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The Attic plays of Euripides.

Not only the local colour but the Athenian sentiment of the Coloneus naturally suggests a comparison, or a contrast, with some plays of Euripides. It may be said that the especially Attic plays of the latter fall under two classes. First, there are the pieces in which he indirectly links his fable with the origin of Attic institutions, religious or civil, though the action does not pass in Attica; thus the Ion,—of which the scene is at Delphi,— bears on the origin of the Attic tribes; the Iphigenia in Tauris refers to the cult of Artemis as practised in Attica at Halae and Brauron. Then there are the more directly Athenian plays,— the Supplices, where Theseus takes the part of the Argive king Adrastus, and compels the Thebans to allow the burial of the Argives slain at Thebes; the Heracleidae, where the son of Theseus protects the children of Heracles,—as Theseus himself, in the Hercules Furens (of which the scene is at Thebes), had induced their father to seek an asylum at Athens. If the Attic elements in the Oedipus Coloneus are compared with those of the plays just mentioned, the difference is easily felt. In the first of the two Euripidean groups, the tone of the Attic traits is antiquarian; in the second, it tends to be political,—i.e., we meet with allusions, more or less palpable, to the relations of Athens with Argos or with Thebes at certain moments of the Peloponnesian war. The Oedipus Coloneus has many references to local usages,—in particular, the minute description of the rites observed in the grove of the Eumenides; it is a reflex of contemporary Attic life, in so far as it is a faithful expression of qualities which actually distinguished the Athens of Sophocles in public action, at home and abroad. But the poet is an artist working in a purely ideal spirit; and the proof of his complete success is the unobtrusive harmony of the local touches with all the rest. In

The Eumenides.
this respect the Oedipus Coloneus might properly be compared with the Eumenides,—with which it has the further affinity of subject already noticed above. Yet there is a difference. Contemporary events affecting the Areiopagus were vividly present to the mind of Aeschylus. He had a political sympathy, if not a political purpose, which might easily have marred the ideal beauty of a lesser poet's creation. Prudently bold, he deprived it of all power to do this by the direct simplicity with which he expressed it (Eum. 693-701). The Oedipus Coloneus contains perhaps one verse in which we might surmise that the poet was thinking of his own days (1537); but it does not contain a word which could be interpreted as directly alluding to them.


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hide References (2 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (2):
    • Aeschylus, Eumenides, 693
    • Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus, 1537
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