Helen

Helen

Helen

Helen

Excerpt

What follows is not intended for classical scholars, but is rather for those who have stumbled across or been assigned this text and wonder why Euripides and the Helen should lay claim to their time and energies, much less to their imagination and heart. I shall begin with Euripides.

Euripides

The names of Aischylos, Sophokles, and Euripides are so often said in sequence that they might for all practical purposes be hyphenated as a single designation for ancient Greek tragedy. An uncritical reading of Aristotle Poetics might be added to confirm one's sense that Greek tragedians wrote to a formula as fixed and tedious as today's pulp romances or Broadway musicals. The truth is, however, that classical tragedy was a tempestuously diverse art form tolerating works at moral, political, and aesthetic extremes from each other. Euripides, admittedly, was barely tolerated by his contemporary critics, who judged his drama to be the demise of tragedy, discontinuous with the tradition and indeed destructive of it. In short, he was seen then and is best seen now as a rebel. Let us consider the roots and the nature of his rebelliousness.

Euripides was only one generation removed from his most distinguished dramatic mentors, but he might as well have lived in another age from them. To imagine the extent and character of the gulf separating Euripides from Aischylos and Sophokles, one might contrast the American generation who grew up in the afterglow of World War I and fought in World War II with that generation who came to adulthood in the 1960s and either fought in or resisted the Vietnam War. Indeed, the parallels between Athens in the fifth century BCE and the United States . . .

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