Essay, Research Paper: Aeschylus And Euripides About Woman Roles


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Due to the fact of similarities between authors writing in the same place and
time, we often make the mistake of presuming their viewpoints are identical on
the given subject. It would be a mistake to expect Aeschylus’ Agamemnon and
Euripides’ Medea to express identical views on the subject; each author had a
unique way. The opinions of these two writers on this subject are actually
different. Aeschylus’ plays revolved around ethics, and commonly he presented
as objectively as possible, by asking the audience to judge the ethical
questions for themselves. Agamemnon is not really about Agamemnon as much as is
about Clytemnestra, his wife. Clytemnestra tells us early on that she has
suffered terribly in her life, and mentions the loss of her daughter Iphigenia.
Aeschylus has making us sympathize with Clytemnestra. After Agamemnon arrives,
Clytemnestra treats him almost like a god, insisting on wrapping him in a huge
royal robe as he descends from his chariot. Agamemnon protests that this kind of
welcome is unnecessary, but Clytemnestra is insistent, and he finally gives in.
Clytemnestra, however, has an another motive; she uses the huge robe to make it
difficult for him to fight against her; as Clytemnestra later confesses, “Our
never-ending, all embracing net, I cast it/ wide for the royal haul, I coil him
round and round/ in the wealth, the robes of doom” (Norton, 559). Once
trapped, she stabs him three times. Killing a king is a very public act, and
Clytemnestra makes no effort to hide what she has done. Rather, she comes out
into the public square outside the palace, bearing the bloodstained robe, and
tells the Chorus that she has killed their king, and why. Agamemnon had
sacrificed his own child. Despite the fact that Agamemnon looked upon his deed
as a public necessity, Clytemnestra saw her daughter’s death as a private
loss, and consequently could not forgive it. The point is that Aeschylus has
created a woman with whom his audience could sympathize, and whose pain felt
real to them. This was no small effort, considering the fact that in ancient
Greece women were looked same as slaves. Euripides, in writing Medea, presents
women in a much different way. There is a similarity between Euripides’ story
and Aeschylus’; both Clytemnestra and Medea is strong, passionate woman who
commit a horrendous crime. But then the similarity stops. In Agamemnon, we
understand why Agamemnon did what he did, but somehow we feel that Clytemnestra
was completely justified in planning ten years worth of bitterness against the
man who killed her child. And under her circumstances, we completely sympathize
with her desire to kill the man who separated her of the daughter she loved.
Part of the reason we have so much sympathy for Clytemnestra is that Aeschylus
presented her as a tragic character. We feel her pain, she does not seem insane
to us. In the other hand, with Euripides’ Medea is the opposite. In the
opening speech the Nurse warns us that Medea is dangerous; she is not presented
like a suffering creature as much as the wrong woman to mess with. Later, the
Nurse cautions Medea’s children to stay clear of their mother for a while:
“What did I said, my dear children? Your mother Frets her hart and frets her
anger. Run away quickly into the house, And well out of her sight. Don’t go
anywhere near, but be careful Of the wildness and bitter nature Of that proud
mind. Go now run quickly indoors.” (Norton, 644) In the very next speech Medea
curses her children, she is not a nice woman. The reason why we can forgive
Clytemnestra but not Medea is based in the innocence or guilt of their victims.
Medea has killed her brother; she kills her husband’s new bride; and later she
kills her children. One cannot sympathize with these acts; they are all out of
proportion to Medea’s reasons for doing them; and they clearly show Medea to
be out of her mind. But what does it say about Aeschylus and Euripides’ views
on the role of women? Aeschylus would seem to have a much more open view of
women, he gives Clytemnestra some credit. Moreover, he makes her sympathetic
enough that even his audience would have understood Clytemnestra’s view, and
excused her one-time intrusion into an area normally reserved for men -- seeking
vengeance. On the other hand, Euripides seems to fear women, if his
characterization of Medea is any indication. Medea is not the least human being;
she is portrayed as if she were from another planet. She is barbarian, and what
we would now call a cold-blooded killer. Euripides knows that most of the women
of his people are not like that, but he is clearly responding to what he senses
is the “other”. Because women are not exactly like men, he seems to be
saying, they could be capable of doing something like these. Unfortunately, in
Athenian society Age, there would seem to have been many people who agreed with
Euripides than with Aeschylus. Women had no legal rights; their function, aside
from motherhood, was to see that the home ran smoothly and the lives of their
men were secure and comfortable. From this point, what is truly remarkable is
that Aeschylus managed to make Clytemnestra sympathetic at all.

Maynard Mack, and Editors. The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces. Vol.
1. New York: Norton and Company, 1998. Aeschylus (translated by Robert Eagles).
The Orestia. Agamemnon The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces. Vol. 1. Ed.
Maynard Mack, and editors. New York: Norton and Company, 1998.
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