Sophocles and the Human Tendency towards Destruction

I’ve recently re-read the plays of Sophocles.  Paul Roche translated the Signet version.  This translator has also ably translated Ten Plays of Euripedes and The Complete Plays of Aristophanes.  (Euripedes counts as my favorite of the three Athenian Tragedians, by the way–which puts me in the minority for sure!)  The Ancient Greek proverbs and ideals come across in an authentic manner even though the prose is written in good, modern English.  While reading the play this time, I was impressed with the notion of hubris leading to a fall and how hubris is punished by the gods.  But, my interpretation of how Sophocles understanding of hubris evolves over the course of his plays would not have occurred to me if not for a particular conversation with a friend of mine.

In that conversation, I opined that people have forgotten that God punishes people for pride.  My friend responded that if God really punished people for pride, we would all be dead.  This struck me as a profound insight.  Indeed, is God under any especial necessity to punish people for pride?  Pride, like the other capital sins, carries its own punishment with it.  Pride distorts our view of ourselves, which in turn hinders us in our interactions with the real world.  Socrates made the foundation of philosophy, the love of wisdom, to know oneself.  If we don’t know ourselves, we fail countless times, wound ourselves, and vex the people around us such that we drive them away.  What is more offensive than arrogance?  What could be a worse affliction in and of itself?

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Apology for not Finishing Cleanliness

As you have gleaned from the title, I did not finish that monster of a poem called Cleanliness.  It’s 1812 lines cover everything from the Fall to the liberation of the Hebrews from Babylon.  The point seems to have been to prove how God hates uncleanliness more than any other sin.  However, the Pearl-Poet makes a terrible case for this by lumping together all kinds of sins into this argument.  His argument quickly devolves to “God hates sin more than any other sin,” which holds no significance.  Hopefully, St. Erkenwald will be a much better poem.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

St. Mary Magdalene

But, many spiritual writers have said that God hates sins of the flesh more than any other kind of sin.  Moderns scoff at this notion–saying that such sins are normal and consensual sex never hurt anyone.  I agree that sins of the flesh are common, but they do hurt the people that do them.  St. Paul admonishes us to avoid especially sins of the flesh because we sin in our own bodies.  If the essence of all sin is malice, then no other sin quite makes people hate their own selves as lust.  And what of the opposite sex, which becomes objectified in the minds of the lustful person?  Might not lust be the origin of all misandry and misogyny?

Another reason for God to hate lust can be seen in the comparison of the ideal union of man and wife to lustful unions.  How deeply have people throughout time been cut to the heart by unfaithful lovers?  How many children brought up without the benefit of their father or even both parents?  How many children discarded and destroyed by abortions, infanticides, and exposure to the cruel elements?  Can it be any wonder that God hates lust and impurity when it leads to so much pain, objectification, and murder?  God created the sexes to enjoy a joyful union, intimacy, and children–not to feel malice toward one another and hate children.  Lust perverts one of God’s most beautiful gifts, leads to all kinds of sins, and the perpetrators end up hating themselves.

Tristan and Iseult: a romance which did not have a happy beginning or ending because it was impure.

Tristan and Iseult: a romance which did not have a happy beginning or ending because it was impure.

Yet, I suppose more people are led astray by the illusion of happiness presented by lust than any other sin.  This is perhaps why God describes the Prodigal Son as having spent his inheritance on prostitutes: despite the fact that God hates impurity so much, He is ready to forgive all sins no matter how grave–even instantly ready.  So, one should never despair of their salvation.

Well, there you have my own mediation on impurity.  If not evincing more knowledge of Scripture than Cleanliness, it is at least shorter and more logical.