University College London, UK
Since antiquity, Greek tragedy has continually preoccupied philosophers. From Plato and Aristotle, to Hegel and Nietzsche, many of the most interesting ideas in the history of thought have been developed through a dialogue with tragedy. This article explores the continuities and ruptures between Plato and Aristotle's reading of tragedy and the so-called “philosophy of the tragic” which emerged in the late eighteenth century. The influence of this modern tradition has been so profound that, even today, no reading of Antigone, of Oedipus or of the Bacchae is not also, at least unconsciously, in dialogue with Hegel, with Freud and with Nietzsche. Although there is some recognition that the philosophical understanding of tragedy has historically shaped the discussion of ancient drama, classicists remain resistant to returning to its insights to further the study of classical texts. This article aims to redress the situation not only by revealing the persistent traces of the philosophy of the tragic in our modern critical vocabulary, but also by arguing that a renewed interest in this tradition will invigorate debates within our field. By looking at the examples of the French feminists Hélène Cixous' and Luce Irigaray's interpretations of Sophocles and Aeschylus, the article investigates the apparent tension between historicist and universalising readings of tragedy and argues that these two approaches are not necessarily incompatible.
This article was presented at as a paper at Oxford and Cambridge and I am grateful to the audiences on both those occasions for their very helpful suggestions. In particular, I would like to thank Joshua Billings, Fiona Macintosh, Katherine Harloe, Oliver Taplin, Phiroze Vasunia and Emily Wilson for their help and advice. Special thanks to Constanze Güthenke, Glenn Most and Simon Goldhill and the readers for the journal for their extensive and illuminating comments on this piece.