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From Pity to Sympathy
Tragic Emotions across the Ages
David Konstan and Stavroula Kiritsi
We begin by alerting our readers that this essay is an experiment—a trial, as the word “essay” itself suggests. It is motivated by the idea that ancient Greece was in some ways a different world than ours, not just in its social arrangements—we are pleased that slavery no longer exists—but also in more subtle aspects of psychology. We take as our test case the emotions experienced in the viewing of tragedy. Aristotle posited pity and fear (eleos and phobos) as the principal emotions aroused by tragedy, and we take it that this is a valid description for the tragedy of his time, and the ancient Greek audience that attended it. But is it equally the case today? Are these the emotions that we expect when we attend the theater, and are these the emotions that writers, directors, and actors—even producers and translators of ancient tragedy—aim to induce? If not, then it may be that even when ancient tragedy is produced for a modern audience, there are subtle changes in the way it is received—changes that may affect its meaning, and the way interactions within the drama are conceived and enacted. Would a version of Oedipus the King in Japanese have quite the same emotional impact as the original, given the very different acting conventions characteristic of classical drama and the Noh play— and even though both traditions employed the mask for actors? But we do not have to look so far afield: it may be that even versions in modern Greek, closely as they may adhere to the original text, differ in subtle ways in the effects they generate, in part, perhaps, just because they do not seek to arouse pity and fear, precisely, or not these emotions alone. Before examining Aristotle’s conception of pity and fear in more detail, and indicating why these categories may not apply to the modern theater, we would like to provide some motivation for the idea that emotional responses in ancient Greece may not have coincided exactly with modern conceptions. Catherine Lutz, in her book with the engaging title Unnatural Emotions, observes (1988:8): “The process of coming to understand the emotional lives of people in different cultures can be seen first and foremost as a problem of translation. What must be translated,” she goes on to say, are the meanings of the emotion words spoken in everyday conversation, of the emotionally imbued events of everyday life, of tears and other gestures, and of audience reaction to emotional performance. The interpretive task, then, is not primarily to fathom somehow ‘what they are feeling’ inside … but rather to translate emotional communications from one idiom, context, language, or sociohistorical mode of understanding into another. This is a tall order, especially when the foreign culture under investigation is no longer a living one, in which we can interrogate native speakers and observe their interactions, complete with “tears and other gestures, and … audience reaction to emotional performance.” But we do have particularly rich evidence to make a start in this endeavor in respect to classical Greece, and are in some ways better positioned to appreciate their views than we are in the case of some contemporary societies. This is because the Greeks have provided us with careful definitions of several emotions, or rather pathē in their language, something not always available to students of the history of emotion; what is more, their dramatic works, along with various kinds of narratives such as epic, history, oratory, and the novel, allow us to see how emotion terms were used in antiquity and the kinds of responses that they elicited in others. What is more, we can be sure that the Greeks were not tailoring their descriptions to the expectations of modern anthropologists: they were writing for one another, and we are in the enviable position of being able to eavesdrop on their conversations. In fact, a close reading of the Greeks’ own statements, both explicit and implicit, about the emotions reveals that their emotional vocabulary does differ in important ways, sometimes subtle and sometimes quite palpable, from what are commonly taken to be equivalent terms in English and at least some other modern languages, including modern Greek (though the latter still awaits systematic investigation). This applies in particular to pity and fear, and it is easy to see why this complicates our original question. For we must not only consider whether pity and fear are the predominant responses to tragedy today—even to modern versions of ancient Greek tragedy—as Aristotle and other ancient writers maintained, but also whether pity and fear, as the classical Greeks