Bust of Sophocles

Bust of Sophocles

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File:Bust of Sophocles in the Colonnade of the Muses in the Achilleion, Corfu Greece.jpg

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This one from Sumeria in 1200 BC, is another brainteaser.

"Three ox drivers from Adab were thirsty: one owned the ox, the other owned the cow and the other owned the wagon's load.

"The owner of the ox refused to get water because he feared his ox would be eaten by a lion the owner of the cow refused because he thought his cow might wander off into the desert the owner of the wagon refused because he feared his load would be stolen.

"In their absence the ox made love to the cow which gave birth to a calf which ate the wagon's load.

"Problem: Who owns the calf?"


Menelaus was a descendant of Pelops son of Tantalus. [2] He was the younger brother of Agamemnon, and the husband of Helen of Troy. According to the usual version of the story, followed by the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer, Agamemnon and Menelaus were the sons of Atreus, king of Mycenae and Aerope daughter of the Cretan king Catreus. [3] However, according to another tradition, Agamemnon and Menelaus were the sons of Atreus' son Pleisthenes, with their mother being Aerope, Cleolla, or Eriphyle. According to this tradition Pleisthenes died young, with Agamemnon and Menelaus being raised by Atreus. [4]

According to the Odyssey, Menelaus had only one child by Helen, a daughter Hermione, and an illegitimate son Megapenthes by a slave. [5] Other sources mention other sons of Menelaus by either Helen, or slaves. A scholiast on Sophocles' Electra quotes Hesiod as saying that after Hermione, Helen also bore Menelaus a son Nicostratus, [6] while according to a Cypria fragment, Menelaus and Helen had a son Pleisthenes. [7] The mythographer Apollodorus, tells us that Megapenthes' mother was a slave "Pieris, an Aetolian, or, according to Acusilaus, . Tereis", and that Menelaus had another illegitimate son Xenodamas by another slave girl Cnossia, [8] while according to the geographer Pausanias, Megapenthes and Nicostratus were sons of Menelaus by a slave. [9] The scholiast on Iliad 3.175 mentions Nicostratus and Aethiolas as two sons of Helen (by Menelaus?) worshipped by the Lacedaemonians and another son of Helen by Menelaus, Maraphius, from whom descended the Persian Maraphions. [10]

Although early authors, such as Aeschylus refer in passing to Menelaus’ early life, detailed sources are quite late, post-dating 5th-century BC Greek tragedy. [11] According to these sources, Menelaus' father, Atreus, had been feuding with his brother Thyestes over the throne of Mycenae. After a back-and-forth struggle that featured adultery, incest, and cannibalism, Thyestes gained the throne after his son Aegisthus murdered Atreus. As a result, Atreus’ sons, Menelaus and Agamemnon, went into exile. They first stayed with King Polypheides of Sicyon, and later with King Oeneus of Calydon. But when they thought the time was ripe to dethrone Mycenae’s hostile ruler, they returned. Assisted by King Tyndareus of Sparta, they drove Thyestes away, and Agamemnon took the throne for himself.

When it was time for Tyndareus’ stepdaughter Helen to marry, many kings and princes came to seek her hand. Among the contenders were Odysseus, Menestheus, Ajax the Great, Patroclus, and Idomeneus. Most offered opulent gifts. Tyndareus would accept none of the gifts, nor would he send any of the suitors away for fear of offending them and giving grounds for a quarrel. Odysseus promised to solve the problem in a satisfactory manner if Tyndareus would support him in his courting of Tyndareus’s niece Penelope, the daughter of Icarius. Tyndareus readily agreed, and Odysseus proposed that, before the decision was made, all the suitors should swear a most solemn oath to defend the chosen husband in any quarrel. Then it was decreed that straws were to be drawn for Helen’s hand. The suitor who won was Menelaus (Tyndareus, not to displease the mighty Agamemnon offered him another of his daughters, Clytaemnestra). [12] The rest of the suitors swore their oaths, and Helen and Menelaus were married, Menelaus becoming a ruler of Sparta with Helen after Tyndareus and Leda abdicated the thrones.

Their supposed palace (ἀνάκτορον) has been discovered (the excavations started in 1926 and continued until 1995) in Pellana, Laconia, to the north-west of modern (and classical) Sparta. [13] Other archaeologists consider that Pellana is too far away from other Mycenaean centres to have been the "capital of Menelaus". [14]

According to legend, in return for awarding her a golden apple inscribed "to the fairest," Aphrodite promised Paris the most beautiful woman in all the world. After concluding a diplomatic mission to Sparta during the latter part of which Menelaus was absent to attend the funeral of his maternal grandfather Catreus in Crete, Paris ran off to Troy with Helen despite his brother Hector's prohibition. Invoking the oath of Tyndareus, Menelaus and Agamemnon raised a fleet of a thousand ships and went to Troy to secure Helen's return the Trojans refused, providing a casus belli for the Trojan War.

Homer's Iliad is the most comprehensive source for Menelaus’s exploits during the Trojan War. In Book 3, Menelaus challenges Paris to a duel for Helen’s return. Menelaus soundly beats Paris, but before he can kill him and claim victory, Aphrodite spirits Paris away inside the walls of Troy. In Book 4, while the Greeks and Trojans squabble over the duel’s winner, Athena inspires the Trojan Pandarus to shoot Menelaus with his bow and arrow. However, Athena never intended for Menelaus to die and she protects him from the arrow of Pandarus. [15] Menelaus is wounded in the abdomen, and the fighting resumes. Later, in Book 17, Homer gives Menelaus an extended aristeia as the hero retrieves the corpse of Patroclus from the battlefield.

According to Hyginus, Menelaus killed eight men in the war, and was one of the Greeks hidden inside the Trojan Horse. During the sack of Troy, Menelaus killed Deiphobus, who had married Helen after the death of Paris.

