The Complete Works of Sophocles, by Sophocles

The Complete Works of Sophocles

Reading this book was my first exposure to Sophocles, or to any of the ancient Greek plays. I know a little of Greek mythology, most or all coming from reading I did as a kid and one high school class I took in it; I don’t recall delving into it at all as an adult, though it’s a subject I certainly find interesting.

This particular collection of Sophocles’ plays—The Complete Works of Sophocles—unfortunately has no background information at all. There’s no preface, introduction, foreword, end notes, translator’s note—nothing like that. There’s not even the name of a publisher.

In other words, it’s evidently one of those “public domain” things where someone just copies an existing work, sticks it between covers, and sells it.

The title page does say that this is the Sir Richard C. Jebb translation, so at least there’s that.

This translation is less “versey” than most, and closest to prose, which is frankly why I chose it. I tend to be “poetry-blind” in the way some people are colorblind. I have a very hard time making any sense at all of material written in verse. So even though I’m sure there are legitimate reasons to prefer works like these translated in verse—for one thing, presumably such translations are more accurate in the sense that they are closer to the original in style—I’m willing to forego those advantages in exchange for simply being able to understand what I’m reading.

Even translated more as prose, like here, the dialogue is still unnatural and stilted—a lot of dramatic speechifying rather than people speaking in a manner you can picture them doing in real life—so it can still be a little awkward to follow in places, but for me at least not nearly as much as verse would be.

But anyway, the lack of supplementary material was unfortunate for me, given my lack of background knowledge of Sophocles and his work. On the other hand, that’s much, much less of an issue in the Internet era, when one can Google to one’s heart’s content to find out the sorts of things that would normally be present in such supplementary material.

I did in fact do that kind of research—after finishing the book—but only to a modest extent. Here are a few of the things I gathered from what I found online, though I don’t say all of it with great confidence, as there are some things I’m inferring or kind of taking an educated guess about from what I read:

One thing I wasn’t sure of is to what extent Sophocles came up with any of the basic stories themselves. But based on what I read online, I take it that in most or all cases he is writing about already existing myths, just kind of fleshing them out in his own way, in contrast to how other storytellers may have told them before and after him. But where exactly that line is drawn in each play—which portions were already part of the culture as myths, and which portions are details or alterations introduced by Sophocles—I don’t always know.

Apparently there are records of some kind or another establishing that Sophocles wrote 123 plays. So in a way, to call this collection the “complete” works is false. But only seven of those 123 plays have survived in their entirety—or near entirety; there are a small number of places in one or two of the plays where a bracketed note indicates a passage appears to have been lost—and this collection has all of those seven, so it’s “complete” in that sense.

Insofar as the plays can be placed in any kind of chronological order, that order does not match the order in which historians say they were probably written nor the order in which they appear in this book. I found that a bit confusing, reading about characters in one story, and then subsequently reading about some of those same characters at an earlier time, kind of like a flashback. In writing about the plays here, I’m instead going to order them in a way that I think is chronological.

The titles of some of these plays, by the way, are apparently rendered differently in different English translations; I’m using the titles as they are worded in this particular book.

Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone are all about the Kingdom of Thebes. The first is from when Oedipus was king, and the other two tell about what happened after his reign ended.

Trachiniae is about Heracles. (I prefer to call him Hercules, but I suppose it’s best to stick with the Greek rather than Roman version of the name. Mostly I’m more comfortable with the Greek names anyway—e.g., I always say Zeus and not Jupiter, Hades and not Pluto, etc.—but Hercules is an exception.)

Ajax, Philoctetes, and Electra all take place in the latter stages of the Trojan War or after the Trojan War.

By the way, I find the convention of the “Greek chorus” a mildly annoying, clumsy way to convey information.

But let’s start with the Theban plays. Oedipus the King tells the well-known tragedy of Oedipus that has so influenced Freud and others. I was a bit surprised to find that much of the stuff that’s most famous about the Oedipus myth is summarized in the introduction rather than taking place in the body of the play.

The introduction explains how it was prophesied to Laius and Iocasta, the king and queen of Thebes, that they would have a son who would kill his father. To avoid this fate, when Iocasta gave birth to a son, they gave the infant to a servant to take up into the mountains to leave it to die of exposure.

But the servant didn’t want to kill a baby, so he gave it to a shepherd, and—as I suppose with all foundlings given to random shepherds—he ended up being raised by the king and queen of a neighboring land.

