An approach to Euripides’autobiography and his work “Alcestis” Links

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An approach to  Euripides’autobiography and his work “Alcestis” Links


                                                                       Antônio Domingos Araújo Cunha

The first moment of this essay is reserved to focus Euripides’trajetory as an artist, and the second to his work “Alcestis”. “He was born in the Attic deme of Phyle in either 485/4 or 480BC. Stories from antiquity about his life seem to derive almost entirely from comic satire. Accounts consistently portray Euripides as moody, reflective, and intellectual.

Reports that he was unhappily married and that he maintained a large library may be reliable. Euripides wrote some 78 or 92 plays, of which nineteen of which survive under his name. He first competed at the City Dionysia in 455 and competed a total of twenty times. Despite winning only four times (once posthumously), he was one of the best known tragedians of his days. Ironically, after his death, Euripides' popularity soared beyond any of his rivals and exerted an enormous, constant influence on all subsequent drama in the Western tradition. However, a larger number of his plays have survived not because of his success but because of the chance of survival of a part of a larger collection of Euripidean plays”.01




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In general tragedy is corrupted by eloquence. This symptom is especially conspicuous in Euripides, who is constantly sacrificing propriety for rhetorical display; so that we are sometimes in doubt whether we are reading the lines of a poet or the speeches of an orator.

“The works of Euripides have been more variously judged than those of the other two great masters. The morality that he teaches belongs to the school of Sophists. On the other hand his admirers claim that he is the most tragic of the Greek tragedians, the most pathetic of the Attic poets, the most humane in his social philosophy and the most skillful in psychological insight. He was on terms of intimacy with Pericles and Socrates, both of whom were his fellow-pupils.

The last years of Euripides were passed in Magnesia and in Macedonia, where he was the guest of Archelaus, though the motive for his self-exile cannot be clearly ascertained. We know that Athens was not always the most favorable spot for eminent literary merit.

Euripides was the first one to introduce women on the stage, not as heroines but as they are in actual life. Thus, for instance, after a burst of indignation before the nurse, who approaches him with overtures of love on behalf of Phædra, he makes Hippolytus express his opinion of womankind.”02

In this concern “Alcestis”-- a Greek title -*A)/LKESTIS -- the one we’re going to portrait here -- was produced in ancient Athens in 438 B.C.E. (before the common era, so 438 + 1997 years ago). “It deals with the myths surrounding a man named Admetus. Admetus had been selected to be the man who would "own" the god Apollo for a year (Zeus was trying to punish Apollo for his having killed a cyclops). Admetus treated Apollo fairly, and so Apollo promised him a favor: he would get the god Death (a.k.a. Hades) to take someone else in place of Admetus


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when the time came for him to die. When that time came, no one except that  his wife, Alcestis, was willing to die in his place. (By the way, this only meant that Admetus would live longer, not forever). The play deals with the events on the day of Alcestis' death. Heracles (a.k.a. Hercules in Roman myth) happens to pay a visit to Admetus, and is treated well by him, even though his wife just died. When he learns that Alcestis had just died, Heracles goes after Death and battles him, and snatches Alcestis back.” 03

The play takes up the theme of the "gift of death." Euripides became the virtual founder of the romantic drama. In so far as his work fails, the failure is one, which probably no artistic tact could then have wholly avoided. “The frame within which he had to work was one, which could not be stretched to his plan. The chorus, the masks, the narrow stage, the conventional costumes, the slender opportunities for change of scenery, were so many fixed obstacles to the free development of tragedy in the new direction. The choral songs in Euripides, may be granted, but have often nothing to do with the action. But the chorus was the greatest of difficulties for a poet who was seeking to present drama of romantic tendency in the plastic form consecrated by tradition. So far from censuring Euripides on this score, we should be disposed to regard his management of the chorus as a signal proof of his genius, originality and skill.