There are four versions of Menelaus’ and Helen’s reunion on the night of the sack of Troy:

  • Menelaus sought out Helen in the conquered city. Raging at her infidelity, he raised his sword to kill her, but as he saw her weeping at his feet, begging for her life, Menelaus' wrath instantly left him. He took pity on her and decided to take her back as his wife.
  • Menelaus resolved to kill Helen, but her irresistible beauty prompted him to drop his sword and take her back to his ship “to punish her at Sparta”, as he claimed. [16]
  • According to the Bibliotheca, Menelaus raised his sword in front of the temple in the central square of Troy to kill her, but his wrath went away when he saw her rending her clothes in anguish, revealing her naked breasts.
  • A similar version by Stesichorus in “Ilion’s Conquest” narrated that Menelaus surrendered her to his soldiers to stone her to death, but when she ripped the front of her robes, the Achaean warriors were stunned by her beauty and the stones fell harmlessly from their hands as they stared at her.

Book 4 of the Odyssey provides an account of Menelaus’ return from Troy and his homelife in Sparta. When visited by Odysseus’ son Telemachus, Menelaus recounts his voyage home. As happened to many Greeks, Menelaus' homebound fleet was blown by storms to Crete and Egypt where they were becalmed, unable to sail away. They trapped Proteus and forced him to reveal how to make the voyage home. After their homecoming, Menelaus and Helen’s marriage is strained Menelaus continually revisits the losses of the Trojan War, particularly as he and Helen have no male heir. Menelaus is fond of Megapenthes and Nicostratus, his sons by slave women. According to Euripides’ Helen, Menelaus is reunited with Helen after death, on the Isle of the Blessed. [17]

Menelaus appears in Greek vase painting in the 6th to 4th centuries BC, such as: Menelaus’s reception of Paris at Sparta his retrieval of Patroclus’s corpse and his reunion with Helen. [18]

Menelaus appears as a character in a number of 5th-century Greek tragedies: Sophocles’ Ajax, and Euripides’ Andromache, Helen, Orestes, Iphigenia at Aulis, and The Trojan Women.

5. Flushing’s Stand for Quakers

Governor Peter Stuyvesant of the Dutch colonies in North America did not like Quakers. In 1656, he commenced persecution of them and demanded local authorities participate. The following year, the citizens of Flushing (present-day Queens, New York City) drafted and signed a document known as the Flushing Remonstrance. As I recently wrote, those brave people essentially told Stuyvesant, “You are commanding us to persecute Quakers. We will not. So take your intolerance and stick it where the sun doesn’t shine.” The Governor shut down the town council of Flushing and arrested some of the document’s signers but was eventually ordered by the Dutch West India Company to rescind his policy of persecution.

The Heroic Age

The story of Oedipus did not originate with Sophocles. It was part of Greek mythology, a large and complex set of stories about the gods, such as Zeus and Hera, who were thought to control the world, and the heroes of Greece’s mythic past, such as Hercules and Achilles.Putting any of these stories in a definite time period is difficult.

There’s no single accepted source for any of the stories, as they were passed down orally for generations and written down by different writers. However, since many of the stories mix legend with actual historical events, such as the Trojan War, writers have been able to construct a rough timeline of Greece’s legendary history, starting with the birth of Gaia (Earth) from Chaos and leading up to the 5th century BCE, when the stories were performed in plays like Oedipus Rex.Based on this timeline, Oedipus lived during the The Heroic Age.

In this period, the gods had left Earth and retreated to Mount Olympus and the world was left to figures like Oedipus, who were great heroes but not gods or demigods like earlier heroes. This is the period that starts to overlap with actual documented events like the Trojan War. Based on this evidence, experts on Greek mythology have placed Oedipus’ lifetime sometime in the 13th century BCE.This is not to say that Oedipus is a real person. While it’s possible the story is based on an actual king of Thebes, we have no evidence of that, so historians generally consider him to be entirely fictional.


Traditional accounts of the author's life are found in many commentaries, and include details such as these: He was born on Salamis Island around 480 BC, with parents Cleito (mother) and Mnesarchus (father), a retailer who lived in a village near Athens. On receiving an oracle that his son was fated to win "crowns of victory", Mnesarchus insisted that the boy should train for a career in athletics. But the boy was destined for a career on the stage (where he was to win only five victories, one of these posthumously). He served for a short time as both dancer and torch-bearer at the rites of Apollo Zosterius. His education was not confined to athletics, studying also painting and philosophy under the masters Prodicus and Anaxagoras. He had two disastrous marriages, and both his wives—Melite and Choerine (the latter bearing him three sons)—were unfaithful. He became a recluse, making a home for himself in a cave on Salamis (the Cave of Euripides, where a cult of the playwright developed after his death). "There he built an impressive library and pursued daily communion with the sea and sky" [ citation needed ] . Eventually, he retired to the "rustic court" of King Archelaus in Macedonia, where he died, in 406 BC. [13] However, as mentioned in the introduction, such biographical details should be regarded with scepticism, deriving almost entirely from three unreliable sources: [14]

  • folklore, employed by the ancients to lend colour to the lives of celebrated authors
  • parody, employed by the comic poets to ridicule the tragic poets
  • 'autobiographical' clues gleaned from his extant plays (a mere fraction of his total output).

This biography is divided into corresponding sections.

A fabled life Edit

Euripides was the youngest in a group of three great tragedians, who were almost contemporaries: his first play was staged thirteen years after Sophocles' debut, and three years after Aeschylus's Oresteia. The identity of the trio is neatly underscored [ clarification needed ] by a patriotic account of their roles during Greece's great victory over Persia at the Battle of Salamis—Aeschylus fought there, Sophocles was just old enough to celebrate the victory in a boys' chorus, and Euripides was born on the very day of the battle. [14] The apocryphal account, that he composed his works in a cave on Salamis island, was a late tradition, probably symbolizing the isolation of an intellectual ahead of his time. [15] Much of his life, and his whole career, coincided with the struggle between Athens and Sparta for hegemony in Greece, but he didn't live to see the final defeat of his city. It is said that he died in Macedonia after being attacked by the Molossian hounds of King Archelaus, and that his cenotaph near Piraeus was struck by lightning—signs of his unique powers, whether for good or ill (according to one modern scholar, his death might have been caused instead by the harsh Macedonian winter). [ clarification needed ] [16] In an account by Plutarch, the catastrophic failure of the Sicilian expedition led Athenians to trade renditions of Euripides' lyrics to their enemies in return for food and drink (Life of Nicias 29). Plutarch also provides the story that the victorious Spartan generals, having planned the demolition of Athens and the enslavement of its people, grew merciful after being entertained at a banquet by lyrics from Euripides' play Electra: "they felt that it would be a barbarous act to annihilate a city which produced such men" (Life of Lysander). [17]

