Saturday, January 25, 2014

Euripdes and Alexander the Great

This class is my first exposure to Classical Greek drama. Before last week I had never read from a Greek play before. I was studying history before I joined the Humanities college. I love history but I also love myth and art so I couldn't resist the broader scope that Humanities had to offer.  This is my first time studying the Classics so my understanding is still very shallow. I don't feel that I have very much to offer when it comes to analyzing these tragedies.

Yet as we discussed these plays and playwrights in class I couldn't help but think about the historical significance that these plays might have had. I was by intrigued Euripides' tragedy: Orestes and how shortly after writing it he self-exiled himself to Macedonia. Macedonia, as we all know, is the kingdom that conquered all of Greece (and then most of the known world) under the direction of Alexander III (commonly referred to as great). The imaginative, historical fiction part of me wonders if there is some connection between Euripides moving to Macedonia and Alexander's invasion about 70 years later.

Euripides' Orestes is commonly viewed as anti-war. Tyandareus, a Spartan king in the play goes on about how ridiculous the Trojan War was, "All this killing, it's like animals. How can civilization survive?" Certainly a parallel could be drawn between the Trojan War of myth and the Spartan/Athenian Peloponnesion War. Euripides, an Athenian himself, wrote this play while this war was going on, just after Athens failed miserably attempting to invade Sicily, a Spartan ally. It's easy to imagine Euripides receiving flack from Athenian officials for writing a play that could easily be seen as unsupportive of the current conflict. It makes sense that Euripides had to move out for this reason.

Euripides lived in Macedonia for two years before he died in 406 BC. Perhaps during this time he vented his resentment of Greek politics and war to his Macedonian receivers. Perhaps it was Euripides who conveyed the notion to Macedonian royalty that southern Greece was in a weakened state, ripe for conquering. A notion that descended through the family tree from Amyntas to Philip and then Alexander.

It might just be coincidence but it's interesting to note, one of Alexander's older relatives was named Orestes.


  1. You bring up some interesting connections here. Of course there is a LOT of history that happens between 408 and the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 (which is when Macedon effectively takes control of Greece), but at very least there is definitely fodder here for a historical-fiction type prequel to Philip and Alexander.

  2. I like that you decided the touch upon the historical background surrounding the time at which Orestes was written. Historical background can definitely add insight when determining a playwrights' motivations or pondering the theme of a piece.