It is an unfortunate weakness of most of the standard textbooks on Greek tragedy that they fail to communicate the immediacy of pressure that is of its essence. This particular inadequacy has hardly been corrected by the recent spate of books on either staging or the visual presentation of plays, which suggest themselves now as the standard adjustment to existing handbooks for students with or without the language.
One of the few certainties we have, in beginning the argument, is that tragedy is, if anything, about decisions and their consequences. This much is implied in Aristotle's intuition about hamartia, which if it means ‘mistake’ can be taken to direct attention to the circumstances which dictate a decision. Indeed, decisions are far more prominent in Attic tragedy than mistakes as such: to take two examples from the Oresteia, which as an Aeschylean trilogy should not seem so exceptional as people are inclined to make it, both Agamemnon and Orestes take decisions of terrifying consequence that can hardly be classed as ‘mistakes’ (namely to kill a daughter and to kill a mother, Iphigenia and Clytemnestra in Agamemnon and Libation Bearers respectively). In this respect, Aristotle might be taken as considering more closely the sentimental drama that flourished in his day, and in this, if we judge by his perceptions, it may well be that Oedipus the King of Sophocles in fact marks a turning-point—in the desperate futility of Oedipus' errors—which is more readily, and perhaps with less justice, ascribed to Euripides.