0123. SOPHOCLES’ PHILOCTETES AND THE HOMERIC ORGINS OF ETHICS

1:30 - 3:30 pm Thursdays, January 23 - February 20

5 Sessions
Lecturer: Shawn Welnak
Fee: $120.00
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SOPHOCLES’ PHILOCTETES AND THE HOMERIC ORGINS OF ETHICS

Dr. Welnak returns us to the origin of ethical thinking in this class. His goal is to show not
only Sophocles’ literary and intellectual brilliance, but also his – and our – profound debt
to Homer.
Sophocles’ Philoctetes highlights the fundamental dilemma in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey: the
demand for justice versus the need for prudence. Both sides of this quarrel fight for the
soul of Achilles’ son. Odysseus argues that one must do whatever shameless things are
necessary to accomplish one’s goal. Philoctetes insists that justice must always determine
one’s actions. The play thus forces us to think through these two approaches to human
life. But then—unhappily to his future literary critics—he ends the play with a deus ex
machina. Homer’s dilemma, Sophocles seems to suggest, lies beyond human attainment:
only a God can resolve it. Readers are left without any trite, salutary answers to this
essential ethical dilemma, but rather clear, focused questions. In this way, Sophocles also
indicates the central purpose of good literature: to clarify the most important human
questions, that is to say, to gain self-knowledge.

About The Lecturer

Shawn Welnak

Shawn Welnak holds a BA and an MA in Philosophy from University of Wisconsin (Milwaukee), and a
PhD from Tulane University. His past research and teaching centers on Plato, Aristotle, and Homer. He
also specializes in Greek political philosophy, the Graeco-Arabic tradition, and is currently working on a
book-length study of Homer as the Prophetic Father of Western Civilization.