Rationally Insane: An Exploration of the Euripidean Effect


Alyson Melzer

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Throughout the extensive history of classical studies, Euripides has been frequently labeled a radical who brought the noble tradition of Greek tragedy to an end with his avant-garde methods. He is accused by such prominent figures as Nietzsche and Aristophanes of destroying tragedy with sophistic rationality. The sophists were philosopher-teachers who inspired many 5th century Athenians to abandon their conventional beliefs, and instead use logic and persuasion to justify their individual desires. Euripides frequently used their trademark rhetoric for his characters who are able to rationalize their horrendous actions, as Medea does before murdering her children, or as Orestes does after murdering his mother. This disturbing juxtaposition of logic and amorality often leads critics to assume Euripides endorsed the sophists and that his work is beyond the definition of "authentic" tragedy. However, it can be argued that Euripides was actually fulfilling the function of tragedy under new cultural conditions. Euripides depicted a world where everything was justifiable and morally available because of sophistry. When an individual believes that anything is within his reach, he begins to see himself as an autonomous entity with no need of others. The fundamental function of tragedy, according to Prof. Damian Stocking, is to disrupt this vision of immanence and allow for the formation of community. By displaying the tragedy of autonomy through the use of sophistic rhetoric, Euripides disrupts the sophistic self and allows for the possibility of this necessary community.


Damian Stocking




Ford Research Endowment

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