understood the terms, correspond to our own notions of these concepts, or of the words we use to render them. Now, we should make it clear that the idea that the emotions may vary from one society to another is not uncontroversial. The discipline of evolutionary psychology, for example, has developed arguments to show that at least the most basic emotions, and these normally include fear (and more rarely pity), are and must be uniform across different cultures. The view may be said to begin with Darwin’s book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, published in 1872, in which he argued that the emotions, like certain other traits, have evolved through natural selection; they are thus assumed to have developed in such as way as to meet challenges to the survival of the species, whether as a result of natural conditions or those prevailing in early human society (Darwin 1998). Their universality is thus a consequence of biology. The opponents of this hypothesis—sometimes identified as social constructionists— emphasize, on the contrary, the way the emotions are shaped by the values and customs of a given society; as Lutz puts it (1988:8), emotion is “woven in complex ways into cultural meaning systems and social interaction.” In this view, the emotions are not simply instinctive reactions, like jumping at a loud noise or blinking or flinching when something is brought suddenly before the eyes. Rather, the emotions have a strong cognitive dimension, and depend on the way we evaluate situations (for discussion, see Konstan 2006). We shall return to this idea, but we may observe that all the ancient philosophical schools, and Aristotle in particular, viewed the emotions in this way, and maintained that they depend crucially on the way we interpret and judge the behavior and motives of others. Rather than explore this controversy on a theoretical level here, we should like on this occasion to concentrate specifically on the tragic emotions, and pity in particular; we wish to examine how these emotions are translated, and to consider the ways in which an awareness of differences between ancient and modern conceptions may affect our understanding of a couple of well-known classical tragedies in modern dress. To illustrate the nature of the problem, we may begin by citing some remarks by the eminent Marxist critic Terry Eagleton (Eagleton 2003), since they explicitly address the larger question under discussion here and make their point with reference to Greek tragedy. Eagleton begins by citing the book On Materialism, by the distinguished Italian philologist Sebastiano Timpanaro (1975:52): “Cultural continuities, Timpanaro points out, ‘have been rendered possible by the fact that man as a biological being has remained essentially unchanged from the beginnings of civilization to the present; and those sentiments and representations which are closest to the biological facts of human existence have changed little’” (Eagleton 2003:xii–xiv). We recognize here a version of what we have identified above as the universalist position. “However culturalists may wince at this cheek-by-jowl consorting of ‘sentiments and representations’ with ‘biological facts,’” it is surely true that to ask, say, why we feel sympathy for Philoctetes is a pseudo-problem bred by a bogus historicism. We feel sympathy for Philoctetes because he is in agonizing pain from his pus-swollen foot. There is no use in pretending that his foot is a realm of impenetrable otherness which our modern-day notions can grasp only at the cost of brutally colonizing the past. There is nothing hermeneutically opaque about Philoctetes’ hobbling and So much for postmodern relativism, hermetically closed hermeneutic circles, and queasy hesitations about our capacity to understand the “Other.” Pain is pain. Eagleton pauses a moment to concede that classical tragedy is not wholly transparent to us: “There is, to be sure, a great deal about the art form in which he [that is, Philoctetes] figures which is profoundly obscure to us. We are, for example, bemused and mildly scandalized by Antigone’s declaration that she would not have broken the law for a husband or a son, as opposed to a brother. It is not the kind of thing a good liberal would say.” Eagleton, we understand, is not a liberal but a hardnosed realist who sees in Antigone a tough-minded comrade, prepared to make unsentimental choices; he is not really one of the “we” who are “bemused and scandalized” by her. “But,” Eagleton insists, “as far as his agony goes, we understand Philoctetes in much the same way as we understand the afflictions of those around us. It is not that such a response is ‘unhistorical’; it is rather that human history includes the history of the body, which in respect of physical suffering has probably changed little over the centuries.” We are inclined to agree that physical pain has changed little since classical antiquity—and not just “probably,” in Eagleton’s coy formulation.1 Pain, however, is not an emotion. It is, as 1 Felix Budelmann, citing this same passage in Eagleton's book, remarks (2010:111): “As Eagleton says, pain is a universal phenomenon. The biochemistry of pain is fundamentally the same in everybody and will have been the same for over a hundred thousand years.