Eurpidies and Women

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There has never been any doubt that Euripidies was interested in the nature, behavior, impact and social status of women. Aristophanes presented him as a notorious hater and slanderer of women. In our present century he is more often seen as one who excites pity for the sufferings inflicted on women by gods and men. He was highly unpopular in his time because of his radical views about the gods and the effect they had on ones destiny. He believed that things were not absolute, but relative. His ideas of women were also very different from the dramatists before him. In an essay by A.W. Gomme, he says, "no literature, no art of any country, in which women are more prominent, more important, more carefully studied, and with more interest, than in the tragedy, sculpture, and painting of fifth-century Athens." (Gomme). Euripides portrayed women in an important way, giving us a glimpse of their lives and their roles in Athenian culture. Euripides may indeed have invented women and reversed traditional representations of them, but ultimately he uses the female figures for patriarchy. His plays, such as Medea and Hippolytos, perform ideological work in subtle and complicated ways. Euripides brought a new era of drama to Greece, with his untraditional views of women, destiny and the importance of the gods (Kitto 19).

In his drama, Euripides endows his female characters with great understanding and allows them to give voice to important ideas; nonetheless, their experience is shaped to the end by male power. His plays establish two models of womanhood - sacrificial and vindictive - which speak to both women and men. On the one had, they set forth codes of behavior giving women in the audience reason to participate in the culture; on th...

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..., although highly unpopular at the time. He gave us the shape of society to study by, and women the drive to fight for more importance. Typical Athenian women we low on the economic, social and political totem pole, and yet Euripides shows women as prominent characters. Edwin Ardener refers to Athenian women as the "muted class", "muted simply because (women do) not form part of the dominant communicative system of the society" (Ardener 22). Even as we praise Euripides for his portrayal of women, we must realize that this portrayal is from a man's point of view. When we look at the dialogue of his more prominent characters, like Medea and Phaedra, we must remember that it is only what Euripides thought they would say in the situation. We do not have any drama from women of the time, so we assume what we know about Athenian women from this feminist male dramatist.
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