Here we present a review of the corresponding book by C. Fred Alford.
Alford draws on an eclectic mixture of psychoanalytic theories—in particular the work of Melanie Klein, Robert Jay Lifton, and Jacques Lacan—to help him illuminate the concerns of the Greek poets. He discusses not only well-known tragedies, such as Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy, Sophocles’ Theban plays, and Euripides’ Medea and Bacchae, but also lesser-known works, such as Sophocles’ Philoctetes and Euripides’ so-called romantic comedies. Alford examines the fundamental concerns of the tragedies: how to live in a world in which justice and power often seem to have nothing to do with each other; how to confront death; how to deal with the fear that our aggression will overflow and violate all that we care about; how to make this inhumane world a more human place. Two assumptions of the tragic poets could, he argues, enrich psychoanalysis—that people are responsible without being free, and that pity is the most civilizing connection. The poets understood these things, Alford believes, because they never flinched in the face of the suffering and constraint that are at the center of human existence.