… Yet this is not the whole story.” Budelmann notes the varied ways in which Philoctetes’ pain has been staged over the centuries, and concludes (2010:112): “The way Sophocles makes him Aristotle says, a sensation (his word is aisthēsis); as he makes clear in the Rhetoric, pain and pleasure are part of an emotion or pathos, but not the whole thing. But our responses to pain include emotional responses, and here it is not so clear that nothing has changed over the centuries. If Gorgias (Defense of Helen 9), Plato (Republic 10, 606b–c), and Isocrates (Panegyricus 112, 168), as well as Aristotle himself (Poetics 1452a2–3, 1452b32–33, etc.) are at all reliable guides, then a Greek in the theater of Dionysus would not have professed to “feel sympathy for Philoctetes” because of his pain, a reaction that Eagleton takes to be a transhistorical constant.2 A Greek would have spoken rather of pity (eleos), and pity, as Aristotle and others make clear, is aroused not by suffering as such but by undeserved suffering. In Aristotle’s words, pity is “a kind of pain in the case of an apparent destructive or painful harm in one not deserving to encounter it, which one might expect oneself, or one of one’s own, to suffer, and this when it seems near” (Rhetoric 2.8, 1385b13-16). Raw sympathy for pain is not the emotion that Aristotle, at least, identified as the characteristic response to tragedy. The cognitive component of the emotion pity stands out clearly in Aristotle’s definition: one must, in order to experience this emotion or pathos, make a judgment as to the moral desert of the person suffering misfortune. An instinctive response to another’s pain does not qualify; for Aristotle, pity is a moral emotion, and hence specific to human beings (and to gods). [Philoctetes] express his pain is influenced by cultural contexts. Philoctetes’ description of his suffering reflects Greek notions of the self and of bodily sensations insofar as pain is described as an outside agent attacking the body.… As a consequence of the interplay of nature and culture, Sophocles’ experience and conception of pain are different from mine.” See also Budelmann 2007. Charles Martindale (1993:64) remarks of Ovid’s description of the flaying of Marsyas: “Marsyas’ pain is aestheticized, objectified, made the focus of artistic vision. But isn’t that in a sense what any artistic representation of pain is, and must be?” Just in this respect, then, pain is not always the same. For discussion of aesthetics and its relation to reception and performance, see Goldhill 2010 (on Marsyas’ “pain,” page 62), and the response by Martindale in the same volume (Martindale 2010). 2 Plato employs the term sumpaskhō at Republic 605D, but the sense is apparently “to feel pain or pleasure along with someone” (cf. sunkhairō) rather than “to experience another person’s emotion by a process of identification.” We can perhaps gauge something of what the original audience of Sophocles’ Philoctetes might have experienced upon observing Philoctetes’ suffering from the reactions of Neoptolemus and the chorus in the play.3 At the sight of Philoctetes’ miserable cave the chorus exclaim: “I pity him: no human being to care for him, with no companion in sight, miserable, forever alone, he is afflicted by a savage disease and wanders at the mercy of every need that arises” (169–175). Note the emphasis on Philoctetes’ isolation, which they remark on even before his physical agony.4 Later in the play, Neoptolemus is provoked by Philoctetes’ stubborn refusal to go to Troy, even though his wound can be cured only if he does so: “it is not just to pardon or to pity those who are involved in self-willed harm, like you” (1318–1320), he asserts. As Aristotle says, pity is aroused by undeserved suffering, and someone who suffers willingly fails to qualify. For an ancient Greek, then, the mere spectacle of pain was not enough to elicit pity—something one might have inferred, it seems to me, from a consideration of such practices as the judicial torture of slaves (it is odd that a Marxist critic should have overlooked Between Greek pity and modern English sympathy there is a deep cultural divide, extending to basic conceptions of the self. Sympathy involves putting oneself in the position of another