trojan war

Odyssey (Book IV)

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Tragedy

Tragedy is one of those words that we, especially Americans, tend to use haphazardly. It’s a pet peeve of mine, but it’s probably just my problem. Every plane crash is a tragedy, a car accident is a tragedy, we stub our toes and we call it tragic. A tragedy is something we ought to see through the Book of Job, we ought to see it through Shakespeare’s characters. We ought to see it — we ought to go back at least as far as Euripides and the Trojan women. What does Hekuba do in the Trojan women but sit in a ghastly scene of an utterly destroyed city? All of her men are dead and she sits wailing to the sky, on a stone, crying, “How can this be?” That’s tragedy. We should see tragedy through Hekuba, or all those women in Drew Faust’s book [Mothers of Invention]. Tragedy can be raw, it can be pointless, it can be utterly unbearable, it can be a dead-end with no exit. Sometimes it is just seemingly faded horror. But sometimes tragedy, throughout its literary history, and then therefore how we tend to use it, tragedy can also be affirmative. It can even be cathartic, and we sometimes can find ways to make it redemptive. It should never be treated with triumphalism. It requires a certain mood.

David W. Blight, Homefronts and Battlefronts: “Hard War” and the Social Impact of the Civil War