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  • The story goes something like this:

  • a royal, rich or righteous individual, who otherwise happens to be a lot like us,

  • makes a mistake that sends his life, and the lives of those around him,

  • spiraling into ruin.

  • Sound familiar?

  • This is the classic story pattern for Greek tragedy.

  • For thousands of years,

  • we've spun spellbinding tales that fit this pattern,

  • and modern storytellers around the world continue to do so.

  • Three critical story components influenced by Aristotle's "Poetics"

  • help us understand the allure.

  • First, the tragic hero should be elevated in rank and ability,

  • but also relatable.

  • Perhaps he is a king, or extraordinary in some other way.

  • But because you and I are neither unusually good

  • nor unusually bad,

  • neither is the hero.

  • And he has one particular tragic flaw, or hamartia,

  • something like ambition, tyranny, stubbornness, or excess pride

  • that causes him to make a critical mistake.

  • And from that mistake comes disaster and downfall.

  • As an example of these elements in action,

  • let's look to Sophocles's "Oedipus Rex,"

  • about a man who doesn't know he was adopted,

  • and is warned by an oracle that he's destined to murder his father

  • and marry his mother.

  • In trying to escape this fate,

  • he kills a man who won't get out of his way at a crossroad.

  • He then cleverly answers the riddle of the monstrous Sphynx,

  • freeing the Kingdom of Thebes from a plague.

  • He marries the widowed queen and becomes king.

  • But after he finds out that the murdered man was his father,

  • and the queen he married is his mother,

  • Oedipus gouges out his eyes and retreats into the wilderness.

  • At the beginning of his story,

  • Oedipus is elevated in ability, and he's elevated in rank.

  • He's neither unusually evil nor saintly.

  • He's relatable.

  • Notice the height of the fall.

  • Once a king, but now homeless and blind.

  • It's more tragic, after all, if a king falls from a tall throne

  • than if a jester falls off his step stool.

  • Oedipus's tragic flaw is hubris, or excessive pride,

  • and it causes him to attempt to avoid the fate prophesied for him,

  • which is exactly what makes it happen.

  • He's a particularly unlucky soul

  • because his mistake of killing his father and marrying his mother

  • is done in complete ignorance.

  • Of course, these narrative principles transcend classic Greek tragedy.

  • In Shakespeare's canon,

  • we see Hamlet's indecisiveness lead to a series of bad decisions,

  • or perhaps non-decisions,

  • that culminate in the death of almost every character in the play,

  • and Macbeth's ambition catapults him to the top

  • before sending him careening to his grave.

  • Even modern pop culture staples like "Game of Thrones" and "The Dark Knight"

  • resonate with the tropes Aristotle identified over 2000 years ago.

  • So what's the point of all of this suffering?

  • According to Aristotle, and many scholars since,

  • a good tragedy can evoke fear and pity in the audience:

  • Fear of falling victim to the same or similar catastrophe,

  • and pity for the height of the hero's downfall.

  • Ideally, after watching these tragic events unfold,

  • we experience catharsis,

  • a feeling of relief and emotional purification.

  • Not everyone agrees why this happens.

  • It may be that empathizing with the hero

  • allows us to experience and release strong emotions that we keep bottled up,

  • or maybe it just lets us forget about our own problems for a little while.

  • But regardless of how you feel when you watch poor Oedipus,

  • never has there been a more salient reminder

  • that no matter how bad things get,

  • at least you didn't kill your father and marry your mother.

The story goes something like this:

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B2 US TED-Ed oedipus tragic aristotle unusually elevated

【TED-Ed】Why tragedies are alluring - David E. Rivas

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    Jacky Avocado Tao posted on 2015/08/21
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