Did you say “Oedipus” Richard Armitage?!

He did!!  .…during the #AskArmitage Twitter Q&A Richard Armitage said,

Thanks to Servetus for allowing me to keep my Twitter virginity by supplying me with pertinent screen caps...

Thanks to Servetus for allowing me to keep my Twitter virginity by supplying me with pertinent screen caps…

There it is…Right there in black and white.  A tweet that has had me wriggling in Classics nerd delight since last week.  (So much so that I will overlook the fact that Mr. Armitage was shockingly non specific in his verbiage given that there are numerous extant variations on the Oedipal theme.)   I imagine that it’s safe to assume that he’s referring to the iconic Oedipus the King by Sophocles.  I like this play a lot.  In fact, it is the second Greek tragedy that I read as an undergraduate, but the first one that I really comprehended in any meaningful way.  (I will accept pats on the back for continuing in the field after my first exposure to Greek tragedy in the form of Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound for an Intro to Honors course during my first semester at college.)


I just can’t do it.  There isn’t really a need to spoiler alert a 2500 year old play is there?  In any case,  foreknowledge of the details of the Oedipus myth was an important part of the interplay between the unfolding drama and the audience.  At one point, EVERYBODY, including the audience, knows the great secret.  EVERYBODY but Oedipus that is.

Solving the Riddle of the Sphinx... Source

Solving the Riddle of the Sphinx…

Sophocles’ Oedipus is perhaps the archetypal tragic hero.  In solving the Sphinx’s riddle and saving Thebes, he proved himself a hero, achieved excellence (arete) and seems to have been successful at warding off the trap of hubris after he was made King of Thebes.  In these qualities, he is a much less detestable character than say,  Jason with his general ineptitude, or Pentheus with his aggressive arrogance.  No, as the story opens, we are introduced to Oedipus as a king who is greatly troubled by the hard times that have come upon his people.  A king who vows to stop at nothing to seek out the truth and lift the curse,  promising punishment for the guilty party.

Translation by David Grene Source

Translation by David Grene

Yet he is far from perfect.  He lashes out repeatedly at people who are wholly innocent or worse, trying to save him from the horror of the truth.  The blind seer Tiresias who knows the truth but refuses to tell it, his brother-in-law Creon who is accused of colluding with Tiresias to take the throne for himself, and even his wife Jocasta who he accuses of being mercenary when she, having figured out the truth, begs him to stop his questioning, for his own sake:

oedipus line2

Translation by David Grene

In the end it is revealed that Oedipus’ tragic hubris took place long before, when as a young man, he sought to avoid the fate foretold to him by the oracle of Apollo at Delphi.  This notion of the immutable nature of fate loomed very large in Greek tragedy, and those who tried to escape fate usually suffered greatly for it…Oedipus is no exception.

Another element that really jumps out at me throughout this play is the imagery of blindness.  It is the blind seer Tiresias who first “sees” who Oedipus is….and as Oedipus slowly comes to know the truth he reflects that the blind seer did “have eyes.”  It is the final scene though, when Oedipus emerges on stage, blinded, but finally fully aware of the truth, that is the height of tragic drama:

Translation by David Grene

Translation by David Grene

Yep…this play has lost none of it’s power in the millenia since it was first written for the Greek stage.  I would LOVE to see Richard Armitage in the title role.  To see him work through all of that pathos.  To see him partner again with Yael Farber, who has a long standing interest in Classical tragedy…maybe even perform it in the open air at the ancient Theater of Epidauros?

Festival Epidauros Source

Epidauros Festival

I would pay my eye teeth to see that!

(Pun totally intended!!)


20 comments on “Did you say “Oedipus” Richard Armitage?!

  1. Leigh says:

    Wow! Just the thought of Richard doing Oedipus Rex has me quivering. Please, please, let it be so!

  2. jazzbaby1 says:

    I didn’t get any of this but if you’re happy, I’m happy. 🙂

    • obscura says:

      LOL!! I am still wriggling intermittently (the neighbors are starting to talk!) A PDF text of a nice, modernish translation is linked in on the first line quote if you’d like to read whence the fuss comes 🙂

  3. guylty says:

    Ha! I was waiting for this post. I nearly sent you a screenshot myself. 😀
    I love the whole seeing metaphor – seeing as in understanding. Not dependent on the eyes at all but on the mind. That is the message, I guess. And the whole thing about fate being unavoidable, however much you try. Whatever happens, happens. A bit of a general absolution in my opinion, but I presume the ancients had a different take on that, i.e. even though your fate was predestined, you still had some sort of personal responsibility?
    LOL about the spoiler *gg*

    • obscura says:

      The sight/knowledge is fantastic. Yeah, fate may have been “fated” as it were, but there wsre certain ethical standards that were expected regardless.

    • wydville says:

      Hubris! Dunno whether the few litres of Greek blood flowing through my veins have anything to do with it, but I totally get the notion of hubris – and am personally very wary of committing it
      PS – what a joy to have met you on 2 Sep; sorry didn’t hang around afterwards but had to dash off with Judit to A&E.

  4. wydville says:

    Ok, here’s the deal. Your Ancient Greek is almost certainly better than mine, but I imagine that I may have the advantage when it comes to modern Greek. Come the time when Rich plays Oedipus at Epidaurus (in Greek naturally), we can meet up, you coach me in the intricacies of the original play and I’ll do all the ordering of food at the tavernas. And “oinos” of course.

  5. […] Have you read her excitement about that possibility and explanation of why it would be such a great role for Richa…? […]

  6. Servetus says:

    I’m guessing Obscura can hold her own, ordering in any tavern, lol 🙂

    I didn’t read this in undergrad, but I share your general appreciation for the play and its subject matter — and I think this is just the kind of epic (bears certain resemblances to Macbeth) that would fit right in Armitage’s hip pocket. Let us hope.

    • obscura says:

      I get in trouble EVERY time I speak Greek (in or out of a bar…) Evidently, my accent is pretty good, which gives the impression that I speak much more fluently than I actually do…cue my best accented phrase:

      “Συγνώμη, δεν καταλαβαίνω…” Usually followed by something I don’t understand in German 🙂 (I guess I look Germanish to the Greeks)

      ah…dum spiro spero even?

  7. delusional fangirl says:

    It would mean the beard again, but I definitely like the costume! 😉

    • obscura says:

      For sure! Thanks for commenting!!

      I thought about the very same thing as I was re-reading the text the other night and reached the last messenger speech,

      “And the bleeding eyeballs gushed and stained his beard…”

      (No violence ever plays out on stage in Greek tragedy, but it lacks no gruesomeness of description!)

  8. Hariclea says:

    Having recently seen the Medea @National i think you are right, this definitely has potential. Takes a special actor to pull off stories like these 🙂 Especially make the fate theme still work naturally, i’d definitely be up for seeing it! Especially now as an adult, i found i accepted these themes much better when i first read them back in school, at this age i need much more convincing and if anyone can do that, it’s him. Fingers x we will get to see this.

  9. […] of recent interest…no small wonder given the recent classically inspired […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s