- That Euripides’ wife was having an affair with his lodger, who also happened to collaborate with Euripides in writing some of his plays.
- That this cuckolding created in him such bitterness that many of his plays ended up propounding a theme of misogyny.
- That he was an atheist and blasphemous towards the Greek gods.
- That he was responsible for making tragedy less lofty e.g. whilst Aeschylus uses kings, gods and heroes as characters, Euripides uses beggars, cripples and the working-classes. And even when portraying kings they are clad in rags and slovenly.
- That his mother sold cabbages in the agora – an early example of a “yo momma” joke i.e. “yo momma so poor, she sells cabbages in the agora”.
- That he, like his contemporary Socrates, subverted the moral order of the day.
Category Archives: Dramatists[post_grid id="10032"]
“They sit at the feet of Socrates
Till they can’t distinguish the wood from the trees,
And tragedy goes to pot;
They don’t care whether their plays are art
But only whether the words are smart;
They waste our time with quibbles and quarrels,
Destroying our patience as well as our morals,
And making us all talk rot.”
“Euripides died in the following manner. There was a town in Macedonia called the village of the Thracians because Thracians had once settled there. At some point, a female Molossian hound belonging to Archelaus had strayed into the village. This dog the Thracians, as is their custom, sacrificed and ate. Accordingly, Archelaus fined them one talent. Since they did not have the money, they asked Euripides to get them released from their debt to the king.Sometime later, when Euripides was resting by himself in a grove near the city and Archelaus came out to hunt, his dogs were released by their keepers and fell on Euripides. The poet was torn to shreds and eaten.These dogs were the descendants of the dog that was killed by the Thracians. This is the origin of the Macedonian proverb, “a dog’s justice”.”
“He was a problem to his contemporaries and he is one still; over the course of centuries since his plays were first produced he has been hailed or indicted under a bewildering variety of labels.He has been described as ‘the poet of the Greek enlightenment’ and also as ‘Euripides the irrationalist’; as a religious skeptic if not an atheist, but on the other hand, as a believer in divine providence and the ultimate justice of divine dispensation.He has been seen as a profound explorer of human psychology and also a rhetorical poet who subordinated consistency of character to verbal effect; as a misogynist and a feminist; as a realist who brought the tragic action down to the level of everyday life and as a romantic poet who chose unusual myths and exotic settings.He wrote plays which have been widely understood as patriotic pieces supporting Athens’ war against Sparta and others which many have taken as the work of the anti-war dramatist par excellence, even as attacks on Athenian imperialism.He has been recognized as the precursor of New Comedy and also what Aristotle called him: ‘the most tragic of poets’. And not one of these descriptions is entirely false.”
Αἰσχύλον Εὐφορίωνος Ἀθηναῖον τόδε κεύθει
μνῆμα καταφθίμενον πυροφόροιο Γέλας·
ἀλκὴν δ’ εὐδόκιμον Μαραθώνιον ἄλσος ἂν εἴποι
καὶ βαθυχαιτήεις Μῆδος ἐπιστάμενος
Beneath this stone lies Aeschylus, son of Euphorion, the Athenian,
who perished in the wheat-bearing land of Gela;
of his noble prowess the grove of Marathon can speak,
and the long-haired Persian knows it well.
He does not quite have the claim of being the first slave to become a successful writer (that gong goes to Aesop), but he may have been the first African to make headway in the field.
However, this is little more than a calculated assumption from the fact that his cognomen, Afer, means ‘the African’.
Freedom was most probably granted here because Terentius was impressed by the young man’s artistic talents and he didn’t want to stand in the way of a potentially glittering career.
And glittering, though brief, it indeed was.
“Do not expect the plot of the Play; the old men who come first will disclose it in part; a part in the representation they will make known”
So what was the purpose of a prologue, if not to “lay our scene”? Why, to rebuke one’s critics of course:
“He [Terence] is wasting his labor in writing Prologues, not for the purpose of relating the plot, but to answer the slanders of a malevolent old Poet”.
Terence certainly had a unique approach to the prologue, a trait that differentiates him from Plautus; one, in fact, of many.
However, if his works were to be considered sitcoms, then they could only be HBO ones. No G rating for this Roman.
While his choice of subject matter is one of the most interesting things about Terence, there are moments when he skirts the boundary of what is now, and perhaps was then, good taste.
Even though it seems his plays were enjoyed by the masses, Terrence was not rightly appreciated as an artist until after his death.
Within 100 years of his premature demise, Terence had become a set text for all Roman schoolboys.
“homo sum, humani nil a me alienum puto” – “I am a man, I regard all that concerns men as concerning me”
….has been misappropriated as a piece of sagacious philosophy. In fact, it was originally put into the mouth of a nosy neighbour looking to justify his own snooping!
“Terence is remarkable, for good morals, good taste, and good Latin…His language has simplicity and an elegance that make him proper to be accurately studied as a model”.
“Latin literature begins with a bang, with a dazzling display of virtuoso verbal fireworks in twenty comedies written by Plautus between about 205 and 184 BC”.
As great as he was, Plautus was no entrepreneur. He lost his entire fortune and was reduced to working as a mill-hand by day and studying Greek comedy by night.
While this life of relative poverty and menial employment would suggest Plautus did not have a privileged upbringing, the very fact that he was extremely literate in both Latin and Greek means that this is no rags-to-riches story. To prove this point further, he was very knowledgeable of both nations’ politics and history, well-versed in poetry, and extensively well-read.
“Evil communications corrupt good manners”“Whom the gods love die young”“The property of friends is common”
Perhaps it was for this reason that Plautus chose Menander as his main influence rather than Aristophanes. Or maybe it was because Menander was closer in time than the Old Greek Comic… or that they were the only books Plautus could get his hands on.
Not that plot pilfering was either looked down upon or kept a secret.
In fact, in several of Plautus’ prologues he openly provides the original Greek title and author of the plays he has translated. While this was not always the case, we can safely assume that his intentions were not deceitful in this respect.
One thing Plautus did not do, surprisingly for us perhaps, is change the setting of the play from Athens to Rome.
While the Greek setting of Plautus’ plays is fascinatingly paradoxical for us, it would have been seen as mundane to the average Roman. This is because Plautus didn’t actually write ‘comedies’, he wrote fabulae palliatae (dramas in a Greek cloak).
Indeed, Plautus’ contemporary legacy was an impressive one; his plays were still being performed in Rome up until the time of Horace (65-8 BC).
He was also popular in Renaissance Italy, especially after 1429 when 12 of his plays, presumed lost forever, were unearthed in Germany.
That said, his stock plummeted dramatically from the 17th century onwards.
Postquam est mortem aptus Plautus, Comoedia luget,
Scaena est deserta, dein Risus, Ludus locusque
Et Numeri innumeri simul omnes conlacrimarunt
Plautus is dead, and on the empty stage
Sad comedy doth lie
Weeping the brightest star of all our age
While artless Melody
And Jest and Mirth and Merriment forlorn
Their poet mourn