so as to feel what the other person feels. Thus, Edmund Burke (1757:41) writes that “sympathy must be considered as a sort of substitution, by which we are put into the place of another man, and affected in many respects as he is affected.” David Hume, in turn, supposes that the thought of another’s passion may acquire “such a degree of force and vivacity, as to become the very passion itself” (Hume 1739:317). Such a description of sympathy has little to do with Greek pity, and its roots lie elsewhere.5 The spectators of Philoctetes’ suffering, 3 Cf. Halliwell 2002:208–211, who points out that “it is an extraordinary feature of Philoctetes that it invites its audience to recognize the increasing aptness of pity … without having access, until much later, to Neoptolemus’s own reactions” (209). 4 The chorus’s pity does not necessarily signify a disposition to help Philoctetes; Philoctetes himself mentions that merchants who from time to time took refuge on Lemnos pitied him (eleousi), indeed, but refused to take him aboard their ships (307–311). 5 Modern ideas of sympathy are inspired by an epistemological question: how is it that human beings, each locked into his or her own private world of sensations, ever come to know and whether on stage or in the audience, did not expect to be affected as he was affected, or that his passion would become theirs. As a distinct emotion in its own right, pity did not mean identifying with the experience of another; rather, it was just insofar as one did not share another’s misfortune that one was in a position to pity it. Aristotle indeed observes in the Rhetoric (2.8, 1386a25–27) that “people pity those who are similar to themselves, whether in age, character, disposition, rank, family,” or the like; but the reason is not that likeness enables empathy, but rather, as Aristotle explains, that in such cases we more easily perceive that a comparable misfortune might befall us as well. Similarity between the pitier and the pitied is thus a condition for the vulnerability principle, and likewise presupposes a difference in current fortunes. This same consideration accounts for why Aristotle excludes from the domain of pity those who are intimately connected to us. As he puts it (immediately preceding the reference to similarity), “people pity their acquaintances (gnōrimoi), provided that they are not exceedingly close in kinship; for concerning these they are disposed as they are concerning themselves.… For what is terrible (deinon) is different from what is pitiable, and is expulsive of pity” (1386a18–23). Aristotle cites the remark of one Amasis, who did not weep when his son was led out to die but did so in the case of a friend: “the latter was pitiable, the former terrible,” Aristotle comments.6 We recall that, in his definition of pity, Aristotle specified that the anticipated harm must be such as can befall either oneself or one’s own. The afflictions of those nearest to us are perceived as ours rather than another’s, and “people stop pitying when something terrible is happening to them,” presumably since misfortune is now present rather than prospective. Pity, then, is excited only at a certain remove; when the connection with the sufferer is too close, we experience the misfortune itself, not the appreciate the feelings of other people? This is the so-called problem of other minds, and it is a major issue in philosophy today. The ancients, however, are almost entirely silent on it. They took it for granted that we know what others feel, and were concerned principally with the ethical character of our responses. For a splendid analysis of the difference between ancient pity, as an emotion specific to a detached observer, and modern notions of identification, see Halliwell 2002:207–216. 6 The story is related in a slightly different form in Herodotus 3.14; cf. Ben-Ze’ev 2000:342–343 anticipation of it (of course, one may solicit the pity of others for the misfortunes of our kin; cf. Apsines 403 Spengel; see Dilts and Kennedy 1997 for translation). Contrast with this conception of pity the recent book by Alison Gopnik, The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell Us about Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life: “Babies imitate, and imitation is a way of taking on an emotion as one’s own. Joy reflects joy, sorrow provokes sorrow, not only as a facial expression but as a state of feeling between caregiver and baby.”7 It’s possible that babies literally don't see a difference between their own pain and the pain of others. Maybe babies want to end all suffering, no matter where it happens to be located. For them, pain is pain and joy is joy. Moral thinkers from Buddha to David Hume to Martin Buber have suggested that erasing the boundaries between