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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Help or do no harm : medical imagery in Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus and Oedipus at Colonus Cruz Akirov, Alexandra


There is a vast amount of scholarly work devoted to Oedipus Tyrannus and Oedipus at Colonus. However, the number of studies relating these plays to Hippocratic medical thought is small and, in the case of OC, almost non-existent. Bernard Knox’s study Oedipus at Thebes (1957) constitutes the most direct approach to medical thought in OT. He describes how Oedipus shifts between being a physician, a patient, and ultimately, a disease at different stages of the play (1957: 139-147). Knox supports these role shifts by comparing some of the vocabulary of selected passages in the tragedy with their occurrence in the medical writings of the Hippocratic Corpus. The approach I propose in this study is to account for these role shifts from the standpoint of the doctor-patient relationship as described in different writings of the Hippocratic Corpus. I will focus on how the elements of the doctor-patient relationship (i.e., disease, patient, and physician) are represented and the reconfigurations they undergo in the plays. In the first chapter, I will examine how the doctor-patient relationship was viewed among the authors of the medical writings. In addition, I will examine Sophocles’ involvement in the cult of Asclepius in order to determine how this aspect of his life might have influenced his work. In the second chapter I will analyze how the doctor-patient relationship fluctuates in OT. I will use as reference the set of guidelines established in the first chapter regarding the notion of the doctor-patient relationship. In the third chapter, I will suggest that OC provides two complementary approaches to account for the doctor-patient relationship: the Hippocratic model and a new metaphor in which Oedipus stands for a healing god. The medical imagery of the doctor-patient relationship found in OT and OC indicates that Sophocles was well aware of the medical practices of his time. Furthermore, I will suggest that his involvement in the cult of Asclepius is reflected in the metaphor of Oedipus as a healing god at the end of OC.

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