A comic life Edit

Tragic poets were often mocked by comic poets during the dramatic festivals Dionysia and Lenaia, and Euripides was travestied more than most. Aristophanes scripted him as a character in at least three plays: The Acharnians, Thesmophoriazusae and The Frogs. But Aristophanes also borrowed, rather than merely satirized, some of the tragedian's methods he was himself ridiculed by a colleague, [ clarification needed ] Cratinus, as:

ὑπολεπτολόγος, γνωμιδιώτης,
εὐριπιδαριστοφανίζων. [18]
a quibbler of words, a maker of maxims, a Euripidaristophaniser. [19]

According to another comic poet, Teleclides, the plays of Euripides were co-authored by the philosopher Socrates: [20]

Μνησίλοχός ἐστ᾿ ἐκεῖνος, <ὃς> φρύγει τι δρᾶμα καινόν
Εὐριπίδῃ, καὶ Σωκράτης τὰ φρύγαν᾿ ὑποτίθησιν.
[. ] Εὐριπίδης σωκρατογόμφους. [21]
Mnesilochus is the man <who> is roasting a new play for Euripides, and Socrates is laying down the kindling.
[. ] Euripides bolted together with Socrates. [22]

According to Aristophanes, the alleged co-author was a celebrated actor, Cephisophon, who also shared the tragedian's house and his wife, [23] while Socrates taught an entire school of quibblers like Euripides:

χαρίεν οὖν μὴ Σωκράτει
παρακαθήμενον λαλεῖν,
ἀποβαλόντα μουσικὴν
τά τε μέγιστα παραλιπόντα
τῆς τραγῳδικῆς τέχνης.
τὸ δ᾿ ἐπὶ σεμνοῖσιν λόγοισι
καὶ σκαριφησμοῖσι λήρων
διατριβὴν ἀργὸν ποιεῖσθαι,
παραφρονοῦντος ἀνδρός [1490-99]. [24]
So what’s stylish is not to sit
beside Socrates and chatter,
casting the arts aside
and ignoring the best
of the tragedian’s craft.
To hang around killing time
in pretentious conversation
and hairsplitting twaddle
is the mark of a man who’s lost his mind. [25]

In The Frogs, written when Euripides and Aeschylus were dead, Aristophanes has the god Dionysus venturing down to Hades in search of a good poet to bring back to Athens. After a debate between the two deceased bards, [ clarification needed ] the god brings Aeschylus back to life, as more useful to Athens, for his wisdom, rejecting Euripides as merely clever [ clarification needed ] . Such comic 'evidence' suggests that Athenians admired Euripides even while they mistrusted his intellectualism, at least during the long war with Sparta. Aeschylus had written his own epitaph commemorating his life as a warrior fighting for Athens against Persia, without any mention of his success as a playwright and Sophocles was celebrated by his contemporaries for his social gifts, and contributions to public life as a state official but there are no records of Euripides' public life except as a dramatist—he could well have been "a brooding and bookish recluse". [26] He is presented as such in The Acharnians, where Aristophanes shows him to be living morosely in a precarious house, surrounded by the tattered costumes of his disreputable characters (and yet Agathon, another tragic poet, is discovered in a later play, Thesmophoriazusae, to be living in circumstances almost as bizarre). Euripides' mother was a humble vendor of vegetables, according to the comic tradition, yet his plays indicate that he had a liberal education and hence a privileged background. [14]

A tragedian's life Edit

Euripides first competed in the City Dionysia, the famous Athenian dramatic festival, in 455 BC, one year after the death of Aeschylus and did not win first prize until 441 BC. His final competition in Athens was in 408 BC. The Bacchae and Iphigenia in Aulis were performed in 405 BC, and first prize was awarded posthumously. He won first prize only five times.

His plays, and those of Aeschylus and Sophocles, indicate a difference in outlook between the three—a generation gap probably due to the Sophistic enlightenment in the middle decades of the 5th century: Aeschylus still looked back to the archaic period, Sophocles was in transition between periods, and Euripides was fully imbued with the new spirit of the classical age. [27] When Euripides' plays are sequenced in time, they also reveal that his outlook might have changed, providing a "spiritual biography", along these lines:

  • an early period of high tragedy (Medea, Hippolytus)
  • a patriotic period at the outset of the Peloponnesian War (Children of Heracles, The Suppliants)
  • a middle period of disillusionment at the senselessness of war (Hecuba, The Trojan Women)
  • an escapist period with a focus on romantic intrigue (Ion, Iphigenia in Tauris, Helen)
  • a final period of tragic despair (Orestes, Phoenician Women, The Bacchae)

However, about 80% of his plays have been lost, and even the extant plays do not present a fully consistent picture of his 'spiritual' development (for example, Iphigenia in Aulis is dated with the 'despairing' Bacchae, yet it contains elements that became typical of New Comedy). [28] In the Bacchae, he restores the chorus and messenger speech to their traditional role in the tragic plot, and the play appears to be the culmination of a regressive or archaizing tendency in his later works (for which see Chronology below). Believed to have been composed in the wilds of Macedonia, Bacchae also dramatizes a primitive side to Greek religion, and some modern scholars have interpreted this particular play biographically, therefore, as:

  • a kind of death-bed conversion or renunciation of atheism
  • the poet's attempt to ward off the charge of impiety that was later to overtake his friend Socrates
  • evidence of a new belief that religion cannot be analysed rationally. [29]

One of his earliest extant plays, Medea, includes a speech that he seems to have written in defence of himself as an intellectual ahead of his time (spoken by Medea): [10]

