Molecular mechanisms for detection and function of Dramaticus Ironius in Oedipus Tyrannus and the Odyssey
Phillip Wachowiak¹, Homer², and Sophocles³
¹University of Michigan Student
²Department of Ancient Greek Epics
³Department of Ancient Greek Plays
For thousands of years there has been a worldwide occurrence of the disease Dramaticus Ironius in literature, in which the infected characters of a story suffer from bouts of limited knowledge of their circumstances whereas the healthy audience can understand the entire situation. While in the past it was impossible to detect the source(s), causes, and method of affecting the human body, numerous advances of modern science have allowed for investigation of the disease on a cellular level. The protagonists Odysseus from Homer’s Odyssey and Oedipus from Sophocles’ Oedipus Tryannus were chosen for the study due to their relative renown as examples of Dramaticus Ironius infections. Additionally, since modern literature contains more exotic and widespread strains of Dramaticus Ironius, the study chose two of the earliest known incidences of Dramaticus Ironius so that later studies may be able to further investigate the disease’s methods of infection and possibly generate effective preventative strategies. The study of Dramaticus Ironius in Homer’s Odyssey and Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus ultimately allows for a greater understanding of how the disease works with the purpose of showing that negative effects of the disease can in fact by avoided by appropriate lifestyle changes.
Studies reveal that Dramaticus Ironius acts as an inhibitor to the nervous system of infected individuals, but researchers are divided as to whether the disease targets primarily the central nervous system (CNS: the brain and spinal cord) or the peripheral nervous system (PNS: all other portions of the body) and associated sensory receptors. Sensory receptors function upon activation by a stimulus-such as light energy activating photoreceptors in the eye-which allows for the transduction of this external energy into electrical energy. The electrical energy causes a receptor potential, which then activates an action potential, allowing for communication between the brain and the rest of the body. A summarization of communication between axons in an action potential is provided below.
An action potential, essentially, occurs when an electrical impulse travels along the axon of a nerve to convey a message. Once the action potential reaches the synaptic knob (the “end” of an axon), neurotransmitters are released that either inhibit or excite the continuation of the message along to the next axon. This process is often compared to the relay of messages along insulated telephone wires, but the inclusion of neurotransmitters complicates the process in the human body. Researchers postulate that Dramaticus Ironius affects the autonomous nervous system of the PNS (portion of the nervous system responsible for involuntary activities) in that the disease produces inhibitory neurotransmitters that prevent successful nerve impulses. As a result, individuals infected by the disease are unable to correctly perceive certain elements of their surroundings and are prone to farcical actions, such as Oedipus’ decision to stab his eyes or the disparaging statements of the suitors while Odysseus is among them.
Previous studies have shown that Dramaticus Ironius cannot affect animals and non-sentient beings, as evidenced in the Odyssey when Odysseus returns home to his palace and his dog Argos recognizes the king disguised as a beggar:
“But the moment he sensed Odysseus standing by he thumped his tail, nuzzling low, and his ears dropped, though he had no strength to drag himself and inch towards his master. Odysseus glanced to the side and flicked away a tear, hiding it from Eumaeus”[i]
Here, Argos recognizes the king while Eumaeus, standing directly adjacent the king, remains oblivious of the dog’s recognition. Consequently, animals cannot be infected by the disease, possibly due to a narrower range of cognitive abilities as compared to humans.
Researchers speculate that Dramaticus Ironius is introduced by omnipotent sources into the stories of constituent characters as a way to increase tension and curiosity among the audience. Concerning Greek works especially, such as Oedipus Tyrannus and the Odyssey, the audience already knows the outcome; therefore, the onset of the disease establishes a renewed interest in each story. In Oedipus Tyrannus, the contrast between Oedipus’ knowledge of his prophecy and what the audience knows establishes a sense of anxiety in the audience while in the Odyssey, the inability of any human to recognize beggar-Odysseus fosters impatience as to when the king will finally reveal himself.
