Karakantza, Efimia D. 2020. Who Am I? (Mis)Identity and the Polis in Oedipus Tyrannus. Hellenic Studies Series 86. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_KarakantzaED.Who_am_I.2020.
3. The Self in the Polis
3.0.1 Public self
Similarly, my preoccupation is not with the “undetectable soul or immaterial ego,” but with the embodied individual who lives in a classical city-state and within the specific social and political environment of the polis, possessing its own ideological structures regarding the perception of a self. This is my working definition of the self. A modern-day Athenian is not an individual in the same sense as an Athenian of classical Athens, for the notion of the self, as a multitude of other cultural constructs, is historically determined, which raises the following question: “how did the ancients understand what it is that I am, fundamentally, as an acting and affected subject, interpreting the world around me, being distinct from others like and unlike me?” 
Thus poetry becomes both the setting and the agency for building up individual characters that think, act, deliberate, and take decisions within the framework of their polis. Alongside the viability of the current institutions, the playwright presents us with individuals who face personal dilemmas and who are also accountable to their community for their thoughts and actions. Moreover, individual characters in poetry present individual traits. What it is to be Oedipus or Orestes or Achilles can be understood by considering the particular assemblage of traits that constitute the unique psychological and mental make-up of these persons;  and in some cases (such as Oedipus or Odysseus) comprise their bodily traits as well (the marks on the ankles and thigh, respectively). Viewed from this perspective, my question can be formulated as follows: how do we balance the individual and the public dimensions of defining the self in classical Greece?
3.0.2 Particularity and Accountability
It is interesting to note that the two traits defining the heroic self are “particularity” and “accountability.” Both Achilles and Hector have their own particular characteristics, their “individual distinctiveness or uniqueness,” which is one of the prerequisites of the notion of “self” and “selfhood.” However, what is important to understand as especially applicable to ancient Greece is what MacIntyre calls “accountability.” As a person in a heroic society I am accountable to my community for doing or failing to do what I owe to others, depending on my position in this particular community—as are Hector (doing) and Achilles (failing to do). Public esteem, the respect of others, and the reputation of heroic deeds pass from father to son (the kleos of the family). The public character is so emphasized that honor in Homeric society assumes a tangible material dimension plain for all to see. The famous speech of Sarpedon to Glaukos, when he urges him to take their stand in the frontline of battle, lays out the twofold character of timê: they are highly esteemed among the Lycians, as if they were gods; and fighting in the frontline brings them fine estates, beautiful orchards, riverside fields, and prime portions at symposia (Iliad 12.310–321):
ἕδρῃ τε κρέασίν τε ἰδὲ πλείοις δεπάεσσιν
ἐν Λυκίῃ͵ πάντες δὲ θεοὺς ὣς εἰσορόωσι͵
καὶ τέμενος νεμόμεσθα μέγα Ξάνθοιο παρ’ ὄχθας
καλὸν φυταλιῆς καὶ ἀρούρης πυροφόροιο;
τὼ νῦν χρὴ Λυκίοισι μέτα πρώτοισιν ἐόντας
ἑστάμεν ἠδὲ μάχης καυστείρης ἀντιβολῆσαι͵
ὄφρά τις ὧδ᾽ εἴπῃ Λυκίων πύκα θωρηκτάων·
‘οὐ μὰν ἀκλεέες Λυκίην κάτα κοιρανέουσιν
ἡμέτεροι βασιλῆες͵ ἔδουσί τε πίονα μῆλα
οἶνόν τ’ ἔξαιτον μελιηδέα· ἀλλ’ ἄρα καὶ ἲς
ἐσθλή͵ ἐπεὶ Λυκίοισι μέτα πρώτοισι μάχονται.’
But tragedy deals with the heroic self in a refracted way. When the “virtues move to Athens,” to paraphrase the title of MacIntyre’s chapter that deals with the self in classical Athens,  there is a significant change inextricably bound up with the creation of the polis. As discussed in the previous chapter, new perceptions of the notions of “Athens” and “Athenians,” a new political creation privileging the collective and the system of “working together,” new social imaginary significations that reject clientelism to aristocrats or to a foreign political authority are created. Thus autonomy, rather than heteronomy, is promoted as the quintessence of the new collective identity of the Athenians. So, where now stands the individual?
Thus the most important and common ground on which the self is constituted in classical Athens is the polis; the particular characteristics of the individual remain salient,  but it is “accountability” to others in the political and social context that takes precedence over the traits of selfhood. This is very much the case, I argue, in tragedy, as well, despite the overwhelming presence of themes that, in the long reception of the genre, were considered as timeless and universal. The “reality” in the tragedy of classical Athens is that “the moral protagonist stands in relation to his/her community and his/her social role.” 