The baby was Oedipus. He grew up assuming his parents were his natural parents, even after some other kids taunted him that they weren’t. (I’m not sure how they knew that.) Then an oracle told him, just as it told Laius, that he was destined to kill his father, though this oracle added another juicy tidbit, that he would then marry his mother.

So he tried to avoid this fate by leaving, figuring that if he isn’t physically in the same place as his parents, surely he can’t kill and/or marry either of them. He travelled back to where, unbeknownst to him, he was born. On the road he got into a petty argument with a stranger (who of course was Laius) and killed him.

Due to one of those goofy rules of mythology, Thebes could not get another king until someone solved the riddle of the Sphinx. That someone turned out to be Oedipus, who upon becoming king married the former queen—Iocasta—enabling her to remain queen.

Wouldn’t you think, by the way, that if you’re really all that paranoid about the prophecy, that you’d avoid killing or marrying anyone, least of all people one generation older than you?

As the play, finally, opens, many years have passed, Oedipus and his mother/wife have had multiple children, and Thebes is in the midst of some kind of blight, and its people are suffering greatly. Oedipus consults seers to try to figure out what is going on, and is told that the kingdom is cursed and will remain so for as long as it continues to harbor the defiling person who killed the previous king.

So now he urgently tries to find out the identity of the murderer. The most promising lead comes from the blind prophet Tiresias who claims to know the information Oedipus is seeking, but who refuses to reveal what he knows on the grounds that it will be too upsetting to Oedipus to find out.

But Oedipus browbeats him into spilling his guts, and Tiresias tells him that he, Oedipus, killed Laius. Oedipus is infuriated by this claim, accuses Tiresias of being in league with the queen’s brother Creon, an ambitious fellow Oedipus has never trusted. Tiresias not only sticks to his story, but adds that the murderer (i.e., Oedipus) also married his own mother, thus reiterating the prophecy Oedipus has been trying to avoid.

Then a messenger arrives to inform Oedipus that the king who raised him has died, which Oedipus takes as good news in that it means he himself can’t kill him as prophesied, though he remains concerned that it’s still possible for him one day to marry the queen. But the messenger, trying to be helpful, assures Oedipus that he shouldn’t worry about that because that king and queen weren’t his biological parents after all.

Uh oh.

Eventually—and frankly it takes implausibly long; I mean it’s one thing to be in denial, but come on—Oedipus puts two and two together and realizes the truth. Meanwhile, his wife/mother, who figured it out shortly before he did, has committed suicide.

Oedipus thinks about killing himself, gouges his eyes out to blind himself instead, and insists that he be sent into exile.

Oedipus’ story is then continued in Oedipus at Colonus.

The blind Oedipus is now in exile, wandering from place to place, assisted by his dutiful daughter Antigone. He arrives in Colonus, which is within the territory of Athens. Some of the locals seek to drive him out, as he is in an area that is sacred to the Furies, which would be bad enough if he were just an ordinary civilian, but is infinitely worse since he’s the notorious sinner who killed his father and married his mother. He actually responds favorably when he finds out this area is associated with the Furies, though, as he has received a prophecy that he is to die in peace at such a place, and to be a blessing to the land. So he wants very much to be allowed to stay.

Soon Theseus, the king of Athens, arrives, and quickly magnanimously sides with Oedipus.

Meanwhile, Oedipus’ two sons are about to fight it out over who gets to rule Thebes, with his brother-in-law Creon also hoping to end up on top. They each want to persuade Oedipus onto their side, not because they give a damn about him, but again because of prophecies saying that the side he endorses and the location of his burial when he dies will determine who wins. He sees through them and tells them all to take a hike. He tells his sons that not only will he not favor either of them in their fight, but that they are destined to kill each other so that neither will get to rule Thebes. (So he’s a seer now too, apparently.)

Creon takes it to the extreme of kidnapping Oedipus’ daughters as hostages and trying to force him to come back with him, but Theseus intervenes on Oedipus’ side with his Athenian army and saves the day. The grateful Oedipus goes off with Theseus and dies and is buried in a secret place that will provide the greatest magical benefits to the Athenians.

One interesting thing about Oedipus at Colonus is that by now Oedipus has rethought his responsibility for killing his father and marrying his mother. Whereas in Oedipus the King he was so sure of his guilt and so mortified over the whole thing that he gave up his throne and blinded himself, now his position—which is surely a more justified one—is that you can’t blame him for things that were completely unintentional on his part.

