Great books are works of fiction or fact which continuously pass the test of time, and hold significance to society and mankind. One clear indication of a book’s greatness, aside from the fact that you’ll find it in the library and on the reading list of a great books college, is its impact on the culture at large as well as other working artists and writers.
One writer whose work has been studied since Ancient Greece and still permeates our culture today is Sophocles, and his masterpiece Oedipus Rex. This grand tragedy is also the origin of the popular literary term and thematic device called the “Oedipus Complex”.
Read on to discover how the themes of Oedipus Rex have snaked their way into today’s modern works of art.
One Great Book Immortalizes Another
It is well known that Sigmund Freud was inspired by Sophocles. So much so that this turn of the century Austrian thinker, author and father of psychoanalysis named one of his most famous theories after the Ancient Greek playwright’s work.
An Oedipus Complex is when a son feels an urge to supplant his father or come out from under his shadow. The goal of this is both for the son to find his own place in the world and also to look favourable in the eyes of his mother. This does not necessarily mean that he wants to get into his mother’s bed literally, though Sophocles’ Oedipus did and that is generally how the complex has been interpreted.
With Freud’s immortalization of the term Oedipus Complex, Sophocles’ play continues to influence our culture in many ways. It’s a case of two very different writers featured in great books colleges, keeping each other relevant for centuries to come.
Oedipus: Great Books on the Screen
Sophocles’ influence reaches beyond the reading list of your liberal arts college in Chicago. In fact, you’ll find plenty of his ideas on movie and TV screens as well, for example:
- Back to the Future: In this time travel adventure, Marty McFly has to fight against an Oedipus-type situation. Not knowing that he is her future son, Marty’s mother wants him to supplant his father, while Marty has to fight against it.
- Star Wars: Anakin Skywalker loses his mother and falls in love with an older woman who kind of looks like her. While he doesn’t have a father, he has two father figures: Obi Wan Kenobi and Emperor Palpatine, both of who he ultimately turns on and tries to kill.
- LOST: Sophocles and Freud’s influence is all over this acclaimed JJ Abrams series. There are plenty of characters who supplant their fathers in many different ways.
Oedipus: Great Books in Music
Oedipus doesn’t just show up in psychoanalysis, the silver screen and in your great books college in Chicago. This character’s influence can be found in music, too. Here are some examples:
- The End by The Doors, because of one segment of lyrics in particular: “Father/Yes son/I want to kill you/Mother, I want to…(unintelligible scream)”
- Oedipus by Regina Spektor
- Momma’s Boy by Chromeo
This is really just a sampling of the influence Sophocles has had and continues to have on Western culture. Before Freud, Oedipus influenced Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and the list can go on and on. There’s no doubt about the fact that Oedipus Rex has earned its spot on the great books list, and will remain there for centuries to come.
Does a great work’s pop culture footprint increase your admiration for it? Can you spot the influence of Sophocles in other modern work?