In this episode of Literary Tales we offer a reading of Euripides: The Bacchae and Medea. In Euripides we find very modern themes of power, feminism, and masculine domination. As such, we might go as far as to say that Euripides was the prophet of modernity and put his thumb on the very issues we are now grappling with.

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A bust of the Athenian playwright and poet Euripides. Bernard Knox considered Euripides among the most modern and enduring of the Greek poet-playwrights, in part, because of the strong prominence of female characters, an unjust world-setting in which our characters are found, and the disturbing and open-ended endings of some of his plays. While Aeschylus and Sophocles were of greater renown in Euripides’ own time, and widely considered the two greats of the Greek canon, Euripides has endured and aged more gracefully in the 20th century.
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Greek pottery (Louvre) depicting the death of Pentheus, a scene from Euripides’ Bacchae.
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Eugene Delacroix, “Medea About to Kill Her Children,” 1836. Scorned women, and victimized women, are among the most common characters in Euripides. Bernard Knox considered this reality as part of the male psychological worry and foresight in ancient Athens concerning the instability of the patriarchal order that ruled Athens. Nonetheless, Knox considered this insight something to celebrate rather than to denounce. The Greeks, two thousand years ago, realized (perhaps subconsciously) of the need for greater love, inclusion, and female acceptance. In many respects, the English proverb “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” is very apt for some of Euripides’ dramas. The manifestation of a murderous world without love, pity, and empathy is one of the enduring images constructed by Euripides.
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Gregoria Lazzarini, “Orpheus and the Bacchantes,” 1710. The ecstasy and terror, indeed, bloodlust, of the Bacchus cult was the central theme of Euripdes’ most famous dramatic tragedy: The Bacchae.
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Luca Giordano, “Orpheus and the Bacchae.” Again, female ecstasy and terror, male domination and victimhood, female victimhood and masculine callousness, are among the enduring themes explored by Euripides in his (surviving) plays. In this respect, Euripides is the most modern of the Greek playwrights.

 

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