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.

Related News

This is the National Endowment for the Humantities' logo.

NEH awards fellowship to Jessica Maier

Mount Holyoke Associate Professor of Art History Jessica Maier has received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Rebeccah Lijek, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences

Study reveals cracks in peer review

Study from Mount Holyoke professor reveals that nearly half of junior researchers contribute anonymously to peer review.

This is a satellite view of the ocean on a clear day.

Deep dive into ocean ecology

Mount Holyoke alumna Lorna Mitchison-Field ’18 was first author on a study of ocean fungi, shedding light on crucial contributors to the marine ecosystem.

Andrea Foulkes, Chair and Professor of Mathematics and Statistics

Glass ceiling persists on editorial boards

Mount Holyoke professor Andrea Foulkes published a study showing that less than a quarter of editorial boards for statistics and biostatistics are female.

Image of Kathy Aidala

Katherine Aidala wins spring 2020 APS prize

The American Physical Society has awarded Mount Holyoke professor Katherine Aidala the highest recognition of her outstanding research and mentoring. 

Find more stories >