yourself and others in this way can underpin morality. The reviewer adds, “Thus attachment, empathy, and morality are inseparable, though none is What all this suggests is that Eagleton’s facile assimilation of ancient Greek pity to modern sympathy fails to perform the work of translation that understanding the ancient emotions requires. Now, the above observations have been made principally with reference to translations from ancient Greek into English, and more specifically in relation to the classical Greek word eleos and modern English “sympathy.” Although it is easy to fault Eagleton for too casual an equation of the two concepts, his mistake may be taken as a stimulus to entering upon a deeper and more interesting question. For although the term “sympathy” may be out of place when analyzing the original Greek audience’s expectations and responses to tragedy, and to Sophocles’ Philoctetes in particular, it is entirely possible that it is the appropriate term to represent a modern audience’s response to the play, especially if it is seen in translation. If so, then a translation of a drama such as Philoctetes will, however faithful it may be, inevitably undergo a certain transformation, for it will invite responses that fall within the range of sentiments available to the culture in which it is performed—and we cannot assume a priori 7 Gopnik 2009, reviewed by Greenberg 2010; quotation taken from Greenberg 2010:27. that our culture is the same as that of classical Athens.8 What is more, these responses may be projected, as it were, back into the drama itself, with the result that the way the characters themselves interact may acquire new dimensions for us that were not present in the original work or perceived in the same way by the spectators at the original performance. It may even be that the vocabulary of the ancient work, if properly distinguished from our own, will help subtly to transform the languages into which it is rendered and in which it is received—a view of the effects of translation that Walter Benjamin envisaged, when he wrote No translation would be possible if, in accord with its ultimate essence, it were to strive for similarity to the original. For in its continuing life, which could not be so called if it were not the transformation and renewal of a living thing, the original is changed.… For just as the tone and significance of great literary works are completely transformed over the centuries, the translator’s native language is also transformed. Indeed, whereas the poetic word endures in its own language, even the greatest translation is destined to be taken up into the growth of its language and perish as a result of its renewal. Far from being a sterile similarity between two languages that have died out, translation is, of all modes, precisely the one called upon to mark the after-ripening of the alien 8 Hall and Harrop 2010 is an excellent introduction to the issues involved in performance theory and reception: see especially the chapters by Michelakis, who raises penetrating questions about the evidence for performances (“Publicity may have a different agenda from censorship, but it is equally dependent upon a process of archivisation which regulates what the spectator sees” [Hall and Harrop 2010:101]); Foley, who emphasizes the different generic expectations of ancient and modern audiences; and Perris, who questions the sharp distinction between the literary and the performance reception of Greek drama, and asks pointedly (2010:188): “Why should spectating outrank reading? Why should the collective outrank the In Benjamin’s view, words do not merely persist in fossilized form, they ripen and mature, and this occurs at least in part as a result of the contact between languages—of translation. Thus, the process that Benjamin suggests occurs not only across languages, but within any given language, as it develops over time: and what better material for a case study than translations We begin by taking as an illustrative example the passage cited above from Sophocles’ Philoctetes, in which the chorus expresses pity for the wounded and abandoned hero (“I pity him: no human being to care for him,” etc. [169–175]). The ancient Greek is clear: oiktirō nin, “I lament his condition.” In the modern Greek version by Tasos Roussos (1991; first performed in June of 1967), which aspires to be quite literal and in general succeeds, the phrase is rendered pōs thlibomai ki afton. What does the use of the verb thlibomai suggest here? It would seem to collapse the distance between the chorus and the wretched man for whom they are feeling, indicating that they are struck personally, affectively, by Philoctetes’ situation. Everything depends on nuance, to be sure: is there a hint in the text