The first forms of Greek drama were tragedies. “The theme of all tragedy is the sadness of life and the universality of evil,” wrote noted scholar Paul Roche in The Orestes Plays of Aeschylus. “The inference the Greeks drew from this was not that life was not worth living, but that because it was worth living the obstacles to it were worth overcoming.” Through suffering, the tragic hero is able to learn and grow.
Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides were the great Greek tragedians, and they brought distinctive themes and perspectives to their works. Aeschylus transformed tragic drama into great literature. His plays focused on the plights, decisions, and fates of individuals who were intrinsically intertwined with their community and their gods. In Aeschylus’ works, gods controlled the actions of mortal men and women. Self-pride caused humans to defy the will of the gods, which led to punishment. A Sophoclean tragedy generally revolved around characters whose “tragic”—or personal— flaws caused them to suffer. The tragedy climaxed as the main character recognized his or her errors and accepted responsibility and its accompanying punishment. Of the three tragedians, the characters of Sophocles are generally considered to best reflect the true state of human experience. Euripides differed from the earlier playwrights both in his belief that the world operates by chance rather than by the will of gods and in his...
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