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Forum Antiquum: Grace Ledbetter

  • Grace Ledbetter
Thursday 20 April 2017
University Library
Witte Singel 27
2311 BG Leiden
Vossius conference room

Truth and Self at Colonus

In what is in many way Sophocles’ most mysterious surviving play, the liminal figure of the dying Oedipus has been thought to wield a special power, variously characterized as heroic nobility, sacredness, endurance through time, courage, or the embodiment of unspeakable, abject horror. This paper argues instead that the sorting out of Oedipus’ sense of truth about himself constitutes the primary action of this play. Using Shlomit Yadlin-Gadot’s recent theory of truth and the self (Truth Matters: Theory and Practice in Psychoanalysis, Brill 2016), I argue that Sophocles depicts the reconstruction and definition of Oedipus’ self through the acknowledgment and definition of his different “truth axes.” The play shows us how a man who has suffered the most devastating traumas achieves the healthy integration of his different “selves” where all basic psychic needs are met. Oedipus is not cured by his own suffering, but rather by his own intellectual insight applied to his various images of reality and truth. Oedipus’ past traumatic experiences, although tragically inflated, can stand for any developmental challenge that requires a reorganization of the psyche. 

Grace Ledbetter is Associate Professor and Department Chair of Classics, and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Swarthmore College. She specializes in Ancient Philosophy, Greek Poetry, and Greek myth in 20th Century performing arts. Her book, Poetics Before Plato: Interpretation and Authority in Early Greek Theories of Poetry (Princeton University Press 2003), examines theories of poetry in the early Greek literary and philosophical traditions. She has also published articles on Greek myth in modern ballet, Plato, Homer, Sophocles, and the Stoic theory of emotion. Recent publications include “The Power of Plato’s Cave,” "Translation into Dance: Adaptation and Transnational Hellenism in Balanchine’sApollo," and “Je suis Médée: Greek Myth and Romanticism in Cherubini.”

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