that the anticipated reaction to what Philoctetes is going through, on the part of the audience as well as of the chorus, is a kind of instinctive or visceral response to his misery, unmediated by ethical considerations of desert? Let us take a look next at the second passage cited above, in which Neoptolemus gently scolds Philoctetes for not seeking a way out of his misery. His words in the ancient Greek text are: “all who are involved in voluntary harm like you, for these it is not just (dikaion) to receive either 9 Quoted in Rendall 1997:155–156. Compare Comyn 1880:14, in defense of his translation of The Wanderings of Oisin from Gaelic into English: “Translation from one language into another enriches the language into which the translation is made. The language is rendered more copious and pliable by being, as it were, put through a process of expansion to render it more capable of transmitting clearly the ideas conceived and expressed at first in a different idiom” (we owe this reference to Gregory Baker). 10 For a survey of modern Greek productions of the Philoctetes, see Chatzepantazes 2010. On Roussos’s conception, see Minotis 1988a and 1988b; Minotis directed and played the role of Philoctetes in productions that used Roussos’s translation. excuse (sungnōmēn) or that anyone feel pity (oiktirein).” In Roussos’s rendering, the words are: den einai dikaio mête kaneis na tou lupatai mête na sukhôrei (1991:129). Here again, the sense seems to be subtly transformed: instead of directing attention to the conditions under which one morally or cognitively responds with pity, an emotion understood by Aristotle and his contemporaries to presuppose, as we have seen, a certain distance from the sufferer and the ability to judge more or less objectively the rights and wrongs of the misfortune that has befallen him, Roussos, in line with modern sensibilities, appears to import a greater feeling content by employing words that suggest being sorry (lupatai: the root sense derives from the word lupē, meaning “pain” or “distress,” something like sumponia) and forgiveness (sukhōrei). Both the chorus and Neoptolemus seem, in the modern version, to experience a sympathetic reaction rather than to engage in an ethical judgment. And this may be, moreover, just what the modern audience expects and is expected to feel when watching a tragedy: we are given to empathy, perhaps, in contexts in which the ancient Greeks responded more with pity—or eleos—in their sense of the term. Modern Greek has retained, of course, the word eleos, along with another ancient term for pity, namely oiktos. But a case can be made that the significance of these terms has shifted somewhat. Oiktos, for example, was in antiquity associated particularly with grieving out loud or wailing: one could hear oiktos coming from inside a house. In modern Greek, the term tends to connote a certain disrespect or contempt for the person who is pitied, just as in English, too, the idea of pity has acquired negative associations, as though pity implied looking down at the sufferer and so not treating the other person as a proper equal. It is just for such reasons that terms like “compassion,” and still more “sympathy” and “empathy,” have begun to replace “pity” in common parlance. Modern Greek also makes use of eleemosune, a coinage that arose in the Hellenistic period (there is an instance in a fragment of Callimachus) and became particularly prominent in Christian discourse, as well as of sumpatheia, sumponia, and other such terms; by comparison, eleos itself has acquired a more elevated tone, often used in connection with God’s mercy. This evolution in the sense of the ancient terms is also part of the transformation of emotional and moral sensibilities, and alerts us once again that, when watching a play like Sophocles’ Ajax or Philoctetes, we must inquire whether what we are feeling is quite like pity or fear in the classical sense, and how our response may affect the interpretation we bring to bear on the feelings of the characters themselves in the plays. Let us consider one more passage in ancient tragedy, for the sake of illustration, since the present argument hardly pretends to be exhaustive. It is remarkable that in Sophocles’ Ajax, Odysseus is represented as experiencing pity for his archenemy, who has just attempted to slay all the Greek leaders, including Odysseus, out of resentment that the arms of Achilles were awarded to Odysseus rather than to himself. After rendering Ajax mad, and causing him to torture and kill sheep in the mistaken belief that they are his enemies, the goddess Athena invites Odysseus to gloat at the spectacle of his fallen antagonist. Odysseus wisely refuses, expressing instead, in the ancient Greek text, pity for Ajax in his