The study draws on previous studies by Homer and Sophocles for their work on Dramaticus Ironius. First the relevance of time and the source(s) of the disease will be examined. Second, symptoms and mechanisms of the disease as they appear in individuals will be recorded and analyzed. Finally, the study will observe symptoms of madness and whether the disease causes changes in the brain or PNS.
Time was found to be the most consistent factor in causing the onset of Dramaticus Ironicus in both the Odyssey and Oedipus Tyrannus. In the case of Oedipus, the disease begins directly after birth and is allowed to proliferate throughout his entire life. The Corinthian explicitly states that “I set you [Oedipus] free from a spike that pierced your feet,”[ii] which points directly to the source of Dramatacus Ironius entering the body. In this sense, Oedipus appears marked by the fate of the disease since the beginning of his life. The fact that Oedipus is allowed to survive and consequently adheres to every part of his prophecy connects almost directly to the multiplication of Dramatacus Ironius in the bloodstream.[iii] On the other hand, the Odyssey’s strain of Dramaticus Ironius proliferates only during the twenty years of Odysseus’ absence. Although the Odyssey contains no specific source of Dramaticus Ironius infecting individuals, Penelope herself relays how much time has passed since Odysseus’ departure, when she tells her disguised husband that “some twenty years have passed since he left my house and put my land behind him.”[iv] As in Oedipus Tryannus, the healthy audience can discern the effects of years of Dramaticus Ironius proliferation, especially in the suitors and Penelope herself, who is speaking to her very own husband in the previous piece of data. The cause of the disease remains inconclusive; however, researchers speculate that the cause of the disease is only important if the source augments the effects of the disease. Oedipus’ foot blemish effectively marks him by fate for the rest of his life and intensifies his realization at the end of the play that, although he tried everything he could to avoid his fate, he ended up following his prophecy exactly. Conversely, in the Odyssey, a lack of a source of Dramaticus Ironius attests to a lack of importance of said source: the audience cares more about how Odysseus’ disguised exploits in his own household show how the passage of time has allowed the disease to affect the infected in Ithaca.
The symptoms and mechanisms of Dramaticus Ironius were also studied and recorded as they manifested in infected individuals. It was found that the disease primarily affects the link between photoreceptors and mechanoreceptors and the nervous system. Although Eumeaus the swineherd is intensely loyal to his king, when Odysseus foretells his own return Eumeaus replies “but I will never pay a reward for that, old friend-Odysseus, he’ll never come home again,”[v] which suggests a disruption of the swineherd’s mechanoreceptors. Eumeaus can hear but Dramaticus Ironius disrupts his ability to comprehend the real meaning of Odysseus’ words. Similarly, Antinous responds to admonishing words from beggar-Odysseus by saying “Sit there and eat in peace-or go get lost! Or else, for the way you talk, these young men will hale you up and down the halls by your hands or feet until you’re skinned alive!”[vi] Antinous’ arrogant words reveal the extent in which Dramaticus Ironius has infected him: the suitor goes as far as to mention Odysseus’ way of “talk” without realizing who the beggar really is. When old Eurycleia is told to wash Odysseus’ feet she even remarks how “never, I swear, has one so struck my eyes-your build, your voice, your feet-you’re like Odysseus…to the life!”[vii] Here, Dramaticus Ironius is revealed to affect the woman’s photoreceptors so significantly that only the scar from the boar’s tusk allows her to recognize her king.
While these Ithacans build up to the climax of killing, Odysseus’ wife offers another angle to the study of the disease. Penelope is affected by Dramaticus Ironius to the extent that even after Odysseus washes his disguise away his wife still exclaims “Strange man…I’m not so proud, so scornful, nor am I overwhelmed by your quick change…You look-how well I know-the way he looked, setting sail from Ithaca years ago.”[viii] This is the woman who held off the suitors for twenty years while waiting for her husband yet she fails to recognize him even in his undisguised form. Nevertheless, this delayed recognition at the end of the Odyssey reveals a deeper connection between Odysseus and Penelope than any other character-a homophrosyne of marriage. The onset of Dramaticus Ironius allows for the institution of the olive-wood bed that Penelope uses to test her husband as a foundation of their marriage as well as the trait of cleverness that both individuals share. In a sense, Oedipus and Penelope are forced to delve deeper into their relationship so that Penelope can correctly recognize her husband.
