February 23rd, 2010

Hamartia != Tragic Flaw

The Geek's Guide to the Galaxy podcast will be interviewing the Tolkien Professor Corey Olsen, so if you have any Tolkien-related questions or topics you'd like to suggest, feel free. Here's an interesting tidbit from the latest episode of the Tolkien Professor podcast:

Please keep in mind I am not asking for a "tragic flaw." The phrase "tragic flaw" is one of several phrases I would eliminate from the whole sphere of English classes and literary analysis if I could. It is a misleading concept which almost always leads to oversimplification -- based upon, by the way, a complete mistranslation of a passage from Aristotle. The Greek word that Aristotle uses to describe that thing that tragic heroes have is hamartia, which means "error in judgment" or "mistake." Somebody does something they knew they weren't supposed to do. One of Oedipus's great hamartia is killing his dad at the crossroads -- that was an error in judgment. So I'm not looking for "tragic flaws." Human beings are a little more complicated than that, and so are most characters.

See also Hamartia at Wikipedia.