Follow by Email

Monday, December 5, 2011

Parent-Child Relationships in Greek Literature: The Human Bond

The intensity and passion of parent-child relationships in “The Odyssey”, “Oedipus the King” and “Antigone” greet the reader with a sense of family devotion and the importance of family legacy that either grows stronger over time or dissolves quickly before the reader’s eyes. Within these texts much time is focused on familial relationships. The love and admiration that the family members have for one another is undeniable though as will be seen in “Antigone”, the bonds that child rearing has developed can be broken within no time at all. “And you will never see me, never set eyes on my face again. Rage your heart out, rage with friends who can stand the sight of you.” (Sophocles 678)  In “The Odyssey” the love is cherished and in “Oedipus the King”, it is twisted and turned, eventually breaking under the pressure.
In “The Odyssey” a son leaves home quickly slipping away into the night to find his father – a man who has been missing for ten years.  He does so not only because he is motivated by the gods but also because his future and his father’s honor are at stake.  His father, meanwhile, longs for nothing more than to see his wife and child again.  The two men are now attempting to meet in the middle without the knowledge that either one is even trying to do so.  Odysseus’s son, Telemakhos, leaves behind a mother who now grieves his disappearance from her life.  Her crying, day and night, turns into tears for both her husband and her child.  Telemakhos has left her quietly, attempting to keep her from worry any longer than need be.  When both of them return home, Telemakhos is empty-handed and his father is hidden in a disguise.  When Odysseus reveals himself to Telemakhos, the bond that would have appeared broken to outsiders is clearly seen.  Odysseus trusts his son without question, handing over to him the knowledge that he has returned in secret.  Telemakhos keeps this secret for his father.  The trust and care that goes into all of these interactions reflects greatly how much they mean to one another; both between Odysseus and his son as well as between Telemakhos and Penelope.  Toward the end of “The Odyssey”, there is one more parent-child relationship that is examined.  The one between Odysseus and his own father, Laertes.  In his joy, Laertes – who had grown increasingly feeble over time is suddenly rejuvenated in both body and spirit.  This is directly linked to the love between all of them.  “Ah, what a day for me, dear gods!  To see my son and grandson vie in courage!” (Homer 529)  The respect and admiration among them is not only impressive but truly beautiful.
“Oedipus the King” takes a much different turn though the love within their family is also very profound.  Oedipus was essentially abandoned as a child – his mother fearing that he would kill her in time due to a prophecy.  He was slated to die but in one man’s mercy he was saved from this fate, only to come upon what he would consider a much worse fate.  Eventually, the realization that this prophecy has or is becoming true takes over what could have been seen as a wonderful life for Oedipus, his wife and children.  Jocasta, his mother and wife, is so distraught when the turn of events is revealed that she hangs herself.  The revelation that her child did not die, that he now knows she attempted to kill him as a baby and that she has now mothered her own son’s children appears to be too much for her to take – it is also too much for Oedipus as well.  He gouges out his eyes in the rage that follows.  At the end of the play, he feels terrible remorse for the daughters he loves and whom he now feels are disgraced.  “How I weep for you – I cannot see you now… just thinking of all the days to come, the bitterness, the life that rough mankind will thrust upon you.” (Sophocles 656)  This turn of events destroys every parental bond in this play yet it is not through anger but simply grief that this bond is broken – and grief will not come unless there is a loss.  This loss, for Oedipus and his family, is simply the loss of love.
In Antigone, the focus of the play is one of Oedipus’s daughters.  Yet, the parent-child relationship that this play examines most thoroughly would be the relationship between Antigone’s fiance, Haemon and his father, Creon.  This is a relationship that starts out full of respect and admiration but quickly turns to anger and then a fast break of the bond they shared altogether.  Though it does not seem to occur to Creon that his son may stand behind the woman he loves over his own father until the time is at hand – not only because this would not have been customary at the time - but his father is a king, not just an average man.  King’s are not defied by anyone, not even one’s son.  In their heated argument, however, Creon’s words focus mainly on the disappointment he feels as a father whose son does not stand behind him.  “What wound cuts deeper than a loved one turned against you?” (Sophocles 675)  In the end, Haemon ends up dead due to the reason for their disagreement.  His father, too late, discovers his own mistakes in what he has done.  “not through your stupidity, no, my own.” (Sophocles 691)  In his wife’s grief she takes her own life, having lost a child she truly loved.
In all of these works, there is a nearly undeniable and deep understanding of parents and children alike and how much their love can either destroy them or make them stronger.  In “The Odyssey” the love they feel is an obvious source of strength – right down to the very end with Odysseus’s father.  In Oedipus, there is much love between them – though the true love of Jocasta for her child might be considered questionable since she had attempted to have him killed.  It was her love for him as a wife that appeared stronger than the mother-child bond.  Oedipus’s love for his own daughters, however, is apparent through his pain for what has unwittingly happened to them in their innocence.  In “Antigone”, it is the pain of a disagreement and pride that does the family in.  The disagreement, while based on very real and necessary issues that needed confronting, did not have to go the way it did.  The father did not truly consider what his son was saying but only saw himself as the true source of wisdom – something that a man of wisdom should know is not a sign of wisdom at all.  “You’d do well, my lord, if he’s speaking to the point, to learn from him, and you, my boy, from him.  You both are talking sense.”  (Sophocles 677)  All respect, by the end of the argument had disappeared and this loss cost them all what was most dear – as can happen in any parent-child relationship, if one is not careful to take the very essence of such a strong yet delicate relationship into consideration. 

Works Cited

Lawall, Sarah and Maynard Mack, eds. The Norton Anthology of World Literature. Second Edition. Volumes A, B and C. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2002.  Print.

No comments:

Post a Comment