Euripides, Aristophanes and Plautus on Feminism
Euripides, Aristophanes and Plautus are three of the most studied and criticized authors in the history of literature. Over the years, their works have been regarded as some of literature’s most treasured classics that have set the conventions of the traditional styles of fiction writing. Over the years, a lot of genres and ideologies rose, and these developments have also influenced the conventions and leanings of these authors. One of such of genres and ideologies which founded the greatest influences on these authors is feminism. In this light, this discussion shall focus on delineating the feminist elements among the works of these authors. The objective of this discussion shall revolve around finding out, who among these classic writers had the strongest leaning towards feminism. This discussion shall also try to figure out how the works of these authors reflected the status of women in the earlier societies.
Euripides has become one of the most controversial playwrights in terms of the use of feminist symbols and ideals in his plays. Four of the most gender-inclined works of Euripides are Alcestis, Medea, Ion and Andromache (Wright 113). In these plays, the war of the sexes was deemed rather unpleasant especially for women. Euripides has been very controversial in tackling gender issues as he preferred being straight forward in expressing his thoughts. He used to utilize violent scenes to depict the absurd domination of men over women. For Euripides, men are naturally made up of “meanness, cowardice, selfishness and treachery” (114). For him, these are the four greatest faults of men. On the other hand, he regards pregnancy as one of the most powerful and influential phenomena on earth. For him motherhood is one of the most consecrated and strongest privileges (116). In Medea, this particular perception of Euripides about the power of women has been greatly evident.
“Medea articulates to them the problems of marriage for women and the dangers they face in the process of childbirth in an extraordinary ‘feminist’ speech that tempts us to forget that it was written by a man and spoken by a man to an audience composed largely, if not entirely, or men.” (Euripides, et.al. xx)
Apparently, Euripides poses a strong feminist leaning and concern. On the other hand, Aristophanes was observed to have a more political argument in tackling the issue of gender and feminism. In his work, Lysistrata, women were depicted to be politically inclined in warrior personas just like the Greek goddess, Athena. This work has been one of the most controversial and most criticized works on feminism as the author did a quite unpleasant depiction of women. In this work, Aristophanes regarded the claim that women are more open-minded, restrained, moral, and industrious as “an uproarious joke and a pitiless condemnation of their husbands” (Aristophanes 108). For the author, women were born to submit to anything men desires, as what can be observed from his portrayal of most women as kings’ prostitutes. Evidently, as compared to Euripides, Aristophanes appears to hold a negative perception on feminism. Lastly. Plautus, just like Euripides can be observed the portray women both in the acceptable and quite unacceptable manner. In Stichus, Plautus opens the story by portraying two descent women, learned and has remained faithful to their husbands. This already depicts the author’s positive regard on feminism. However, throughout the play, the author still portrayed intolerable scenes depicting abuse on women; “even during the celebration at the end of the play, the two slaves, Stichus and Sangarius, share their girlfriend Stephanium in perfect drunken amiability” (Plautus 316).
Indeed, all three authors displayed interesting views and ideals of gender and feminism. However, after being able to skim through the works of these classical authors, it can be deduced that Euripides displays the more positive leaning on feminism as compared to the Aristophanes and Plautus. Aside from this, based from the depictions of these authors of women’s roles in the society, it can be presumed that indeed, there came a time in history when women were close to slaves, as they helplessly played their role in the patriarchal society based from the needs and commands of their husbands and all the other men of the world.
Aristophanes. Sarah Ruden. Ed. Lysistrata. Hackett Publishing, 2006
Euripides. Diane Arnson Svarlien. Trans. Medea. Hackett Publishing, 2008
Plautus, Titus Maccius. David Slavitt, Smith Palmer Bovie. Eds. Plautus: The Comedies. JHU Press, 1995
Wright, F. A. Feminism in Greek Literature from Homer to Aristotle. Kessinger Publishing, 2005