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.
Hippolytus 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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