Then there is Antigone. Antigone, as noted, being Oedipus’s daughter.

Antigone takes place after the battle between brothers that was brewing in Oedipus at Colonus. As Oedipus foretold, his sons killed each other in their fight over the throne. Creon is now in control of Thebes.

Creon has decreed that one of the brothers—Polyneices, is not to be given an honorable burial. Antigone, the most loyal of Oedipus’ children, who didn’t take sides in the recent fight but who regards it to be her familial duty to bury her brother properly, defies the edict.

Creon is infuriated when he finds out what she has done. He has her arrested and brought to him. She continues to insist that what she did was right, that manmade law cannot override the kind of moral principle she was obeying in giving her brother a proper burial. As she won’t give in, Creon decides to impress upon her his authority by killing her by having her buried alive.

Creon’s son Haemon, who is engaged to Antigone, pleads with his father to spare her. Creon does not relent. Haemon acknowledges that he will obey his father, but is not shy about making his displeasure known.

An old blind seer tells Creon that Antigone is right, that the gods will take her side in this and he’ll be on their shit list from here on in. Creon doesn’t want to hear any of this, and angrily dismisses the seer. (Which you should never do, because, come on, those people are always right in these stories.)

Upon reflection, though, he decides that maybe the seer has a point, and that it would be best to forgive Antigone after all and not have her buried alive. Too late. In the meantime, she has committed suicide, Haemon has committed suicide, and even Creon’s wife, upon finding out about the death of her son, has committed suicide.

Creon is distraught, and realizes to his grief that it was his being a dick that brought all this about.

Though Trachiniae is about Heracles (the half-god/half-man strong man and warrior), he is actually absent until near the end. It takes place back at his home, where his wife Deianeira is waiting for him. She’s not entirely sure where he is and what he’s up to, though she has heard rumors, as he goes off on various adventures for months and years at a time. Understandably, this puts a strain on their relationship.

She is especially concerned because of a prophecy that if Heracles were to return home by a certain time from where she thinks he might be—and that time is now up—then he would live happily ever after in peace, whereas if he does not then it means he has been killed. (Another, peculiar, prophecy is that he is destined to be killed by someone already dead.) She sends their son Hyllus to go get him if possible.

Then comes word that he has in fact prevailed in the war he involved himself in, and will be home shortly. Already some of the spoils of war have arrived, including a number of captured women who are to be slaves.

One of these women in particular stands out to Deianeira, a glum, silent, but strikingly beautiful one (Iole). What is kept from Deianeira—though she finds out soon enough—is that Iole is the daughter of the king that Heracles just defeated, and that his desire to capture her and have her as a concubine was a key reason he attacked the kingdom in the first place.

When Deianeira figures out the situation, she is more distraught about what this means to their rocky marriage than she is angry at Heracles. But she has a plan.

Some years earlier, the centaur Nessus had been transporting Deianeira across a river and gotten a little handsy (since, you know, he has four legs to walk with, and that leaves his two hands free), but Heracles had caught him and shot him dead with a poisoned arrow. As he was dying, he told Deianeira that she should take some of his blood, as it would serve as a love charm if she ever needed it (like Cupid’s arrow—something to make someone fall in love with you).

She took him up on his suggestion, and now, she decides, is the time to use the blood in order to keep Heracles interested in her rather than Iole or the other women he’d been chasing—and catching—throughout their marriage in Bill Clinton fashion. So she makes a coat for Heracles suffused with Nessus’s old blood, and as per his instructions, she makes sure that the messenger she gives it to to take to Heracles understands that it is not to be worn by anyone else and not to be exposed to the sun until Heracles puts it on.

She soon discovers that her plan has gone tragically awry. For one thing, when she spills some of the remaining blood and exposes it to the sun, it boils up like some kind of acid—not a good sign. Then a furious Hyllus returns to tell her that, yes, he did indeed find Heracles, but what the fuck was she thinking giving him a poison coat? He tells her that she has murdered her husband—his father—as Heracles now is dying in terrible agony.

The suffering Heracles soon arrives, just as convinced as Hyllus that Deianeira has murdered him. By the time it’s finally explained to them what happened, Deianeira has committed suicide. So they realize they were wrong about her intent, but they aren’t wrong that Heracles’ situation is hopeless. He chooses to end his suffering by having a funeral pyre constructed where he can be set on fire and burned to death. (If the idea is to minimize your pain, I’m not sure that’s the best choice of a method of suicide.)