σκαιοῖσι μὲν γὰρ καινὰ προσφέρων σοφὰ
δόξεις ἀχρεῖος κοὐ σοφὸς πεφυκέναι·
τῶν δ᾿ αὖ δοκούντων εἰδέναι τι ποικίλον
κρείσσων νομισθεὶς ἐν πόλει λυπρὸς φανῇ.
ἐγὼ δὲ καὐτὴ τῆσδε κοινωνῶ τύχης [298-302]. [30]
If you bring novel wisdom to fools, you will be regarded as useless, not wise and if the city regards you as greater than those with a reputation for cleverness, you will be thought vexatious. I myself am a sharer in this lot. [31]

Athenian tragedy in performance during Euripides' lifetime was a public contest between playwrights. The state funded it and awarded prizes. The language was metrical, spoken and sung. The performance area included a circular floor (called orchestra) where the chorus could dance, a space for actors (three speaking actors in Euripides' time), a backdrop or skene, and some special effects: an ekkyklema (used to bring the skene's "indoors" outdoors) and a mechane (used to lift actors in the air, as in deus ex machina). With the introduction of the third actor (attributed to Aeschylus by Themistius to Sophocles by Aristotle), [32] acting also began to be regarded as a skill worth prizes, requiring a long apprenticeship in the chorus. [ citation needed ] Euripides and other playwrights accordingly composed more and more arias for accomplished actors to sing, and this tendency became more marked in his later plays: [33] tragedy was a "living and ever-changing genre" [34] (cf. previous section, and Chronology a list of his plays is below).

The comic poet Aristophanes is the earliest known critic to characterize Euripides as a spokesman for destructive, new ideas associated with declining standards in both society and tragedy (see Reception for more). But fifth-century tragedy was a social gathering for "carrying out quite publicly the maintenance and development of mental infrastructure", and it offered spectators a "platform for an utterly unique form of institutionalized discussion". [35] The dramatist's role was not only to entertain but also educate fellow citizens—he was expected to have a message. [36] Traditional myth provided the subject matter, but the dramatist was meant to be innovative, which led to novel characterizations of heroic figures [37] and use of the mythical past as a tool for discussing present issues. [38] The difference between Euripides and his older colleagues was one of degree: his characters talked about the present more controversially and pointedly than those of Aeschylus and Sophocles, sometimes even challenging the democratic order. Thus, for example, Odysseus is represented in Hecuba (lines 131–32) as "agile-minded, sweet-talking, demos-pleasing", i.e. similar to the war-time demagogues that were active in Athens during the Peloponnesian War. [39] Speakers in the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles sometimes distinguish between slaves who are servile by nature and those servile by circumstance, but Euripides' speakers go further, positing an individual's mental, rather than social or physical, state as a true indication of worth. [40] For example, in Hippolytus, a love-sick queen rationalizes her position and, reflecting on adultery, arrives at this comment on intrinsic merit:

ἐκ δὲ γενναίων δόμων
τόδ᾿ ἦρξε θηλείαισι γίγνεσθαι κακόν·
ὅταν γὰρ αἰσχρὰ τοῖσιν ἐσθλοῖσιν δοκῇ,
ἦ κάρτα δόξει τοῖς κακοῖς γ᾿ εἶναι καλά.
[. ] μόνον δὲ τοῦτό φασ᾿ ἁμιλλᾶσθαι βίῳ,
γνώμην δικαίαν κἀγαθὴν ὅτῳ παρῇ [409-27]. [41]
This contagion began for the female sex with the nobility. For when those of noble station resolve on base acts, surely the base-born will regard such acts as good. [. ] One thing only, they say, competes in value with life, the possession of a heart blameless and good. [42]

Euripides' characters resembled contemporary Athenians rather than heroic figures of myth.

For achieving his end Euripides' regular strategy is a very simple one: retaining the old stories and the great names, as his theatre required, he imagines his people as contemporaries subjected to contemporary kinds of pressures, and examines their motivations, conduct and fate in the light of contemporary problems, usages and ideals.

As mouthpieces for contemporary issues, they "all seem to have had at least an elementary course in public speaking". [44] The dialogue often contrasts so strongly with the mythical and heroic setting that it can seem like Euripides aimed at parody. For example, in The Trojan Women, the heroine's rationalized prayer elicits comment from Menelaus:

ΕΚΑΒΗ: [. ] Ζεύς, εἴτ᾿ ἀνάγκη φύσεος εἴτε νοῦς βροτῶν,
προσηυξάμην σε· πάντα γὰρ δι᾿ ἀψόφου
βαίνων κελεύθου κατὰ δίκην τὰ θνήτ᾿ ἄγεις.
ΜΕΝΕΛΑΟΣ: τί δ᾿ ἔστιν εὐχὰς ὡς ἐκαίνισας θεῶν [886-89]. [45]
Hecuba: [. ] Zeus, whether you are the necessity of nature or the mind of mortal men, I address you in prayer! For proceeding on a silent path you direct all mortal affairs toward justice!
Menelaus: What does this mean? How strange your prayer to the gods is! [46]

Athenian citizens were familiar with rhetoric in the assembly and law courts, and some scholars believe that Euripides was more interested in his characters as speakers with cases to argue than as characters with lifelike personalities. [47] They are self-conscious about speaking formally, and their rhetoric is shown to be flawed, as if Euripides were exploring the problematical nature of language and communication: "For speech points in three different directions at once, to the speaker, to the person addressed, to the features in the world it describes, and each of these directions can be felt as skewed". [48] For example, in the quotation above, Hecuba presents herself as a sophisticated intellectual describing a rationalized cosmos, but the speech is ill-suited to her audience, the unsophisticated listener Menelaus, and is found to not suit the cosmos either (her grandson is murdered by the Greeks). In Hippolytus, speeches appear verbose and ungainly, as if to underscore the limitations of language. [49]

