Euripides (480-406) Dramatist, Greece
He was an intellectual rebel, who like Bernard Shaw in recent times made men uncomfortable and made them angry. In return they accused him of blasphemy and misogyny; they lampooned him and cursed him; but they had to listen to his ideas and hear them couched in some deathless verses. For posterity his place along with Aeschylus and Sophocles among the pantheon of Greek drama is secure.
He was born about the momentous date in the Greek history, the great naval battle at Salamis. Born to well to do parents, instead of a career in art he chose at the age of twenty-five to be a poet. His first play Daughters of Pellas in 455 BC was a success. His was a fresh talent breathing lines that were close to reality and those who considered themselves guardians of Attic tradition had to sit up and note him. Remarkable was his realism, in his treatment of women characters whether heroines or cruel as varied as Alcestis, Iphigenia, Medea or Phaedra still sound plausible and their motivation defined. In his sympathy for the underdog, women in Greek society elicited his special attention. Out of his vast output,-some 80 to 90 tragedies only nineteen are extant. Alcestis, Medea, Andromeda, Iphigenia in Tauris, Electra are a few.
Euripedes was a democrat who hated demogogues and other power-mongers who were the bane of the society in his time. The gloom and doom of an internecine war with Sparta is reflected in “The Suppliants” and “The Trojan Women”. Like Socrates after him he as a citizen served in the war and also held position of a Consul in Magnesia.
As a result of relentless attack on him by the mob and a clique of comedians after the production of “Orestes” he left Athens. He was 72. Remainder of his life he spent time in the court of Archelaus of Macedonia.
His death, which took place B.C. 406, if the popular account be true, was, like that of Aeschylus*, in its nature extraordinary. Either from chance or malice, the aged dramatist was exposed to the attack of ferocious hounds, and by them so dreadfully mangled as to expire soon afterward, in his seventy-fifth year. His life was ever since the benchmark to many dramatists who sought to emulate him.
In his lifetime he was held in less esteem than the other two great dramatists. He had warm admirers in Alexander the Great and the Stoic Chrysippus, who quoted him regularly in several of his works. Among the Romans, too, he was held in high esteem, serving as a model for tragedy, as did Menander and Phrynichus for comedy.
In his survey of the shades of departed poets, Dante makes no mention of Aeschylus or Sophocles, but classes Euripides as one of the greatest of the Greeks. Dante’s assessment we may accept as definitive.
Quote:Question everything. Learn something. Answer nothing.
* Aeschylus was accustomed to contemplate while seated on the rocky outcrops facing the sea. Bald in head he had the misfortune for an eagle mistaking him for a rock. The eagles in that area were known to break the shell by force of impact and dropped its catch with deadly consequence.
For Additional Reading:
(An example of misogyny, after two failed marriages)
“O Zeus, why hast thou brought into the world
To plague us such a tricksy thing as woman?
If thou didst wish to propagate mankind,
Couldst thou not find some better way than this?
We to the temples might have brought our price
In gold or weight of iron or of brass,
And purchased offspring, each to the amount
Of that which he has paid; and so have dwelt
In quiet homes unvexed of womankind.
Now, to import a plague into our homes,
First of our substance we make sacrifice,
And here at once we see what woman is.
The father that begot her gladly pays
A dowry that he might be rid of her,
While he may bring this slip of evil home.
Fond man adorns with costly ornament
A worthless idol, and his living wastes
To trick her out in costly finery.
Ha has no choice. Are his connections good,
To keep them he must keep a hated wife;
Are his connections bad, he can but weigh
Against that evil a good bedfellow.
His is the easiest lot who has to wife
A cipher, a good-natured simpleton;
Quick wits are hateful. Ne’er may wife of mine
Be wiser than consorts with womanhood.
In your quick-witted dames the power of love
More wickedness engenders; while the dull
Are by their dullness saved from going wrong.”
This is sufficiently bitter, but nor more so than the words which Euripides is accustomed to use when speaking of women.