So the prophecies are fulfilled: Heracles didn’t make it back home by the designated time so he died, and Heracles was killed by someone already dead (Nessus).

Ajax begins with an explanation of how after Achilles was killed in the Trojan War there was a dispute among the Greeks over who was entitled to his armor. Ajax and Odysseus, two of their greatest heroes, were the main contenders, and the Greeks chose Odysseus (though we find out in another play that the armor eventually is passed on to Achilles’ son). Ajax is infuriated by this, and decides that the best way to deal with his disappointment is to go berserk and kill everyone. He thinks he has done this, but actually Athena, who prefers Odysseus, had caused him to hallucinate and mistake some livestock for the folks he’s trying to kill. So in fact all he really did is slaughter a bunch of sheep and cattle, and capture others to bring them home with him to torture before killing, including a ram he is convinced is Odysseus.

As the play develops, soon enough Ajax figures out what he has really done, as do the other Greeks. Ajax is humiliated and distraught. He leaves his home, telling his wife he’s going to bury a sword he had received earlier in the war from Hector. She’s suspicious, and then feels a lot worse when she gets word that a seer has prophesied that Ajax will die today if he leaves home.

Ajax sticks Hector’s sword in the ground, point up, and commits suicide by throwing himself onto it. The Greeks argue over whether the corpse ought be disposed of with honor or dishonor.

Philoctetes starts with a connection to Trachiniae. It is explained in the introduction that Heracles—who you’ll recall wanted to be burned alive to end his immense suffering when he realized there was no chance of his recovering from wearing the coat poisoned by the centaur Nessus—gave to the only person willing to light the pyre his magic bow and arrows. This person was Philoctetes.

Subsequently Philoctetes, along with just about any other Greek of note, joined up to fight against Troy in the Trojan War. But he didn’t last long. When he and some other Greeks stopped on an island to perform one of the religious rituals they seem to constantly have to stop and perform in these plays, Philoctetes was bitten by a poison snake, causing him to have an unsightly, smelly sore on his leg and to continuously shriek in pain. The other Greeks, led by Odysseus, were convinced that his presence at the altar would invalidate the ritual, because you’re not supposed to gross out the gods. So they didn’t let him participate, and indeed they subsequently decided that he was grossing them out as well, so they left him behind on a neighboring little uninhabited island with a minimal amount of food, basically abandoning him to die.

Needless to say, this is a shitty way to treat the disabled, and pretty stupid too, since you’d think getting him the medical attention he needs and fixing him up would be in their self-interest since he’ll be fighting on their side with Heracles’ magic arrows. Or even if that’s not a realistic option, the least they could do is help him to get back home.

He didn’t die as expected, but managed to keep himself alive by shooting birds with his arrows and eating them. For ten years he lived that way, and somehow that whole time his wound from the snakebite remained horribly painful and debilitating without killing him. For this whole time his anger at his fellow Greeks’ betrayal of him and his hatred of them grew.

Meanwhile, the Greeks received a prophecy that they would never win the Trojan War unless and until they got Philoctetes and his arrows back on their side. Further—in a connection to Ajax—the prophecy specified that they must give Achilles’ armor to his son Neoptolemus and get him on their side as well.

As the play opens, Odysseus and those he brings with him on the mission quickly succeed in recruiting Neoptolemus, but Philoctetes is more of a challenge. Odysseus decides the best way to capture him and his arrows and bring them back to Troy with them will be to trick him. He works out a ruse with Neoptolemus where the young man will land on the island where they left Philoctetes, seek him out, and convince him that he too hates Odysseus and the Greeks for how they have treated him, so that Philoctetes will accept him as a friend and lower his guard until Neoptolemus can snatch his bow and arrows.

Neoptolemus doesn’t like this idea at all, because it seems so dishonorable to use deception to achieve your ends, especially against a fellow Greek. Reluctantly he agrees to go along with it, but when the time comes his ambivalence returns. He sort of tricks Philoctetes as planned, but sort of backs down and lets him off the hook.

Eventually Odysseus decides this isn’t working, so he and his men confront Philoctetes and appeal to his sense of patriotism and such in trying to persuade him to join them voluntarily. Philoctetes tells them to pound sand. Temporarily they lose Neoptolemus as well, as he agrees to take Philoctetes home after all these years.

