SelfKnowledge and the Heros Tragedy in Death in Venice and Salom
In particular, Mann’s notions of the genre were largely shaped by Greek influences, albeit filtered through the lens of Nietzsche. Although the novel had not yet been invented when Aristotle created his requirements for heroism in tragedy, many of the character elements he described hold true even for more contemporary forms. I would, therefore, like to study the role of tragic heroism in Salome and Death in Venice as follows: I would like to begin with a very brief exploration of the roots of the classical (Aristotelian) conception of the tragic hero. second, I propose to examine Aschenbach’s role as a tragic hero in Death in Venice in light of both classical and contemporary ideas about the genre. and finally, I would like to study the problem of heroism in Salomé, which offers a somewhat less straightforward situation.Writing in the Poetics, Aristotle clearly outlines his conditions for defining both tragedies as genre and the characteristics of a tragic hero. In addition to his insistence on the unities of time and action, the most salient feature of his description of a hero is undoubtedly the emphasis he places on the need for balance. Rather than depicting a hero as a larger-than-life figure who should command the audience’s awe and adoration, he instead stresses the need for an all-too-human imperfection. Although he does specify the ideal social position of a saying, saying that “he [must be] one of those who are in high fortune” (Aristotle 47), he also asserts that a tragic hero must be a “character… who is not pre-eminently virtuous and just, and yet it is through no badness or villainy of his own that he falls into misfortune, but rather through some flaw in him” (Aristotle 47). The heroes of Death in Venice and Salomé embody this particular conception of heroism to varying degrees. There is, however, one area in which both Aschenbach and Salomé fulfill Aristotle’s definition of a tragic hero: both possess a fatal flaw (orhamartia) that ultimately leads to both of their downfalls, one that would have been quite familiar to Greek audiences. When considering the relative weaknesses of Mann’s and Wilde’s protagonists, any reader of these two works would do well to keep in mind the immortal dictum of the Delphic oracle: Know Thyself.