Sin, Aristotle, and the Tragic Hero

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Ryken gives an interesting observation about sin in his book How to Read the Bible as Literature. It is in the context of discussing tragic heroes who, in spite of their great ability, fall due to a character flaw.

“Ordinarily a tragic hero possesses something that we call greatness of spirit. All of this grandeur is brought tumbling down bby a final trait of the tragic hero-a tragic flaw of character. Aristotle’s word for it was hamartia (translated “sin” in the New Testament) a missing of the mark. Aristotle described it as ‘some great error or frailty,’ some ‘defect which is painful or destructive.’ In other words, tragedy always portrays caused suffering…Drawn in two or more directions, the tragic hero makes a tragic choice that leads inevitably to catastrophe and suffering.” (Ryken, 83-84).

0 Responses

  1. Neat quote.

    I was embarrassed at first, thinking that I had that book, yet had to hear this quote from someone else. But I have Ryken’s Bible Handbook, not the one you quoted. So I’m not *quite* as bad as I thought.

    Have a great day!

    Grace and peace,

  2. I’ve heard lots of good things about Ryken’s books. So I want to read him even more now.

    I’d want to read this quote from him in the bigger context. Here’s where I’d tweak it. In the Aristotle definition of hamartia, sin is epitomized by the heroic figure who comes to a crossroads and out of weakness or folly chooses the wrong way. Or, he’s walking the tightrope and falls off. The Achilles heal does in Achilles. A small but fatal flaw. How tragic. Roll the credits.

    But it’s hardly ever so dramatic as that. According to the NT, sin can simply be the ordinary Joe failing to do what he knows is right. We often don’t grasp our potential for doing good or evil because we’re led to imagine that such choices present themselves only when the the symphonic music is playing loudly, sweat dripping from our foreheads, etc. We shouldn’t fear our big sins in public. We should fear secret sins well hidden.

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