Like Euripides, both Aeschylus and Sophocles created comic effects, contrasting the heroic with the mundane, but they employed minor supporting characters for that purpose. Euripides was more insistent, using major characters as well. His comic touches can be thought to intensify the overall tragic effect, and his realism, which often threatens to make his heroes look ridiculous, marks a world of debased heroism: "The loss of intellectual and moral substance becomes a central tragic statement". [50] Psychological reversals are common and sometimes happen so suddenly that inconsistency in characterization is an issue for many critics, [51] such as Aristotle, who cited Iphigenia in Aulis as an example (Poetics 1454a32). For others, psychological inconsistency is not a stumbling block to good drama: "Euripides is in pursuit of a larger insight: he aims to set forth the two modes, emotional and rational, with which human beings confront their own mortality." [52] Some think unpredictable behaviour realistic in tragedy: "everywhere in Euripides a preoccupation with individual psychology and its irrational aspects is evident. In his hands tragedy for the first time probed the inner recesses of the human soul and let passions spin the plot." [47] The tension between reason and passion is symbolized by his characters' relationship with the gods: [53] For example, Hecuba's prayer is answered not by Zeus, nor by the law of reason, but by Menelaus, as if speaking for the old gods. And the perhaps most famous example is in Bacchae where the god Dionysus savages his own converts. [ clarification needed ] When the gods do appear (in eight of the extant plays), they appear "lifeless and mechanical". [54] Sometimes condemned by critics as an unimaginative way to end a story, the spectacle of a "god" making a judgement or announcement from a theatrical crane might actually have been intended to provoke scepticism about the religious and heroic dimension of his plays. [55] [56] Similarly, his plays often begin in a banal manner that undermines theatrical illusion. [ citation needed ] Unlike Sophocles, who established the setting and background of his plays in the introductory dialogue, Euripides used a monologue in which a divinity or human character simply tells the audience all it needs to know to understand what follows. [57]

Aeschylus and Sophocles were innovative, but Euripides had arrived at a position in the "ever-changing genre" where he could easily move between tragic, comic, romantic, and political effects. This versatility appears in individual plays and also over the course of his career. Potential for comedy lay in his use of 'contemporary' characters, in his sophisticated tone, his relatively informal Greek (see In Greek below), and in his ingenious use of plots centred on motifs that later became standard in Menander's New Comedy (for example the 'recognition scene'). Other tragedians also used recognition scenes, but they were heroic in emphasis, as in Aeschylus's The Libation Bearers, which Euripides parodied in Electra (Euripides was unique among the tragedians in incorporating theatrical criticism in his plays). [58] Traditional myth with its exotic settings, heroic adventures, and epic battles offered potential for romantic melodrama as well as for political comments on a war theme, [59] so that his plays are an extraordinary mix of elements. [ citation needed ] The Trojan Women, for example, is a powerfully disturbing play on the theme of war's horrors, apparently critical of Athenian imperialism (it was composed in the aftermath of the Melian massacre and during the preparations for the Sicilian Expedition), [60] yet it features the comic exchange between Menelaus and Hecuba quoted above, and the chorus considers Athens, the "blessed land of Theus", to be a desirable refuge—such complexity and ambiguity are typical both of his "patriotic" and "anti-war" plays. [61]

Tragic poets in the fifth century competed against one another at the City Dionysia, each with a tetralogy of three tragedies and a satyr play. The few extant fragments of satyr plays attributed to Aeschylus and Sophocles indicate that these were a loosely structured, simple, and jovial form of entertainment. But in Cyclops (the only complete satyr-play that survives), Euripides structured the entertainment more like a tragedy and introduced a note of critical irony typical of his other work. His genre-bending inventiveness [ citation needed ] is shown above all in Alcestis, a blend of tragic and satyric elements. This fourth play in his tetralogy for 438 BC (i.e., it occupied the position conventionally reserved for satyr plays) is a "tragedy", featuring Heracles as a satyric hero in conventional satyr-play scenes: an arrival, a banquet, a victory over an ogre (in this case, death), a happy ending, a feast, and a departure for new adventures. [62] Most of the big innovations in tragedy were made by Aeschylus and Sophocles, but "Euripides made innovations on a smaller scale that have impressed some critics as cumulatively leading to a radical change of direction". [63]

Euripides is also known for his use of irony. Many Greek tragedians make use of dramatic irony to bring out the emotion and realism of their characters or plays, but Euripides uses irony to foreshadow events and occasionally amuse his audience. [ citation needed ] For example, in his play Heracles, Heracles comments that all men love their children and wish to see them grow. The irony here is that Heracles will be driven into madness by Hera and will kill his children. Similarly, in Helen, Theoclymenus remarks how happy he is that his sister has the gift of prophecy and will warn him of any plots or tricks against him (the audience already knows that she has betrayed him). In this instance, Euripides uses irony not only for foreshadowing but also for comic effect—which few tragedians did. Likewise, in the Bacchae, Pentheus’s first threat to the god Dionysus is that if Pentheus catches him in his city, he will ‘chop off his head’, whereas it is Pentheus who is beheaded at the end of the play.

In Greek Edit

The spoken language of the plays is not fundamentally different in style from that of Aeschylus or Sophocles—it employs poetic meters, a rarefied vocabulary, fullness of expression, complex syntax, and ornamental figures, all aimed at representing an elevated style. [64] But its rhythms are somewhat freer, and more natural, than that of his predecessors, and the vocabulary has been expanded to allow for intellectual and psychological subtleties. Euripides was also a great lyric poet. [ citation needed ] In Medea, for example, he composed for his city, Athens, "the noblest of her songs of praise". [65] His lyrical skills are not just confined to individual poems: "A play of Euripides is a musical whole. one song echoes motifs from the preceding song, while introducing new ones." [66] For some critics, the lyrics often seem dislocated from the action, but the extent and significance of this is "a matter of scholarly debate". [67] See Chronology for details about his style.