Oedipus Tyrannus differs from the Odyssey in part because Dramaticus Ironius manifests almost entirely in the madness of a single individual: Oedipus. When faced with a plague in his city, Oedipus announces:
“I damn the killer, whoever he may be, an unknown man, or one of many. May he suffer and die, pain beyond pain. I damn myself, if I should come to know that he shares my heart and home-then I call this curse to fall upon me.”[ix]
The effects of lifelong proliferation of the disease in Oedipus’ body are apparent: immediately after citizens voice their concerns about a plague, Oedipus makes a series of bold statements. These statements are especially bold considering plague and disease was often a divine punishment for unresolved crimes in Greek culture. Oedipus committed a crime and no one knows how his father died, but he is unable to connect the three elements of the situation due to the extent of Dramaticus Ironius in his cells. Additionally, Oedipus accuses Creon of lying when Creon speaks of Oedipus as the murderer, claiming “You’ll be sorry you said that vile thing twice…your lies mean nothing”[x] and to the seer Tiresias he declares “You cheating old beggar! All you can see is personal profit. To the future you’re blind!”[xi] No matter how many people tell Oedipus the truth of his situation, Dramaticus Ironius seems to impair the ability of neurotransmitters to register these facts correctly in his cerebral cortex. Instead, Oedipus’ paranoia expands to such an extent that he claims “Clearly, he [Creon] meant to steal my power”[xii] and even goes as far as to ask “Zeus! What are you conspiring against me?”[xiii] This inability to perceive the truth as well as blatant accusations of everyone around him, even Zeus, reveal the extent to which Dramaticus Ironius corrupts Oedipus’ nervous system throughout the course of his life.
The endings of the Odyssey and Oedipus Tyrannus produce a stark contrast in emotions: Oedipus’s tragic epiphany causes Jocasta’s suicide and Oedipus’s gouging of his eyes while the Odyssey contains a much more benevolent ending. However, the fact that Oedipus never completely loses his insanity and Odysseus finally is recognized by everyone who previously knew him points to an incomplete relay between sensory receptors and the PNS rather than a deterioration of the cerebral cortex. Dramaticus Ironius serves to make a known outcome more interesting, but it also illustrates the importance of humility and caution. Antinous and the suitors in the Odyssey became arrogant and crass as a result of their infection and they were slaughtered as a result of their actions. Similarly, Oedipus killed a man and bedded a woman despite knowing of his prophecy and he subsequently fulfilled his tragic prophecy. On the other hand, hospitable individuals such as Eumeaus are spared from Odysseus’ judgment while Penelope’s caution leads to a stronger marriage bond. Therefore, this study of Dramaticus Ironius suggests a crucial importance in lifestyle if there is possibility of infection from the disease. The audience should take note that humility, hospitality, and caution can allow individuals to either minimize or completely eradicate symptoms of Dramaticus Ironius.
Thucydides, Robert B. Strassler, and Richard Crawley. The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998. Print.
[i] Homer, 17.330-335
[ii] Sophocles, 1033
[iii] Woodraster J, Johnson B. In Greek tragedy the protagonist is doomed to fulfill his prophecy and the extent of dramatic irony results in his ignorance of having done so. Cytokine Growth Factor Rev 2006; 159-78
[iv] Homer, 19.255-256
[v] Homer, 14.195-196
[vi] Homer, 17.123-124
[vii] Homer, 19.431
[viii] Homer, 23.191
[ix] Sophocles, 245-251
[x] Sophocles, 362-365
[xi] Sophocles, 389
[xii] Sophocles, 535-539
[xiii] Sophocles, 739