I always wish I read more classics and ancient texts, but the truth is that I rarely do, in part because I’m never quite sure how to read them. I mean, I always expect that there is more to it than the bare truth of the text itself, otherwise it wouldn’t have survived through thousands of years, right? I was therefore keen on learning more about Euripides from a well-known French academic whose reputation is to express herself with clarity and enthusiasm (no small feat when it comes to classics).
I learnt more about the context when Euripides wrote and got to understand what separated him from Sophocles and Aeschylus (I must have heard about it decades ago but it was all foggy). He’s the young one, who had to deal with more troubled times than his elders: Athens was living thought a political crisis, war, demagogy, moral crisis… The world that Euripides describes in his plays is full of uncertainties, nothing black and white anymore (so that he was later criticized for not rigidly adhering to the tragedy’s conventions). A man’s fate can be at any moment derailed by bad luck, and Euripides’ characters seem weak and less heroic, because he’s more interested in the psychological drama. Euripides seems to favor extreme emotions, his plays are full of pathetic scenes and unbearable suffering. At the same time, he’s also influenced by Sophists who loved to argue just for the sake of it, so we 21st century readers have difficulties to embrace both the rhetoric and the pathetic aspects of his plays.
These are the few notes I wrote down while reading. I loved Romilly’s simple and straightforward take on Euripides, which makes him more accessible than I ever thought. Of course, I’m planning to read some of his tragedies early next 2012 after the holiday season. Meanwhile, it seems a good idea to stock up on Kleenex for that reading!