PLUTARCH, PYRRHUS, AND ALEXANDER
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On that previous occasion I commented that there is a problem about distinguishing between ‘epic’ and ‘tragic’ modes of thought because the two genres have so much in common, and I began to suggest some ways in which Plutarch makes interesting use of both genres and indeed of the grey areas between them; Plutarch can actually exploit the tragic depths of epic situations. This question of the relationship of epic and tragedy is a symptom of a larger problem: are narrative features that we think of as tragic because the best known texts in which they have come down to us are tragedies, really to be associated with the stage? In other words, when Herodotus tells the story of Adrastus and Atys (I.34ff.), he is certainly
telling a story which has a good deal in common with the plays of Sophocles, but would it be right to say that he was influenced by the stage in any way? In that case we would be more likely to say that this kind of story-pattern (into which the story of Oedipus fits) was one embedded deeply in the Greek mind, and which could be used in their different ways either by Herodotus in prose or by Sophocles in a tragedy. But by Plutarch’s time it is less easy to decide. Plutarch is steeped in Attic tragedy, and when he refers to a myth that has been treated by one of the great dramatists it is difficult to dissociate it from that treatment, especially as he so frequently confirms the link with a quotation.