Lessons from Oedipus

Professor of politics Elizabeth Markovits

By Keely Sexton

The ancient Greeks knew a thing or two about pandemic thinking and the very real possibilities — and perils — it poses to those in power, according to Elizabeth Markovits, professor of politics and author of “Future Freedoms: Intergenerational Justice, Democratic Theory, and Ancient Greek Tragedy and Comedy.”

In the Athenian tragedy by Sophocles, Oedipus infamously brought a plague upon his city by inadvertently killing his father and marrying his mother, then compounded the troubles when his paranoia and suspicion overtook his more circumspect governing impulses.

“He believes he already knows what he needs to know and assumes anyone with a different point of view is simply ‘fake news.’ In the end, the only way to end the terrible plague in Thebes is to banish such a person from the city,” wrote Markovits in a recent op-ed for the Albany Times-Union.

Of course, that person is himself, but in blindly lashing out at others, he dooms the city.

“Sophocles shows that the answer is precisely a humility about that power, which too often blinds even the most well-intentioned and capable leadership to the very real constraints they face,” she continued. “Without that awareness, tragedy of unfathomable scale brings cities to their knees.”

Read the op-ed.