The story of Helen is taken from a tradition established in the sixth century b.c.e. by the Greek poet Stesichorus, who believed that Paris had carried off to Troy only a phantom Helen fashioned by Hera, while the real Helen was taken to Egypt by Hermes. Some critics have praised this play, asserting that it has appropriate rhetoric throughout, consistent characterization, and a faultless plot. Perhaps the only exceptions to its evenness of tone are the first ode of the chorus and the murder of the fifty Egyptian galley-men. Others have been troubled with its melodrama and what they see as a contrived plot.
Only seven plays each survive by two of the acknowledged masters of Greek tragedy, Aeschylus and Sophocles, but nineteen are extant by the third, Euripides. He is thought to have written at least eighty. Of the three playwrights, Euripides is regarded as the dramatist most interested in psychology. In Mdeia (431 b.c.e.; Medea, 1781) and Hippolytos (428 b.c.e.; Hippolytus, 1781), he portrays women whose passions lead them to horrible crimes. The witch Medea, wife of Jason, arranges the death of her husband’s mistress and her father and kills her own two sons. Phaedra, wife of Theseus and stepmother and would-be lover of Hippolytus, arranges the death of her stepson when he spurns her advances. Most of Euripides’...
(The entire section is 1127 words.)
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