3.1 The “Lonely” Sophoclean Hero as Not-So-Lonely After All
For Sophocles’ contemporaries, a hero like this would not make any sense. Although it is the hero’s own decisions that result in his becoming an outcast from the community, it is precisely his ardent desire to remain within the community that makes him act, think, and argue as he does; the hero’s honor within the community cannot be impugned. Knox’s claim that “to the hero himself the opinion of others is irrelevant” cannot be correct. An obvious “suspect” is Ajax, who is “deaf” to his sailors’ words of persuasion, as well as to the desperate pleading of Tecmessa. He insists—to the point of committing suicide—that his damaged heroic honor (that is, the high esteem he enjoys among his peers) is irreparable, and so he decides to die, because to live without the respect and esteem of the Achaeans is to endure a life not worth living. This is put eloquently in the following celebrated lines of Ajax (479–480):
τὸν εὐγενῆ χρή. Πάντ’ ἀκήκοας λόγον
Because his public self has been destroyed, his life becomes unbearable. The only time he tries to persuade himself to change is in response to his wife’s pleas, because he has been sensitive to her pleas and listened to her arguments. In the “deception speech” he makes a sincere attempt to convince himself, measuring himself against the recurrent cosmic circle of change. Everything seems to be going well until Ajax begins to reflect on the issue of philia within the army of the Achaeans. Philia, as we very well know, is not only an individual feeling of affection (and the manifestation of it) toward our friends—as it can be today—but a tangible network of socially sanctioned loyalties.  Political and social alliances, alongside family ties, form strong social bonds that mark one’s position in society.  When Ajax begins to reflect (in the “harbor of friendship” passage) on the instability and untrustworthiness of these alliances, he despairs of being a part of such a duplicitous system and returns to his determination to die. Philia fails twice in the story of Ajax: first in the Judgment of Arms and second in the raid of Ajax against his fellow-warriors; the shift of loyalties undermines the social standing in the army at Troy. This is not just a casual mutation of the reciprocal bonds implied in philia; rather it entails extreme danger, as is shown in the fearful appeal of the Salaminian sailors to Ajax to recover his senses and stand by them, for without his protection the Atreidae threaten to execute them publicly (Ajax 251–256):
καθ’ ἡμῶν· πεφόβημαι λιθόλευστον Ἄρη
ξυναλγεῖν μετὰ τοῦδε τυπείς,
τὸν αἶσ’ ἄπλατος ἴσχει.
Fear has been in the air ever since the parodos of the play: “I quake exceedingly and am sore afraid, like a winged dove with troubled eyes” (μέγαν ὄκνον ἔχω καὶ πεφόβημαι / πτηνῆς ὡς ὄμμα πελείας, Ajax 139–140), says the chorus. The rumor of Ajax’ sally upon the cattle the previous night haunts the Salaminians in the parodos, destroying Ajax’ kleos and their own: “loud murmurs beset us for our shame” (μεγάλοι θόρυβοι κατέχουσ’ ἡμᾶς / ἐπὶ δυσκλείᾳ, Ajax 142–143). Publicly acclaimed honor leads to the threat of publicly administered revenge. Moreover, public humiliation of the enemy, whose image is thus sullied and stature destroyed, is what the goddess Athena suggests: “and to mock at foes—is not that the sweetest mockery?” (oὔκουν γέλως ἥδιστος εἰς ἐχθροὺς γελᾶν; Ajax 79); it is also what Ajax most dreads: “Alas, the mockery! How have I been shamed?” (oἴμοι γέλωτος, οἷον ὑβρίσθην ἄρα, Ajax 367). There are, in fact, fourteen references in the play to malicious laughter against Ajax and his pitiful failure to take proper revenge on his enemies, as an Iliadic warrior would (γέλως / γελᾶν 79, γέλων 303, γέλωτος 367, γέλωθ’ ὑφ’ ἡδονῆς 382, γελᾷ 383, ἐπεγγελῶσιν 454, γελᾷ 957, γέλωτα 958, γελώντων 961, ἐπεγγελῷεν 969, ἐπεγγελᾶν 989, γελᾶν 1011, γελῶν 1043).
οἰκονομῶ θαλάμους πατρός, ὧδε μὲν
ἀεικεῖ σὺν στολᾷ,
κεναῖς δ’ ἀμφίσταμαι τραπέζαις.
Pursuing the same vein of persecution and humiliation, Electra is forced to remain unwed (ἀνύμφευτος, 165), with neither a husband (οὔτις ἀνὴρ ὑπερίσταται, 188) nor a male of her house to protect her.  Denied the chance to produce offspring (ἄτεκνος, 164) that would empower her in her husband’s oikos, Electra is virtually suspended between the oikos of her father, which is being destroyed, and the oikos of a husband she is denied. It is important at this point to note that Clytemnestra has had other children by Aegisthus (πατέρα τὸν ἀμὸν πρόσθεν ἐξαπώλεσας, / καὶ παιδοποιεῖς, “in time past you killed my father, and getting children by him” [Aegisthus], 588–589), thus usurping the old line of Agamemnon’s oikos with a new one. Moreover, since she and Aegisthus also attempted to kill Orestes in infancy, it is clear that they intend to exterminate the bloodline of the former ruler, with obvious social and political consequences. 
πολλοῖσι θρήνοις δυσφορεῖν ὑμῖν ἄγαν
Even to her mother, Electra admits that she is aware that her actions are inappropriate for her age and go against her nature (ἔξωρα πράσσω κοὐκ ἐμοὶ προσεικότα, Electra 618).
3.1.1 Narrating One’s life
We are, as Taylor claims, linguistic animals; as we express our motivations and evaluations in words and images, we give a “shape” to what initially might be confused or partially formulated thoughts and emotions.  And as we try to make sense of our lives and, for that matter, to possess an identity, “we need an orientation to the good”; the latter is woven into our understanding of our lives “as an unfolding story,” which in plain words means that “our lives exist also in this space of questions, which only a coherent narrative can answer.”