Review: Tragedies by Euripides

Euripides eliminates the “Chorus” from most of his plays and focuses on his characters.  Euripides’ plays are passionate and realistic.  The tragedy in each play is severe, and Euripides has a psychological approach to Greek mythology.  The main characters openly question the purpose of life.  They express cynical views on religion and pagan gods.

In Medea, Jason’s strong-willed wife is tormented by his infidelity to her, and Medea with her children are subsequently banished by Jason’s new father-in-law.  Medea plans a terrible vengeance against Jason, and morality is lost.  The question is: whose actions are justified by each other’s sins, Medea’s or Jason’s?

Hecabe illustrates the situation of the Trojan women after the fall of Troy at the hands of the Greeks.  The Trojan queen, Hecabe, and her only surviving daughter, Polyxena, are among the captives.  The tragedy worsens when Hecabe is notified of her remaining son’s treacherous murder and Polyxena is forced to be a sacrifice to honor the dead Achilles.  Hecabe’s grief and her love for her daughter are very poignant, and Polyxena’s acceptance of her own fate demonstrates that death was more welcome than life among the Greeks.

In the play Herakles, Euripides enters the period in Herakles’ life when he is absent from his home,Thebes, on account of his assigned Twelve Labors.  His wife, children, and father are at the mercy of a ruthless usurper, and when Herakles saves them from being murdered, Hera inflicts madness on him.  After realizing the serious consequences of his involuntary behavior, Herakles bitterly questions the gods’ existence, scorns their authority, and expresses his disgust for their sinful actions.  Theseus is the friend who aids Herakles in his despair.  Euripides points out the truth about “fair-weather friends.”

While irony and cynical reasoning are a major part of Euripides’ plays, human tragedy is shown to be at the mercy of the gods and true justice is a rare commodity.  Euripides questions his characters’ motives and their actions.  He emphasizes the fact that happiness belongs to the person who avoids misfortune every day, and that there is no freedom.

Original review: Part 1: Notable Ancient Greek playwrights,


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