But then Heracles—who, being half-god, apparently didn’t really die when he died—appears to Philoctetes in some kind of spirit form and tells him he should go along with what Odysseus is telling him and go win the Trojan War with them, in accord with the prophecy. He agrees to do so.

Electra takes place after the Trojan War. We learn in the introduction that one of the Greek leaders, Agamemnon, was murdered by his wife Clytaemnestra and her lover Aegisthus when he returned home from the war. (Not that he was any saint himself. Sophocles doesn’t mention it here, but according to other accounts, among the beefs Clytaemnestra had with her husband is that he murdered one of their daughters when he thought the gods wanted him to, and that when he returned from the war it was with a mistress—whom they killed along with him.)

Electra, the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra, was horrified by the killing of her father and has borne a grudge and a desire to avenge his death ever since. At the time she had her infant brother Orestes whisked away to be raised elsewhere in the hope that one day he would return and be the one to deliver that vengeance. Her two remaining sisters (only one of whom—Chrysothemis—has any lines in the play) aren’t thrilled with what happened, but they have decided that discretion is the better part of valor and that their lives will be better if they don’t make trouble over it.

After Orestes grows up, he does indeed desire to kill his mother and Aegisthus, especially after his doing so is endorsed by an oracle of Apollo. With a friend he concocts a ruse where they will pose as messengers bearing an urn that supposedly has the ashes of Orestes, and tell of how he died. Clytaemnestra will no doubt be very relieved by this—she has always been afraid that Orestes would return to get her in the end—and let her guard down.

The plan works pretty much as intended, though in the process they scare the bejesus out of Electra, who initially believes the news they bring that Orestes has died.

OK, so having now read all seven of these plays, what general observations do I have?

Well, one is that these people sure say “Woe is me!” a lot. That has to be the most common phrase of dialogue in the plays.

The stories often turn on some sort of major misunderstanding. Typically the audience is not set up for surprises; it’s one or more of the characters who operate under some kind of false impression and then eventually get surprised (usually a very unpleasant surprise that leads to at least one “Woe is me!”). The most extreme and obvious example is Oedipus gradually figuring out he killed his father and married his mother, something the audience knew from the introduction.

As I mentioned, prophecies invariably come true in the plays. Characters actively try to avoid any bad outcomes prophesied, but that always turns out to be futile.

Granted, their efforts are often bizarrely inefficient. Consider Laius trying to avoid the prophecy that he will be killed by his son. Instead of not having kids, or immediately killing any son that is born, he has a son and gives it to someone to take away and allegedly expose it on a mountain where it will probably die. (I’m reminded of that scene in Austin Powers where Dr. Evil captures Powers and comes up with some elaborate Rube Goldberg contraption to kill him, though no one will be watching to make sure that happens, and his frustrated son Scott sensibly asks why they don’t just shoot him. It’s as if Laius—like Dr. Evil—wants to be sporting about it.)

Then again, even when you more intelligently try to defeat prophecies in mythology, you typically fail. I’m thinking, for instance, of Cronus eating each of his children as they are born in order to make sure they can’t kill him, and baby Zeus—hidden by his mother—killing him anyway.

It’s also the case that the prophecies in these plays sometimes take the form of riddles, or come true in some ironic or unexpected way that you really can’t foresee, making them, a, even harder to avoid, and, b, useless as prophecies.

But overall it appears you’d be better off just accepting that what is predicted will happen and making the most of it.

The plays also tell us that you’ll come to grief if you piss off one or more of the gods.

The question is, what does all this have to do with real life, where there are no infallible seers with supernatural insights into the future, and no gods? What are the analogues to these fictional things, what are the plays seeking to teach us through these devices?

Maybe the point is “You can’t escape your fate,” which as I recall is also the moral of one of Aesop’s fables. But that claim has always struck me as false or trivial.

If it means something like “You can never do anything to change whatever seems most likely to be the outcome of something (or whatever is predicted to happen, whatever typically has happened in similar cases in the past, etc.)” then it’s obviously false. Surprises happen all the time in life, sometimes brought about intentionally.

On the other hand, if one were to say, “Ah, but that just proves that what was expected to happen wasn’t the fated outcome after all. What’s fated to happen is whatever, in fact, does happen,” then it’s trivial. Of course the way things turn out is the way they turn out, and of course you can’t avoid it (because even if you do something to affect that outcome, it’ll still turn out however it turns out—that’s a tautology), but so what?

Or maybe the point is that if you do things that are morally bad, you won’t be able to escape the consequences for doing so.