tormented state: “I pity him (epoiktirō de nin) in his misery, even though he is hostile to me, for he has been yoked to an evil madness. Yet I look not to his fate more than to my own, for I see that we are nothing more than figments, we who are alive—a fleeting shadow.” Odysseus feels, not sympathy for his antagonist, but rather a sense of his own vulnerability, in accord with Aristotle’s account of pity; he knows that he is not at present in the condition of Ajax, and so he does not identify with his state of mind; rather, he feels a mixture of fear and a sense of the disproportion between the punishment of Ajax and his earlier status: he is reflecting on how far Ajax has fallen, and how quickly. Mortals are playthings of the gods, who are free, like Athena, to enjoy the spectacle of our humiliation. Although Odysseus does not identify with Ajax, he can recognize his misery as the common lot of mankind, at least potentially. We may note too that, as Odysseus gazes on the mad Ajax, while remaining invisible to him (thanks to Athena), he is like the members of the audience, who are looking on together with Odysseus at the plight of the fallen hero. Here too, as in the Philoctetes, the response of characters within the play may be a cue as to how the spectators reacted or were expected to react. In the modern Greek version by Roussos, Odysseus’ words are rendered me pianei thlipsē gi'afton ton ermo, as einai ekhthros mou (1990:43); how shall we understand his language here? The term thlipsē indicates a kind of sorrow or inward oppression (cf. the song, Stin Kardia Mou Mono Thlipsi [Στην Καρδιά Μου Μόνο Θλίψη], by Elena Paparizou). Comparably, Kostas Georgousopoulos’s version (published under the pen name of K. Myres) of the Ajax, produced in the year 2000 (2000:53) to xero kai ton lupamai ton eremo ki as itane o ekhthros mou, where lupamai means roughly “feel sorry for.” So too, at line 510, where Tecmessa asks Ajax to have pity for their son, the imperative oiktire in the ancient Greek is rendered as lupēsou by both Roussos and Georgousopoulos (cf. 652, where oiktirō in the original becomes lupamai in Roussos’s version and phrittō, “feel horror” in that of Georgousopoulos). The noun oiktos at line 525, where the chorus seconds Tecmessa’s appeal, becomes splankhnia in Roussos’s version, and for the chorus’s own sensibility Georgousopoulos offers summerizomai, where the emphasis is on the shared feeling. This is, we suggest, just what a modern audience does feel at the sight of the still proud and arrogant Ajax, boasting to Athena, in his mad state, of his triumph in slaying the Greek generals: we feel sorrow, sympathy, and identification; where Odysseus, and the original ancient Greek audience, perhaps experienced something more like Aristotelian pity, retaining their distance from the sufferer and remarking, even as they acknowledged their vulnerability to such misfortune, the degree to which he has brought it upon himself. Since this is, as we began by saying, an essay, a trial balloon, we will not carry the argument any further, and will simply draw, not conclusions, but some possible implications and questions for further investigation. We wish to make it absolutely clear that we are not in any way criticizing Roussos’s translation for a lack of fidelity to the Sophoclean originals. On the contrary, we believe that he was in a sense being perfectly faithful, even as he subtly transformed the sense of the terms involved. For what was pity to the ancients is sympathy for us: where they felt themselves removed from the suffering of another, save for an awareness of their common vulnerability, we identify and enter into the feelings of the other. Tragedy does mean something different to us, and it should. The idea is to be conscious of the changes, and to reflect perhaps on their meaning. To take this investigation further, one might examine not just the words in the plays themselves, as we have done, but also the accounts of the translators; the actors; the audience, where these are available; and the write-ups in reviews, program notes, and the like for the modern Greek versions. We could then compare and contrast these descriptions with what Aristotle and other sources have to tell us about the characteristic response to tragedy in antiquity. This would be a highly worthwhile exercise, we believe (one of us—Kiritsi—is undertaking something of this sort for Menandrean comedy in its modern adaptations). We have remarked that relatively little work has been done so far, at least to our knowledge, on the relation between emotion terms in ancient and modern Greek. We hope that this brief essay serves to stimulate further interest in such a project. Bibliography
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