Aristophanes and Euripides: The Comedy and Tragedy of Fifth Century BC Greek Women
Euripides (circa 480 – 406 BC) was the last of the three great tragedians of Classical Greece - the other two being Aeschylus, the ‘Father of Tragedy’ who, among many others wrote Agamemnon (458 BC) and Seven Against Thebes (467 BC), and Sophocles, who is famous for such plays as Oedipus Rex (429 BC) and Antigone (442 BC). Euripides had a very different style than the other two great tragedians. Euripides’ plays show his questioning attitude towards both religious belief and the ancient myths and legends, which formed the traditional subject matter for Greek drama, whereas Aeschylus and Sophocles wrote about both topics with a lot more conviction. Therefore, even from this standpoint alone, Euripides’ dramas were considered to be very unusual in his time.
Greek artist Apelles’ ‘On Calumny ‘by Sandro Bocelli (1496) depicting Slander, Ignorance, Suspicion, Fraud and Conspiracy as women. ( Public Domain )
Social Critic Attacked by Dogs and Women
Euripides was not only critical towards religions and ancient legends, he was also considered to be the biggest social critic of all the ancient Greek tragedians. Euripides reshaped the formal structure of traditional Greek tragedy, which was heavily focused on the adventures of heroes and demigods. Instead, he introduced strong female characters and intelligent slaves, as well as satirizing many of the heroes of Greek mythology. Instead of the larger than life characters, as drawn by Aeschylus and Sophocles, Euripides favored relatable protagonists. The protagonists in Euripides’ plays are mostly regular men and women with all the flaws, vulnerabilities and complications of ordinary human beings. He deployed these characters to express the doubts, problems and feelings of the audience of his time. Perhaps understandably, because of his questioning attitude of the status quo , Euripides gained a reputation as a controversial character himself. He also gained somewhat of an unfortunate reputation as a misogynist. Euripides has been accused of hating, denigrating and slandering women.
At the invitation of King Archelaus I of Macedon, Euripides left Athens in 408 BC and lived out the rest of his life in Macedonia. He is believed to have died there in the winter 407 or 406 BC, possibly due to an exposure to the harsh Macedonian winter. However, in keeping with his controversial reputation, an improbable variety of other explanations for his death, has him being torn apart by dogs or perhaps an even worse fate befell him, that he was torn apart by women who disapproved of what he had written about them.
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Top Image: Orestes Pursued by the Furies by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1862) ( Public Domain )