception do you think you would get? I wonder if the protestors of Harry Potter would enjoy this little novella.
My other favorite would be Medea. Here’s a woman whose husband fucks around on her, and ends up leaving her for a younger woman. Common enough. But then she decides to get the upper-hand, by first securing asylum for herself from a prominent leader in another country. Then goes on to kill ALL of her children, before finally poisoning her husband’s new wife. For the grand finale, she flies off in spectacular style, and gets away with this heinous crime scot-free. Again, sweet, sweet, story.
It’s fairly obvious that the ancient Greeks had no trouble touching upon taboo areas. Think American Psycho was dark (or darkly humorous as one of my good friends found it to be); how about multiple homicide, patricide, infanticide, suicide, and incest. Clearly these are highly controversial subjects, and yet even now we are drawn into them, because of our fascination with the underside of humanity. It is by looking at the far depths of human nature, that we can come to comprehend our very nature. Tragic—yes; twisted—definitely; but fascinating, utterly. And at the end of the day, going where few people dare to go, is what makes a story compelling, and a true classic.