Friday, January 13, 2017

Word of the day: tyrant

The classicist and translator Paul Woodruff on the ancient idea of the tyrant:

A tyrannos is not a legitimate king (Greek basileus, Latin rex), but a ruler who has won power by his own efforts . . .

In Greek thought at the time, a tyrant . . . is subject to insatiable desires, which drive him to a career of wanton injustice. This is the one mark of the tyrant in Plato‘s Republic, written sixty or more years after Oedipus Tyrannus. . . .

But Plato has captured only part of the classic notion of the tyrant. Several tragic plays of Sophocles’ period dwell on the tyrant as a model not so much of injustice, as Plato would have it, but of irreverent and unholy behavior — behavior that indicates a failure to recognize the limits separating human beings from gods, the principal limits being mortality and ignorance. . . .

Oedipus shares three traits with stage tyrants . . . : he is prone to fear of rebellion, he is liable to subvert the law when frightened, and he is a poor listener who flies into a rage when given advice that he does not want to hear.

Introduction to Theban Plays, by Sophocles, trans. Peter Meineck and Paul Woodruff (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2003).
You get the idea. Our president-elect appears to possess the traits of both Platonic and theatrical tyrants.

What got me thinking about ancient tyrants was the president-elect’s recent extraordinary claim: “I will be the greatest jobs producer that God ever created.” I think we’re beyond hubris here. Another word made from Greek parts seems to apply: megalomania.

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