Sunday, April 2, 2017

Hippolytus by Euripides translated by David Grene

The man on the book cover looks like he's in agony.  Is it because of the merciless doom that descends on all mankind at the hands of capricious gods?  Or is it because my parrot, Hercule, has bitten sizeable chunks out of the side of his book?

I wrote this review at a late hour, hopefully it doesn't come across too sassy.

HippolytusHippolytus by Euripides

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Once again, the gods ruin everyone's lives and also cause their tragic death by execution or suicide. Sucks being an ancient Greek.

Hippolytus worships Artemis, the Virgin goddess and out of devotion remains chaste. Aphrodite considers this a personal affront and decides to avenge herself against him by causing his stepmother, Phaedra, to fall in love with him.

While his father, Theseus is away, Phaedra, after spending pages lamenting her lot and helpless desire, confides her plight to her nurse. The nurse, who obviously can't keep a secret, tells Hippolytus. Hippolytus then embarks on his own lengthy soliloquy, railing against the wretched nature of women and their inferiority. He's so ugly about it that I almost didn't care what was about to happen to him, the jerk.

Nevertheless, it isn't fair what happens. Theseus comes home to find his wife has hanged herself. She has left a tablet on which she has written that Hippolytus has raped her. Theseus is enraged and exiles his son, then calls upon his father, Poseidon to avenge him, which he obligingly does, proving that the Greek gods are not omniscient or Poseidon would have known Hippolytus was innocent. Then again, considering how he treated Odysseus, maybe he's just a sorry sapsucker.

 Artemis comes to inform Theseus of the truth of the matter but it is too late. Poor timing on her part, but even the gods cannot thwart the fates.  Theseus rushes to his dying son, who forgives him.

It's interesting how often mankind is shown to have greater honor and virtue than the gods in many of these plays and sagas.  That raises many questions.  How did Greeks come to worshiping such gods and how did they arrive at the conclusion that these gods were unjust?

 Many of these plays and poems seem to demonstrate that gods are inferior to man in morals.  Even Zeus acquired his position through "might makes right." Prometheus Bound, a play I will review later, more fully develops this idea.

The chorus plays a small role in this play, only occasionally inserting a third person narrative, usually a lament.

All of the Greek plays I have read so far seem to implicitly describe a great force that draws mankind like an inexorable twine of steel along a predestined path. Plays are mostly dialogue, but through the words one can hear the cry of mankind feeling coerced into traveling a line of destiny through a travesty of events that cause their doom.

I wonder how they arrived at this conclusion? Could it be the result of ancient peoples turning from their authentic Creator and worshiping false gods and ultimately becoming enslaved by their own falsehood?

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  1. Hi Sharon.

    Superb commentary on this play.

    It has been a while since I read this.

    I think that the Greek view of the gods is says a lot about how they saw the world around them. They seem to have been trying to make sense of a very chaotic reality. Often nature seems cruel and unreasonable. Sometimes the action of people is better.

    They really also had a belief in predestination. It must have made them feel so helpless.

    Have a great week!

    1. Hi Brian. I think the belief that we are irresistibly drawn to pre-designed outcomes is fascinating and I would love to read any books that explores this subjects. Any suggestions?

  2. it's all your fault, Sharon, for me falling off the chair and rolling around in fits of laughter!! starting with Hercule's superior taste in books and leading on to the erratic and wild activities of the characters, this is a LOL post... many tx for brightening my day!

    1. Hi Mudpuddle, Hercule says he's glad to brighten other people's day. It's why he starts screaming first thing in the morning to get me out of bed.

      My husband, on the other hand, says he feels like he's living with a toddler who is running around with scissors all day long.


  3. Even if you don't want it to seem sassy, I like it! Exactly how I feel! You've got to tell it like it is.

    (And your husband's description of Hercule cracks me up!)

  4. Ruth: I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'm not sure I wholly qualified to be commenting on Greek plays. I'm sure there are those who could go much deeper, but the purpose of this blog is to keep a record of the books I've read and my personal thoughts on them. And also to improve my writing skills.

    1. That's exactly why I write, too! A record of my experience of the book and (God knows) to help with my writing skills. : D

    2. Ruth, I do think that making myself write everyday has made it easier and easier as time goes on.

      Are you writing something specific, like fiction stories?

  5. Sharon, my understanding of Greek drama leads me to comment on the gods v. humans dynamic which you have discussed and interrogated in your posting. As I understand it, during the Golden Age of Greek drama, the ancients in their actual lives were wrestling with philosophical and theological issues centering upon the autonomy of humans v. control by and submission to gods. Their culture had created gods in their own image, so the gods were rather flawed (like humans). So, not to overstate the case, the ancients were coming to believe that humans were more important than the gods; therefore, you often see in the plays the conflict (agon) between humans and gods. A similar dynamic was being played out through ancient Mediterranean cultures at about the same time. For example, authors of the Hebrew scriptures were involved in similar struggles, trying to understand the relationship between the human and the Divine.

    1. HI Tim. Thanks for explaining that for me. I would like now to find some good books that can explore further for me the Greek development of their belief about the supernatural.

      For me, the Bible is the ultimate resource for explaining our relationship with the Divine. It never ceases to fill me with awe and wonder.

      I would love to trace the origins of the Greeks and see where the concept of their gods grew from. By that I mean, I think they came from Egypt so they must have grown out of the Egyptian gods like Isis and Osiris. One can trace their art easily enough through early Greek statues and Egyptian sculpture.

      Fascinating. Thanks for your input, I always look forward to hearing from you. Take care!


I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.