It is a rather well-known fact that ancient tragedies were written in compliance with certain rules and components. One such component is anagnorisis, which is translated from Greek as recognition. The recognition scene is the one where the main character learns something extremely important and makes a startling discovery that will have a severe influence on the following events The purpose of this paper is to compare and contrast the scenes of recognition in Sophocles’ Oedipus the King and Homer’s The Odyssey.
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Oedipus the King
The tragic events described by Sophocles in his Oedipus the King make this play one of the best literary works of ancient times. Oedipus tries to find the murderer of his father but learns that he is the real killer, and his current wife appears to be his mother. This scene of recognition is truly terrifying and tragic as the audience can see the life and the mind of the main character collapsing from this realization (Sophocles, n.d., 1418-1422). It is possible to say that the life of the whole royal family is at stake in this scene, and the truth turns out to be so unbearable that the queen kills herself out of shame (Sophocles, n.d., 1474), and Oedipus blinds himself (Sophocles, n.d., 1510-1520). The happiness and peace of the family are forever destroyed precisely because of the truth revealed in this recognition scene.
Further, in The Odyssey, the recognition scene is rather heart-warming. On his way back home, king Odysseus faces many trials, and due to the lack of reliable news about whether he is alive, his wife Penelope is considered a widow (Homer, n.d.). Many noblemen want to marry her, but Penelope and Odysseus’ son Telemachus believe that he is alive and are waiting for him. To return safely, the king has to disguise himself, and since his son still does not know that his father is alive, the meeting of Odysseus with Telemachus is truly touching (Homer, n.d.). This scene of recognition plays a valuable role in the plot as it shows the readers that the father and the son are united and loyal to each other, and their joint efforts will ensure their success.
Both recognition scenes are extremely important for the plots of the literary works, and despite the core difference between them, their absence would change the whole story. In both scenes, the fate of the royal family and the king, in particular, is at stake. Unfortunately, the recognition scene in Oedipus the King brings grief and tragedy to a previously happy and harmonious family. It is possible to say that the audience regrets that this scene took place at all. The tragedy with which learning the bitter truth and the following events are described makes one think about whether it is necessary to know the truth in all cases, or sometimes it is worth remaining in ignorance.
As for Homer, he describes the scene of recognition as something great, long-awaited, and touching – the reunion of father and son and the imminent reunion of Odysseus with Penelope pleases the reader. It can also be said that Sophocles takes a long time to prepare Oedipus and the audience for the moment of recognition – the conversation between the king and the messenger takes more than one hundred lines. And Homer arranges the meeting of his son with his father quite quickly, probably because it was a long-awaited moment.
Additionally, there is also a difference in how tragedy is brought into these two scenes. In Oedipus the King, the scene of recognition is the end of happiness and the beginning of the torment of Oedipus and his family. The tragedy itself is brought in by the news of the queen’s suicide, as well as by descriptions of how devastated Oedipus is, how he practically loses his mind, and how regrets what happened. As for The Odyssey, the tragedy in this happy scene or reunion is brought by the son’s disbelief that his father is truly in front of him.
Homer. (n.d.). The Odyssey [PDF document]. Web.
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Sophocles. (n.d.). Oedipus the king [PDF document]. Web.