The Culture Of Violence Essays On Tragedy And History

(That other favorite tragic subject.) But the impulse to expose, to bring secret crimes to light, to present evidence of deeds done in the past to an audience in the present, is one that itself lies at the heart of Greek drama.You could say that all tragedy is about the process of discovery, of learning that the present has a surprising and often devastating relationship to the past: King Oedipus, faced with a plague on his city, is told by an oracle that he must find the killer of the previous king, only to learn, as the play unfolds, that it was he.

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This dark solace is one that only culture can provide.

Our endless need to replay the events of November, 1963—by which I mean all of the events, from Friday to Monday—is not only about a perverse, almost infantile need to revisit a scene of primal horror (although our own refusal to let go of Kennedy’s body—expressed most strongly in our endless looping of the Zapruder film, which, like a tragedy, turns the death of the king into a kind of entertainment—certainly shows an Achilles-like unwillingness to bury the past).

In the end, the gods themselves insist on what we might call “closure,” pointing out that even a man who loses a brother or a son “grieves, weeps, and then his tears are done.” In the final book of the poem, the aged king of Troy, Priam, ransoms his dead son’s body from Achilles, takes it home to the walled city, and there gives it a proper funeral.

After the trauma of Hector’s death and the ongoing degradation of his body, there is an odd courtliness about the exchange between Priam and the man who killed his son, a sudden, wrenching flowering of civilized behavior.

Many tragic plots, moreover, revolve around the ramifications of family curses, of “original sins” committed by a patriarch that come back to haunt later, innocent generations.

Both of these narratives, in their different ways, haunt the story of the Kennedy family and of the assassination in particular.

Kennedy had come to a poor black neighborhood in Indianapolis to make a routine campaign speech, but learned en route that Martin Luther King, Jr., had been assassinated; it fell to the New York senator to announce the dreadful news.

As he struggled to find appropriate language for the day’s carnage—which, of course, would inevitably have recalled to his mind, and the minds of his audience, the assassination of his brother John five years earlier—it was to Aeschylus’ “Oresteia” that Kennedy turned, the grand trilogy about the search for justice in a world filled with metastasizing violence.

(A truce is called so that the Trojans can leave their walled city and go into the surrounding forests to cut wood for Hector’s funeral pyre.) As if to remind us of that other world far from the mayhem of battle, the funeral itself is dominated by the women in Hector’s life, who are the only eulogists.

His mother speaks, his wife speaks, and even Helen, whose actions precipitated the war in which he died, speaks.

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