Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Theseus (THEE-see-uhs), the young king of Athens, whose aid Adrastus, the king of Argos, seeks in recovering the bodies of the Argive heroes killed in the unsuccessful expedition of the Seven against Thebes. At first he refuses Adrastus’ request. He admits that the Thebans should not have withheld the bodies, but he considers the expedition rash and ill-omened, and he is reluctant to identify himself with the bad cause of the Argives. The supplications of the mothers of the fallen heroes, an appeal to pity based on pure sorrow, and of Theseus’ mother Aethra, an appeal to pride based on the impiety of the Thebans and the need to uphold the law of Greece, are more successful. Theseus agrees to rescue the dead, by force if necessary. When a herald arrives from the Thebans and asks to speak with the “master” of the city, his innocent remark occasions a largely irrelevant debate between Theseus and the herald on the theme of democracy versus tyranny, in which Theseus is the champion of democracy as it is practiced in Athens. The herald finally delivers his message, demands that Adrastus be refused sanctuary in Athens, and announces that the bodies shall not be restored to their families, whereupon Theseus summons his warriors. He defeats the Thebans and returns the bodies; however, as an example of the virtue of moderation, he refuses to enter Thebes or sack the conquered city. He oversees the funeral rites of the heroes. Theseus is more successful as a mouthpiece for the glory of Athens than as a man. Although he shows a great love for his mother, he is proud and contentious.


Adrastus (uh-DRAS-tuhs), the king of Argos, the leader and only...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Conacher, D. J. Euridipean Drama: Myth, Theme, and Structure. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1967. Argues against the prevailing belief that Euripides destroyed Greek drama. Maintains that, while he never accepted myth as the basis for tragedy, Euripides continually created new dramatic structures to suit new perceptions of human tragedy.

Grube, G. M. A. “Euripides and the Gods.” In Euripides: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Erich Segal. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968. Argues that the divine framework is still an important aspect of Euripides’ drama, though he used a different concept of the gods than other dramatists did.

Halleran, Michael R. Stagecraft in Euripides. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble Books, 1985. Examines specific aspects of Euripides’ technique such as stage actions, entrances, surprises, exits, and lyrics. Euripides changed the basic structural pattern of Greek drama in many of his plays.

Harsh, Philip Whaley. A Handbook of Classical Drama. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1944. A classic survey of the range of Greek and Roman drama, arguing for the greatness of the achievement and for its influence on modern literature. Skillful thematic reading of The Suppliants and the Euripidean plays leading up to it.

Zuntz, G. The Political Plays of Euripides. Oxford, England: Manchester University Press, 1955. Foundational study of political ideas in The Suppliants and other political dramas. Zuntz explains that the play greatly impressed Euripides’ contemporaries and does not deserve the low status assigned to it by modern critics.