But that doesn’t work either. I suppose in some cases it sort of fits—like if you get prideful and arrogant like Ajax you’re probably more likely to come to grief than if you avoid doing so—but for most cases in the plays it doesn’t fit even that well.

One, the bad outcomes frequently aren’t interpretable as punishments, because the person in question didn’t do anything bad that brought them about. Oedipus, for instance, was fated to kill his father and marry his mother whatever he did in life; it isn’t some sort of sentence that was passed on him when he committed some horrible wrong.

Two, when the bad outcomes do come about as a response of some kind to what a person did, they sometimes are not just desserts for some moral wrong but instead constitute retaliation for something that upset one of the gods (with the gods being quite fallible and humanlike in their values, emotions, and individual foibles rather than the embodiment of some kind of plausible moral law).

Three, it’s simply false in real life that when people do bad things they invariably get their comeuppance for it eventually (unless we posit some sort of afterlife where accounts are reconciled).

Moving on, certainly there are moral issues in the plays that remain relevant. One that recurs is the matter of how much intent matters to morality. Oedipus, for instance, when he comes to realize what he has done is initially so overcome with guilt that he gouges his eyes out. But then after having a chance to reflect, he comes to the sensible conclusion, “Well, you know, since I didn’t do any of that intentionally, I don’t think I have all that much to feel guilty about after all.”

Sometimes the issue of intent gets a little more complicated. Consider the case of Deianeira, for instance, who gave her husband Heracles a poison coat. At first glance this was completely unintentional, but there are still some questions to ask if we dig a little deeper.

For one, even if she didn’t know she was sending Heracles a poison coat, should she have known, and if so, does she bear at least some responsibility for the outcome by way of negligence rather than malicious intent? That is, should she have been more doubting that a dying centaur whom her husband has just shot with a poison arrow would want to help the married couple remain in love? Should she have taken some sort of precautions, or not gone through with the plan at all to send Heracles a supposed love-potion coat just to be on the safe side?

Is it possible she did intend, at some subconscious level, to harm or kill Heracles? Did she not bother to think it through, not have the appropriate skepticism about the centaur’s wanting to help her, because she was mad at Heracles for pursuing another woman and she wanted to punish him? And if so, how responsible is she for his poisoning, compared to if her intent had been conscious?

These are the sorts of issues that are still debated in philosophy and law today.

Antigone famously raises the issue of morality and honor versus the decree of some king or fallible human lawmaker. If it’s right, or even a duty, to do something—in this case give your sibling a proper burial—but it is forbidden by the duly constituted authority in your country, what do you do? Can disobedience to the law be justified in such a case? (Certainly Gandhi, Thoreau, Martin Luther King, etc. have answered yes to this question, as long as the disobedience is civil and nonviolent, and plenty of others have answered yes without that condition.)

And what determines what’s moral or honorable in such a case in the first place, so that it can then be contrasted with the law? Are we talking about authority figures whose commands contradict the conventional moral beliefs of the society, an individual’s moral beliefs, some alleged commands from the gods or God? If there is no plausible source of moral knowledge to tell us that siblings should receive proper burials, how could anything a king orders violate it?

Again, these and countless related issues remain hot topics in moral and political philosophy.

Finally, though, one thought that came back to me multiple times reading these works of Sophocles is that there’s something ludicrous about these folks having these philosophical debates about morality in the first place when, simply put, these aren’t morally serious people.

I mean, look whom we’re dealing with. Ajax is distraught not because he committed mass murder but because he tried to and failed. Philoctetes’ countrymen cruelly abandon him just because he gets a gross, smelly wound. The people in these stories spend most of their days conducting wholesale slaughter in war, committing torture, lying, scheming, assassinating, cheating on their spouses, and all the rest. Who are they to then attempt some learned, abstract debate on where exactly to draw the line between just and unjust laws? They’re so obsessed with killing each other intentionally that it seems rather silly that they would get bogged down trying to determine what degree of responsibility a person might bear for an unintentional killing.

Reading these stories is like visiting a prison and overhearing a bunch of child molesters arguing over who’s morally obligated to make the coffee today. Dudes, you rape 6 year olds; why don’t you deal with that before moving on to the moral gray area cases?

Then again, we’re on the verge of making the planet unlivable through nuclear war or global warming or whatever other idiocy we can come up with, and we still have plays that address (lesser) moral questions, so it’s not like we’re much better.

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