The Alcestis, as the didascaliae tell us, was brought out in 01. 85. 2, i.e. at the Dionysia in the spring of 438 B.C., as the fourth play of a tetralogy comprising the Cretan Women, the Alcmaeon at Psophis and the Telephus. The Alcestis is altogether removed from the character, essentially grotesque, of a mere satyric drama. On the other hand, it has features which distinctly separate it from a Greek tragedy of the normal type. First, the subject belongs to none of the great



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cycles but to a byway of mythology, and involves such strange elements as the servitude of Apollo in a mortal household, the decree of the fates that Admetus must die on a fixed day, and the restoration of the dead Alcestis to life. Secondly, the treatment of the subject is romantic and even fantastic -- strikingly so in the passage where Apollo is directly confronted with the demoniac figure of Thanatos. When the happy ending is taken into account, it is not surprising that some should have called the Alcestis a tragicomedy. But we cannot so regard it. The slight and purely incidental strain of comedy is but a moment of relief between the tragic sorrow and terror of the opening and the joy, no less solemn, of the conclusion In this respect the Alcestis might more truly be compared to such a drama as the Winter's Tale; the loss and recovery of Hermione by Leontes do not form a tragicomedy because we are amused between whiles by Autolycus and the clown. It does not seem improbable that the Alcestis--the earliest of the extant plays--may represent an attempt to substitute for the old satyric drama an after piece of a kind which, while preserving a satyric element, should stand nearer to tragedy. The taste and manners of the day were perhaps tiring of the merely grotesque entertainment that old usage appended to the tragedies; just as, in the sphere of comedy, we know from Aristophanes that they were tiring of broad buffoonery. However that may be, the Alcestis has a peculiar interest for the history of the drama. It marks in the most signal manner, and perhaps at the earliest moment, that great movement which began with Euripides, --the movement of transition from the purely Hellenic drama to the romantic.”04




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Alcestis offers the gift of death out of her love for her husband, and the sense that her life would not be worth living without him is noticed, no matter how tragic it is to die as a real proof of love. If gift of death is something owed, one could question if  it’s still a gift.

Orpheu’s myth comes to enlighten what Euripides wants to portray. Would he be able to find his loved Alcestis in a superior plan? We cite the famous biblical passage of Abraham, offering Isaac in sacrifice. It’s hard to admit one can give another, the gift of death.There must be so much compassion and cumplicity in a relation to sustain it. It should be considered an egotist unnecessary attitude, to die as a real proof of love. It’s so altruistic, but produces effects of “catharsis”on people. We have the statement that one should love him as much as he/she should love the others. It’s reasonable that she had paid her debts with the Gods in those three days, so that she could revive. She was being called back to the world she was the main builder. A world of love and compassion. In contemporary life,  the feeling that quality and intensity should be the most important point considering romance, no matter how long people share existence, and displays this mode can suffer Gods live in everybody’s interior, and its up to us to let them live in our imaginarium no matter the relevant feeling of love, pointed out by Euripides.

 In conclusion, by analyzing Euripides’work, “Alcestis”  which provides the sensation that the imortality of those who we love most, as Gods and Goddess, depends too much of our interior spiritual life, we would say that the gift of death is represented by the possibility to return. The rite does not end with the death of the hero, but surprises the audience with a rebirth. That’s what people would do. Rebirth everyday with those who attempt to scape from our shared alive world. Love does not get erased if it’s real. It brings people back to their roots.It is above the expectation. It crystalyzes humans’ essential and fundamental feelings!



01 Euripides, June 24, 2002 ,


02 Euripides, June 24, 2002 ,


03 Euripides, June 24, 2002 ,


04 Euripides, June 24, 2002 ,























Works Cited



Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, New York:

       Modern Language Association, 1988.

Harvey , Paul Dicionário Oxford de Literatura Clássica, p.218-219, Vozes, RJ –Brasil,1987

Brandão, Junito. Dicionário Mítico-Etimológico Volume 1 – A-I p.47-48, Zahar Editor, RJ-

      Brasil, 1993.

Alcestis, June 24, 2002.

Alcestis, June 24, 2002.

Alcestis, June 24, 2002.
Alcestis, June 24, 2002.

Alcestis, June 24, 2002.

Alcestis, June 24, 2002.

Euripides, June 24, 2002.

Euripides, June 24, 2002

Euripides, June 24, 2002

Euripides, June 24, 2002.

Euripides, June 24, 2002.

Euripides, June 24, 2002.


Euripides, June 24, 2002.








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