Why Athens Could Do Without Euripides and His Medea

by Russell

Writer's note: This is intended to provide the perspective of a man immediately after his viewing of the Medea. It may be interpreted that Euripides actually foreshadowed the fall of Athens or that he was unpatriotic. By no means was this the case, in fact it is often cited that the Medea was his form of patriotism and he was simply worried about the excesses of men leading up to the war. Also, during this period the audience was somewhat conservative, thus the lines about women are simply written to show the times. Therefore, I would like to make it clear that these issues are anything but my personal feelings.

These are troubling times we are facing here in Athens being that we are on the verge of battle with Sparta (Tessitore 600). At a time when we are needed to stand up with courage and spiritedness and fight like men, we do not need distracters. It is people such as this that will bring our end. The tragedian Euripides is one of these distracters battling against us. People of Athens, I must warn you that he has hideous ideas in mind. Euripides has somehow concocted the idea that the men of Athens are overly spirited. Furthermore, he thinks that women should be able to participate publicly. Beware; he does this with the aid of a sharp tongue and pen. So I must warn Athenians to heed caution of his tragedy Medea, for on the surface it may seem harmless. But it is what lies deep inside that proves to be foul.

This so-called tragedian was born on a day of the victory of Attica. And yes, supposedly his father was promised a son, prophesized by an oracle, which would be honored by all men (www.theatrehistory.com). He may have written up to 88 dramas in his time (Harris 792). But this is a guy that sits in his library and does nothing aside from writing. Euripides may have written greats such Hippolytus, Hecuba, Bacchae, and Andromache, but does that mean he can tell us as men that we aren't superior to women or too spirited (Harris 1073).

Oh the nerve of this poet Euripides! This Euripides writes his Medea with hopes of challenging Pericles' call to men to be spirited. And yet at the same time he dreams up this idea that the men of Athens aren't courageous enough, or worse, we aren't manly enough. Yes, these times are troubled, but the challenge he places on men is a direct blow to the heart of Athens.

With the community on the brink of war, the strength and will of men is of dire necessity. Euripides hides his thoughts of men subtly, but hidden in Medea is his concern of our lack of sense of individual and social obligation (Vasillopulos 45). Euripides basically says that we men adhere to the indication of a cost-benefit analysis (Vasillopulos 45). Euripides shows us his scandalous thoughts of this when he wrote of Jason leaving Medea when presented with a better marriage after weighing the benefits and rewards (Vasillopulos 45). Euripides damns men even more when Medea says to King Aegeus of Jason: "He was greatly in love this traitor to his friend. A passionate love--for an alliance with the King." (Vasillopulos 45).

Yes, Euripides feels there is a weakness exhibited in Athenian democracy through its unwillingness to allow women to participate fully in public life (Vasillopulos 37). But that isn't the bad part, for there is worse to come. Euripides uses his Medea to voice his concern that men aren't living up to their duties as men and that women are doing a better job. Oh I pity his soul! No, Medea wasn't asking for Jason to be less of a man but more of manly in his role and duties and she felt she did better. It is this inability of Jason to follow his duties that Euripides attributes to men. These beliefs of Euripides are no more evident than in these lines:

"And let the world's great order be reversed.
It is the thoughts of men that are deceitful.
Their pledges are loose.
Women have paid their due."(Vasillopulos 49)
Just recently Pericles spoke to us to gain the courage and resolve that are fathers displayed in defeating the Persians. Pericles pointed out that through this spiritedness, great honors accrue in both the city and the individual (Tessitore 600). Despite Pericles pleads to Athenian males, Euripides feels that this spiritedness is a two edged knife that could destruct us. Euripides uses Medea to attempt to personify this belief that spiritedness isn't always beneficial. Euripides attempts to portray the child killer Medea as a personification of spiritedness. Euripides shows Medea as person that has the inability to tolerate dishonor and institutionalize penalty, yet a person that can ruthlessly murder her own innocent children (Tessitore 595). One may ask what this has to do with Athens. Well, King Aegeus comes into this play for no other reason than to bring Medea to Athens where she can live this nasty personification (Tessitore 599). I do not buy his attributing this evilness to us men!

Men and women of Athens, keep a keen eye and ear on the falsehoods which Euripides is attempting to attribute to men. This fiction writer Euripides is cunning with his words and story. Upon first notice, it is easy to spot his utter lack of elaboration. But it is in this absence that Euripides is able to persuade us (Papadopoulou 649). This absence puts us in Medea's process of thinking and be put in her position (Papadopoulou 649). By placing the audience inside Medea's mind, he is attempting to show her human side, which I do not buy. Euripides is trying to sell Medea as a person with inner struggles. Euripides knew it would be near impossible to garner sympathy for such a villain if we don't see her inner self (Papadopoulou 650). Without gaining favor for Medea it would be impossible for Euripides to gain support for his concerns.

Euripides vies for support with his use of the chorus in favor of Medea. This chorus is composed of Corinthian women who should be in support of their King, but instead sympathize with Medea and her cause (Papadopoulou 650). He uses the chorus to allow support for her despite murdering her children. When the chorus witnesses the horrible deed they compare her to Ino, who was a victim forced by the gods to murder her children (Papadopoulou 650). This comparison basically puts Medea in the shoes of a victim in the eyes of the chorus. A chorus of women I must remind, which should be utterly repelled by such a horrible deed.

Through Euripides techniques and skills he has attempted to gain sympathy here in Athens and lead us to believe that we are wrong. We must not falter to such tactful and genius use of rhetoric! Keep up the good fight men, and Athens will never fall!


Euripides and His Tragedies. Theatrehistory.com. http://www.theatrehistory.com/ancient/Euripides001.html

Harris, Stephen, Platzner, Gloria. Classical Mythology: Images and Insights 3rd edition. Mountain View, Ca. Mayfield Publishing Company. 2001.

Papadopoulou, Thalia. "The Presentation of the Inner Self: Euripides Medea 1021-55 and Apollonius Rhodius' Argonautica 3, 772-801." Mnemosyne Vol. L: 641-664

Tessitore, Aristide. "Euripides' Medea and the Problem of Spiritedness." The Review Of Politics. Fall 1991:587-601

Vasillopulos, Christopher. "Medea and the Reformation of the Tragic Polis." Social Science Journal. Vol. 35: 435-462

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