The Legacy of Euripides: How His Works Influenced Tragic Literature

The Legacy of Euripides: How His Works Influenced Tragic Literature

The Influence of Euripides on Art


Euripides’ career was unique from the other two greats in Athenian tragic poetry. Not only that he garnered fewer awards than Sophocles and Aeschylus, but he was also the punching bag of jokes by comic poets like Aristophanes. That does not mean his art is less impactful than the other two greats.



Euripides’ art was unique because they pioneered innovations in tragedies, such as presenting heroes as typical people, showing sympathy for the oppressed, and presenting female characters differently than other stories at the time. 



That influenced stories to this day. Many contemporary stories depict heroes with humble beginnings, empowerment of the weak, and even women holding vital roles in stories. His works also influenced how writers created comedy and even romance to an extent. 



These aspects of his works would influence others and contribute to the rise of the popularity of Euripides’ work. Sophocles‘s and Aeschylus’s work steadily declined in popularity after the peak of Athenian times. 



His works also influenced how writers created comedy and even romance to an extent. 




Euripides’ works became as innovative as they were because they challenged tradition. Plays like “Medea” are prime examples of this. “Medea” is a play by Euripides that received mixed receptions at its time due to its intense content. 



In the story, Medea, the main character, commits heinous crimes to get revenge against her husband, Jason, who is unfaithful. That revenge would include killing two of her children and Jason’s new wife.



That is where Euripides’s sympathy for women shows. Presented through her actions, Medea conveys her refusal to withstand disrespect from a man. Her barbaric mannerisms and controversial statements served as evidence of her convictions.



In ancient Athens, women were not treated equally in society, so it was unorthodox to create a story like this.



I would rather stand three times with a shield in battle than give birth once. - Medea.



Though Medea was a very influential work, there was pushback from artists and intellectuals such as Aristophanes and Plato. 


Euripides and His Skepticism of Greek gods


Euripides also brought up profound questions about Greek gods in his works, like whether they deserve reverence or why they act with cruelty if the gods had control over the lives of all (believed by the ancient Greeks).



In his works, the gods were depicted as powerful but not always benevolent or merciful. For example, in the play, Hippolytus, Hippolytus’s father, Theseus, uses one of the three wishes he was granted by Poseidon, an Olympian, to call on Poseidon to kill his son. 



Theseus did this due to Phaedra committing suicide after leaving a note to Theseus claiming that Hippolytus forcefully seduced her. Without a fair trial, Theseus calls for the situation to happen, and Poseidon curses Hippolytus, causing him to die.



That eventually happened because Aphrodite, an Olympian, forced Theseus’s wife, Phaedra, to fall in deep love with Hippolytus. Then, because Hippolytus did not reciprocate his feelings to his father’s wife, he rejected her advances, ballooning into a tragedy. 



This story emphasizes the brutal power of the Greek gods and the harsh judgment they do not hesitate to lay upon their victims. This piece shows Euripides’ skepticism about Greek gods. 



From being sympathetic to the oppressed and skeptical about the reverence of gods, Euripides became a controversial figure during his lifetime, only winning four victories at the annual Athenian drama festivals, relative to thirteen for Aeschylus and twenty-four for Sophocles. The lack of rewards relative to the other greats was due to him posing more questions about traditional views on religion and the oppressed. 



During the Hellenistic period between 323 BC and 31 BC (between Alexander the Great’s Death and the rise of Rome), his works became a large part of education in literature. Euripides created extensive works that influenced the development of tragic art and literature. He did this by breaking the mold that limited the potential of artists. 



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