Euripides has aroused, and continues to arouse, strong opinions for and against his work:

He was a problem to his contemporaries and he is one still over the course of centuries since his plays were first produced he has been hailed or indicted under a bewildering variety of labels. He has been described as 'the poet of the Greek enlightenment' and also as 'Euripides the irrationalist' [nb 2] as a religious sceptic if not an atheist, but on the other hand, as a believer in divine providence and the ultimate justice of divine dispensation. He has been seen as a profound explorer of human psychology and also a rhetorical poet who subordinated consistency of character to verbal effect as a misogynist and a feminist as a realist who brought tragic action down to the level of everyday life and as a romantic poet who chose unusual myths and exotic settings. He wrote plays which have been widely understood as patriotic pieces supporting Athens' war against Sparta and others which many have taken as the work of the anti-war dramatist par excellence, even as attacks on Athenian imperialism. He has been recognized as the precursor of New Comedy and also what Aristotle called him: 'the most tragic of poets' (Poetics 1453a30). And not one of these descriptions is entirely false. — Bernard Knox [68]

Aeschylus gained thirteen victories as a dramatist Sophocles at least twenty Euripides only four in his lifetime and this has often been taken as indication of the latter's unpopularity. But a first place might not have been the main criterion for success (the system of selecting judges appears to have been flawed), and merely being chosen to compete was a mark of distinction. [69] Moreover, to have been singled out by Aristophanes for so much comic attention is proof of popular interest in his work. [70] Sophocles was appreciative enough of the younger poet to be influenced by him, as is evident in his later plays Philoctetes and Oedipus at Colonus. [71] According to Plutarch, Euripides had been very well received in Sicily, to the extent that after the failure of the Sicilian Expedition, many Athenian captives were released, simply for being able to teach their captors whatever fragments they could remember of his work. [72] Less than a hundred years later, Aristotle developed an almost "biological' theory of the development of tragedy in Athens: the art form grew under the influence of Aeschylus, matured in the hands of Sophocles, then began its precipitous decline with Euripides. [73] However, "his plays continued to be applauded even after those of Aeschylus and Sophocles had come to seem remote and irrelevant" [4] they became school classics in the Hellenistic period (as mentioned in the introduction) and, due to Seneca's adaptation of his work for Roman audiences, "it was Euripides, not Aeschylus or Sophocles, whose tragic muse presided over the rebirth of tragedy in Renaissance Europe." [74]

In the seventeenth century, Racine expressed admiration for Sophocles, but was more influenced by Euripides (Iphigenia in Aulis and Hippolytus were the models for his plays Iphigénie and Phèdre). [75] Euripides' reputation was to take a beating in the early 19th century, when Friedrich Schlegel and his brother August Wilhelm Schlegel championed Aristotle's 'biological' model of theatre history, identifying Euripides with the moral, political, and artistic degeneration of Athens. [76] August Wilhelm's Vienna lectures on dramatic art and literature went through four editions between 1809 and 1846 and, in them, he opined that Euripides "not only destroyed the external order of tragedy but missed its entire meaning". This view influenced Friedrich Nietzsche, who seems, however, not to have known the Euripidean plays well. [77] But literary figures, such as the poet Robert Browning and his wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning, could study and admire the Schlegels, while still appreciating Euripides as "our Euripides the human" (Wine of Cyprus stanza 12). [76] Classicists such as Arthur Verrall and Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff reacted against the views of the Schlegels and Nietzsche, constructing arguments sympathetic to Euripides, [78] which involved Wilamowitz in this restatement of Greek tragedy as a genre: "A [Greek] tragedy does not have to end 'tragically' or be 'tragic'. The only requirement is a serious treatment." [79] In the English-speaking world, the pacifist Gilbert Murray played an important role in popularizing Euripides, influenced perhaps by his anti-war plays. [80] Today, as in the time of Euripides, traditional assumptions are constantly under challenge, and audiences therefore have a natural affinity with the Euripidean outlook, [36] which seems nearer to ours, for example, than the Elizabethan. [ clarification needed ] [4] As stated above, however, opinions continue to diverge, so that modern readers might actually "seem to feel a special affinity with Sophocles" [81] one recent critic might dismiss the debates in Euripides' plays as "self-indulgent digression for the sake of rhetorical display" [82] and one spring to the defence: "His plays are remarkable for their range of tones and the gleeful inventiveness, which morose critics call cynical artificiality, of their construction." [83]

Unique among writers of ancient Athens, Euripides demonstrated sympathy towards the underrepresented members of society. [6] [84] His male contemporaries were frequently shocked by the heresies [ clarification needed ] he put into the mouths of characters, such as these words of his heroine Medea: [85]

[. ] ὡς τρὶς ἂν παρ᾿ ἀσπίδα
στῆναι θέλοιμ᾿ ἂν μᾶλλον ἢ τεκεῖν ἅπαξ [250-51]. [86]

I would rather stand three times with a shield in battle than give birth once. [87]

Transmission Edit

The textual transmission of the plays, from the 5th century BC, when they were first written, until the era of the printing press, was a largely haphazard process. Much of Euripides' work was lost and corrupted but the period also included triumphs by scholars and copyists, thanks to whom much was recovered and preserved. Summaries of the transmission are often found in modern editions of the plays, three of which are used as sources for this summary. [nb 3]

The plays of Euripides, like those of Aeschylus and Sophocles, circulated in written form. But literary conventions that we take for granted today had not been invented—there was no spacing between words no consistency in punctuation, nor elisions no marks for breathings and accents (guides to pronunciation, and word recognition) no convention to denote change of speaker no stage directions and verse was written straight across the page, like prose. Possibly, those who bought texts supplied their own interpretative markings. Papyri discoveries have indicated, for example, that a change in speakers was loosely denoted with a variety of signs, such as equivalents of the modern dash, colon, and full-stop. The absence of modern literary conventions (which aid comprehension), was an early and persistent source of errors, affecting transmission. Errors were also introduced when Athens replaced its old Attic alphabet with the Ionian alphabet, a change sanctioned by law in 403–402 BC, adding a new complication to the task of copying. Many more errors came from the tendency of actors to interpolate words and sentences, producing so many corruptions and variations that a law was proposed by Lycurgus of Athens in 330 BC "that the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides should be written down and preserved in a public office and that the town clerk should read the text over with the actors and that all performances which did not comply with this regulation should be illegal." [88] The law was soon disregarded, and actors continued to make changes until about 200 BC, after which the habit ceased. It was about then that Aristophanes of Byzantium compiled an edition of all the extant plays of Euripides, collated from pre-Alexandrian texts, furnished with introductions and accompanied by a commentary that was "published" separately. This became the "standard edition" for the future, and it featured some of the literary conventions that modern readers expect: there was still no spacing between words little or no punctuation and no stage directions but abbreviated names denoted changes of speaker lyrics were broken into "cola" and "strophai", or lines and stanzas and a system of accentuation was introduced.

