The Political Plays of Euripides

The Political Plays of Euripides

The Political Plays of Euripides

The Political Plays of Euripides

Excerpt

Euripides' Suppliant Women and Heraclidae owe their low place in modern esteem to A. W. Schlegel, who, in his epoch-making Lectures on Dramatic Art (1808), made the shattered image of Euripides the pedestal for the monument of Aeschylus. His criticism of these two plays was not genuine interpretation but the application of irrelevant standards. In seeking to find what the poet did not purport to give, he blinded himself and his successors to what he really gave. Prompted by Aristo- phanes and reinforced by Nietzsche, Schlegel's views continued to dominate common judgment even where he was contradicted. Wilamowitz indeed, in the preface of his translation, painted the background of tradition and sentiment of The Suppliant Women with characteristic fullness and imagination, thus paving the way for its more adequate appreciation. With regard to the Heraclidae, on the other hand, he stopped the progress of the interpretation by asserting that this play survives only in a mutilated and interpolated text. On the whole, it is fair to say that the cues of Schlegel's criticism, such as 'Gelegenheitsstück', 'political allusions', 'deficiencies of the plot', 'poor character- drawing', are met with in almost every treatment of these two plays. G. Murray indeed and, more recently, M. Pohlenz presented an independent and positive evaluation of them; but the current view remained uninfluenced--at least in the English- speaking countries.

Scholarship has something to make good here. It should do justice to the products of genius. But here, as so often, false ingenuity has presumed to illuminate its dimmed object by flashes of impertinent inspiration; picking out, for example, isolated words or phrases and relating them to facts (often imaginary) outside the poet's creation. This creation indeed has its place within the reality of history; but this place is not identified before the work of art has been understood in its own right. To this first goal there is no Royal Road. The . . .

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