2450 YEAR OLD QUESTION

People have been writing stories for as long as four thousand years. We all at some point in our lives have turned to literature to reflect on human nature, to find meaning in life or to find stories that are similar to ours. Works of literature from every era of history contain the collective experience of being alive and the frustrations that come with it. Greek tragedies are not an exception to this. The three great tragedy writers of Ancient Greece; Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides have all explored the meaning of human life in their plays. Twenty-four centuries ago, Euripides was asking the questions through his plays, the same questions we still ask ourselves. Although Euripides's way of writing was less poetic compared to Aeschylus and Sophocles; his work has a very unique approach to human nature. In his play Orestes, the gods have an active role in human life. Gods are portrayed as cruel, hypocritical and flawed; as beings that put human lives into complicated situations where right and wrong are intertwined with each other. Orestes falls desperate in the face of his fate and this represents the injustice of the gods. His desperation is entirely relatable as we all feel powerless from time to time in the face of events that we cannot control. Whether a person is religious or not, being human brings a sense of rebellion towards the injustices of our sufferings, after all most of us do not believe we deserve the terrible things that fall upon us. This condition is brought forward in Euripides's plays with the instability of gods. Hippolytus is a play about a woman's love for her stepson, Hippolytus. Phaedra is in a situation which she has no control over, so she plans to keep her love a secret because she does not want to be dishonored by her inappropriate feelings. Euripides sees love as dangerous, an undeniable force that brings misfortune. As J. A. Spranger puts it in The Attitude of Euripides towards Love and Marriage: ‘'His disapproval of love as an irresistible passion he shows in three choral odes- in the Iphigeneia in Aulis, the Hippolytus…'' When her maid finds out about Phaedra's secret, she tells Hippolytus, but makes him swear to not tell another soul, since the consequences would be disastrous. Hence a conflict arises within Hippolytus; he is outraged by how terrible a thing Phaedra could feel, but he did swear an oath to not say anything. It is important to mention here that Hippolytus' conclusion of this revelation is that women are terrible, so it does carry misogynistic aspects, in that he fails to recognize that it is not just a woman's nature to fall victim to desire but rather it is a collective human experience. But Euripides highlights the issue of free speech and its impact on events. When Hippolytus decides to break his oath, Phaedra writes a note saying Hippolytus raped her and hangs herself. As he is sent to exile because of her note, we see the consequences of his decision. The question arises; was Hippolytus right in breaking his oath or was he doing the right thing by freely speaking? Euripides presents the dilemma of free will, where sometimes the right and the wrong thing to do isn't clear. As much as there are events that happen beyond these character's control, like the gods' influence and a lack of control over emotions, we see that there are choices to be made that come down to free will. King Theseus, in The Suppliant Women is a just and rightful ruler, as he accepts to help the wives of the soldiers that have fallen in the battle of Thebes. The women want to properly mourn their husbands but King Creon forbids it. Theseus attack Thebes and gives the women the rightful burial of their relatives. But in doing so a lot of his own soldiers die, even though he did the right thing there were a lot of casualties. He seems to accept the cost of what he has done, but others don't feel the same. This brings forward the complexity of life, while Theseus did the right thing, his good deed does not bring happiness to everyone. But should he have not helped the suppliant women? Can we not achieve happiness even if we choose to do right? Euripides' play challenges the meaning and the costs of happiness which highly relates to real life. He seems to have a dark understanding of human happiness and it is a realistic understanding nonetheless, but just like how someone's happiness might not reduce another's sorrow, the grief of another does not reduce the achieved happiness. Looking at it in this light, it doesn't seem so dark but still remains realistic. The complexity of human life is filled with many questions and many answers and sometimes no answers at all. To look at the works from many years ago as we looked at some of Euripides' plays, it is obvious that humans have long been searching for a meaning to everything in life. His work offers some insight as well as asking new questions about the human condition.

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