After this creation of a standard edition, the text was fairly safe from errors, besides slight and gradual corruption introduced with tedious copying. Many of these trivial errors occurred in the Byzantine period, following a change in script (from uncial to minuscule), and many were "homophonic" errors—equivalent, in English, to substituting "right" for "write" except that there were more opportunities for Byzantine scribes to make these errors, because η, ι, οι and ει, were pronounced similarly in the Byzantine period.

Around 200 AD, ten of the plays of Euripides began to be circulated in a select edition, possibly for use in schools, with some commentaries or scholia recorded in the margins. Similar editions had appeared for Aeschylus and Sophocles—the only plays of theirs that survive today. [89] Euripides, however, was more fortunate than the other tragedians, [ clarification needed ] with a second edition of his work surviving, compiled in alphabetical order as if from a set of his collect works but without scholia attached. This "Alphabetical" edition was combined with the "Select" edition by some unknown Byzantine scholar, bringing together all the nineteen plays that survive today. The "Select" plays are found in many medieval manuscripts, but only two manuscripts preserve the "Alphabetical" plays—often denoted L and P, after the Laurentian Library at Florence, and the Bibliotheca Palatina in the Vatican, where they are stored. It is believed that P derived its Alphabet plays and some Select plays from copies of an ancestor of L, but the remainder is derived from elsewhere. P contains all the extant plays of Euripides, L is missing The Trojan Women and latter part of The Bacchae.

In addition to L, P, and many other medieval manuscripts, there are fragments of plays on papyrus. These papyrus fragments are often recovered only with modern technology. In June 2005, for example, classicists at the University of Oxford worked on a joint project with Brigham Young University, using multi-spectral imaging technology to retrieve previously illegible writing (see References). Some of this work employed infrared technology—previously used for satellite imaging—to detect previously unknown material by Euripides, in fragments of the Oxyrhynchus papyri, a collection of ancient manuscripts held by the university. [90] [91]

It is from such materials that modern scholars try to piece together copies of the original plays. Sometimes the picture is almost lost. Thus, for example, two extant plays, The Phoenician Women and Iphigenia in Aulis, are significantly corrupted by interpolations [92] (the latter possibly being completed post mortem by the poet's son) and the very authorship of Rhesus is a matter of dispute. [93] In fact, the very existence of the Alphabet plays, or rather the absence of an equivalent edition for Sophocles and Aeschylus, could distort our notions of distinctive Euripidean qualities—most of his least "tragic" plays are in the Alphabet edition and, possibly, the other two tragedians would appear just as genre-bending as this "restless experimenter", if we possessed more than their "select" editions. [94]

See Extant plays below for listing of "Select" and "Alphabetical" plays.

Chronology Edit

Original production dates for some of Euripides' plays are known from ancient records, such as lists of prize-winners at the Dionysia and approximations are obtained for the remainder by various means. Both the playwright and his work were travestied by comic poets such as Aristophanes, the known dates of whose own plays can serve as a terminus ad quem for those of Euripides (though the gap can be considerable: twenty-seven years separate Telephus, known to have been produced in 438 BC, from its parody in Thesmophoriazusae in 411 BC.). References in Euripides' plays to contemporary events provide a terminus a quo, though sometimes the references might even precede a datable event (e.g. lines 1074–89 in Ion describe a procession to Eleusis, which was probably written before the Spartans occupied it during the Peloponnesian War). [95] Other indications of dating are obtained by stylometry.

Greek tragedy comprised lyric and dialogue, the latter mostly in iambic trimeter (three pairs of iambic feet per line). Euripides sometimes 'resolved' the two syllables of the iamb (˘¯) into three syllables (˘˘˘), and this tendency increased so steadily over time that the number of resolved feet in a play can indicate an approximate date of composition (see Extant plays below for one scholar's list of resolutions per hundred trimeters). Associated with this increase in resolutions was an increasing vocabulary, often involving prefixes to refine meanings, allowing the language to assume a more natural rhythm, while also becoming ever more capable of psychological and philosophical subtlety. [96]

The trochaic tetrameter catalectic—four pairs of trochees per line, with the final syllable omitted—was identified by Aristotle as the original meter of tragic dialogue (Poetics 1449a21). Euripides employs it here and there in his later plays, [97] but seems not to have used it in his early plays at all, with The Trojan Women being the earliest appearance of it in an extant play—it is symptomatic of an archaizing tendency in his later works. [98] [99]

The later plays also feature extensive use of stichomythia (i.e. a series of one-liners). [100] The longest such scene comprises one hundred and five lines in Ion (lines 264–369). In contrast, Aeschylus never exceeded twenty lines of stichomythia Sophocles' longest such scene was fifty lines, and that is interrupted several times by αντιλαβή [nb 5] (Electra, lines 1176–1226). [101]

Euripides' use of lyrics in sung parts shows the influence of Timotheus of Miletus in the later plays—the individual singer gained prominence, and was given additional scope to demonstrate his virtuosity in lyrical duets, as well as replacing some of the chorus's functions with monodies. At the same time, choral odes began to take on something of the form of dithyrambs reminiscent of the poetry of Bacchylides, featuring elaborate treatment of myths. [102] Sometimes these later choral odes seem to have only a tenuous connection with the plot, linked to the action only in their mood. The Bacchae, however, shows a reversion to old forms, [103] possibly as a deliberate archaic effect, or because there were no virtuoso choristers in Macedonia (where it is said to have been written). [104]

Extant plays Edit

Estimated chronological order
Play Date BC Prize Lineage Resolutions Genre (and notes)
Alcestis 438 2nd S 6.2 tragedy with elements of a satyr play
Medea 431 3rd S 6.6 tragedy
Heracleidae c. 430 A 5.7 political/patriotic drama
Hippolytus 428 1st S 4.3 tragedy
Andromache c. 425 S 11.3 tragedy (not produced in Athens) [105]
Hecuba c. 424 S 12.7 tragedy
The Suppliants c. 423 A 13.6 political/patriotic drama
Electra c. 420 A 16.9 engages "untragically" with the traditional myth and with other dramatizations of it [94]
Herakles c. 416 A 21.5 tragedy
The Trojan Women 415 2nd S 21.2 tragedy
Iphigenia in Tauris c. 414 A 23.4 romantic drama
Ion c. 413 [106] A 25.8 romantic drama
Helen 412 A 27.5 romantic drama
Phoenician Women c. 410 2nd S 25.8 tragedy (extensive interpolations)
Orestes 408 S 39.4 tragedy
Bacchae 405 1st S 37.6 tragedy (posthumously produced)
Iphigenia in Aulis 405 1st A 34.7 tragedy (posthumously produced with extensive interpolations) also known as Iphigenia at Aulis
Rhesus ? S 8.1 tragedy (authorship disputed)
Cyclops ? A satyr play (the only fully extant example of this genre)

Date indicates date of first production. Prize indicates a place known to have been awarded in festival competition. Lineage: S denotes plays surviving from a 'Select' or 'School' edition, A plays surviving from an 'Alphabetical' edition [5] —see Transmission above for details. Resolutions: Number of resolved feet per 100 trimeters, Ceadel's list [107] [108] —see Chronology above for details. Genre: Generic orientation [109] (see 'Transmission' section) with additional notes in brackets.

Lost and fragmentary plays Edit

The following plays have come down to us in fragmentary form, if at all. They are known through quotations in other works (sometimes as little as a single line) pieces of papyrus partial copies in manuscript part of a collection of hypotheses (or summaries) and through being parodied in the works of Aristophanes. Some of the fragments, such as those of Hypsipyle, are extensive enough to allow tentative reconstructions to be proposed.

A two-volume selection from the fragments, with facing-page translation, introductions, and notes, was published by Collard, Cropp, Lee, and Gibert [110] [111] as were two Loeb Classical Library volumes derived from them [112] [113] and there are critical studies in T. B. L. Webster's older The Tragedies of Euripides, [114] based on what were then believed to be the most likely reconstructions of the plays.

The following lost and fragmentary plays can be dated, and are arranged in roughly chronological order:

  • Peliades (455 BC)
  • Telephus (438 BC with Alcestis)
  • Alcmaeon in Psophis (438 BC with Alcestis)
  • Cretan Women (438 with Alcestis)
  • Cretans (c. 435 BC)
  • Philoctetes (431 BC with Medea)
  • Dictys (431 BC with Medea)
  • Theristai (Reapers, satyr play, 431 BC with Medea)
  • Stheneboea (before 429 BC)
  • Bellerophon (c. 430 BC)
  • Cresphontes (c. 425 BC)
  • Erechtheus (422 BC)
  • Phaethon (c. 420 BC)
  • Wise Melanippe (c. 420 BC)
  • Alexandros (415 BC with Trojan Women)
  • Palamedes (415 BC with Trojan Women)
  • Sisyphus (satyr play, 415 BC with Trojan Women)
  • Captive Melanippe (c. 412 BC)
  • Andromeda (412 BC with Helen)
  • Antiope (c. 410 BC)
  • Archelaus (c. 410 BC)
  • Hypsipyle (c. 410 BC)
  • Alcmaeon in Corinth (c. 405 BC) Won first prize as part of a trilogy with The Bacchae and Iphigenia in Aulis

The following lost and fragmentary plays are of uncertain date, and are arranged in English alphabetical order.

Marble portrait bust of Sophocles - stock photo

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Bust of Sophocles - History

Impostata su di un busto antico ma non pertinente, sul quale un’iscrizione probabilmente antica riporta il nome di “Solone il legislatore”, la testa è invece da identificare in una replica del ritratto del tragediografo Sofocle (496— 406 a. C). La conformazione delle ciocche della barba bipartita e della capigliatura, cinta da una fascia sottile, consentono di ricollegare il ritratto al tipo detto “Lateranense”, il cui archetipo è da riconoscere nella statua dedicata da Licurgo nel teatro di Dioniso ad Atene intorno al 330 a. C.

Portrait bust of Sophocles on a Herm (known as Solon)

Set on an ancient bust (though not germane to the head) on which an inscription, probably ancient, claims that it is a portrait of “Solon the lawgiver”, this head may in fact be identified as a copy of the portrait of the playwright Sophocles (496— 406 BC). The configuration of the forked beard and the thin band around the hair allow us to associate this portrait with the so-called “Lateran type”, the archetype of which may be identified as a statue which Lycurgus dedicated to the playwright in the Theatre of Dionysus in Athens in around 330 BC.

Bust of Sophocles - History

Ah-ha! Some of my technological problems have been solved and now I can post photos of the past three weeks. I have organized them into themes so maybe it will make some sense of what is going on.

First, this is a very silly photo of me with a bust of Sophocles, an ancient Greek philospher. I was taking arm's length self-portraits in the Naples Archeological Museum. This is the first place I went in Naples, right off the train. It houses most of the artifacts from Pompei, which is why the actual site is eerily empty. I didn't take very good notes on what I was photographing, so maybe there is a history buff who will correct me.

Maybe you think ancient sculputure looks the same to you, white marble, idealized body types. But this table stand from the mid 2 century depicts a shipwreck. The gods of the sea are pulling sailors under, the sea dogs tearing at their arms.

Also, there is this alabaster scultpture of Artemis, the goddess of nature or fertility, depending who you ask. Also up for debate is whether she is covered in many breasts or, as my guidebook suggests, the scrotum (scrota ?) of many sacrificed bulls. Either way, she is made of a few different colors of stone, with increidble detail and action all over. There are tiny lions walking up her arms.

I spent a good bit of time in the museum, finally stepping out into the evening. I was warned about the drivers in Naples and I quickly became very assertive crossing the street. In a quieter part of town, I took this photo of a narrow street, laundry out to dry. Nothing to hide in Naples.
(Note the altar on street level. I'll quiz you on it later.)

Watch the video: Oedipus Tyrannus, Sophocles


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