Posted: June 21st, 2021

In What Ways Does Euripides Explore Issues Of Race, Gender And Class?

* What do you think Euripides’ views are on this issue
* Would an Athenian audience agree with him?
Euripides explores these fields mainly by putting forward the character of Medea. In other words, the treatment of her character in the play mainly by the other members of the society which she finds herself defines the listed issues above – race, gender and class.

Euripides presents the theme of race mainly through the character of Medea. On our first acquaintance, Medea particularly points out the fact that she is a “foreign woman coming among new laws”. This makes evident where she stands in the society, as foreigners are regarded as inferior to the real Greeks. By this, Euripides presents a form of racism eminent in the life of the ancient Greeks. Also, Medea’s race was believed to be barbaric or sub-human which also contributes to the reason why her character is diminished. Jason refers to her roots as a “barbaric homeland’ which suggests a feeling of superiority.
Another aspect in which Euripides explores the theme of race is through the supremacy of the Greeks, which makes evident the predominance of their race in the ancient times. This is exemplified by the reference to Jason’s journey to the Colchis in Medea’s speech, where he steals the Golden Fleece. This presents the greed and political oppression of the Greeks, which are obvious elements of racism and colonialism. This is similar to the tradition of the powerful nations of the world in the recent centuries. Through this, a satirical tone runs throughout the play, as Euripides is able to recreate the superior and dominating nature of a very powerful foreigner living in the Greek community. In my opinion, I think the Greeks would have disliked Medea due to the fact that she has a history of insubordinate behaviour, thereby standing against their very Greek norms and beliefs.
Also, the relationship between Aegeus and Medea also echo the treatment of foreigners in Ancient Greece. He tells Medea that he “does not intend to take her away with him to Corinth”. This makes evident the political view regarding the banishment of foreigners. As she is exiled from one domain of Greece, she has to be snuck into another region, which portrays the unfairness of the society, brought about by the mere issue of race.
Euripides presents the theme of gender as one of the most dominating and important themes which run through out the play. This is because Medea acts contrary to the perceived way by which women are to expected to behave. By this I mean to be loyal to their husbands, even if it means suppressing their views on both moral and political issues that affect them. Medea is described as a ‘wide bull’ by the nurse. This simile makes us aware of her viciousness. It is important that I not that the use of the word, ‘bull” symbolizes her likeness to men rather than what is expected of a woman in the Greek context Medea is also characterized with great cleverness and wit, though she is a woman.
She is able to manipulate all the powerful male characters, which are satirically presented as gullible. Creon, a very powerful character, the King of Corinth says “I fear you…yet nonetheless, Medea you shall have what you ask for” even though he is aware of her evil capabilities. Also, Jason, her husband, a very powerful character with a legendary history is also easily exploited and convinced, due to Medea’s shrewdness. “I am pleased Medea that you have changed your mind”. Thus, Medea is characterised as a rebel in the society. In my opinion I feel that the Greeks would have found this rather annoying, as they were used to seeing women less oppressive, like Medea.
Euripides might have therefore been mocking the Greek mentality of women in his society, as he presents his female characters to be more knowledgeable than the men. A contrasting opinion is however made evident in the latter part of the play, as Euripides’ view on women is of a different light. In one of Medea’s speeches, she says, “we women are the most wretched”. This might be interpreted as Euripides’ own opinion of women in his society or one of Medea’s cynical comments on the situation she finds herself in. The nature of Euripides’ view on the female gender is therefore ambiguous.
Another way in which Euripides explores the theme of gender is through the characters of the Chorus. These are the average Athenian women, thus they represent the view of the majority. The chorus also represent rebellion to their society as they tend to have sympathy for Medea, even in her selfish actions. This is sort of a slap in the face for the leaders of the society- Jason and Creon, as they stand views contrast with one another. They refer to Medea as “the unhappy woman from Colchis”. Perhaps, Euripides, by this means is putting forward, cry for equality in the society.
The theme of class is explored by various characters in the play. Unlike, the previous themes, it involves more characters such as the nurse and the tutor, who are symbols of sympathy for Medea. “Poor woman! Has she not stopped crying yet?”
The first group of people presented to us in the play are of a lower class, compared to Medea- the Tutor and the Nurse. Unlike the other characters who oppose her status in the society, these two characters condone her feelings of anger and regret. They are therefore like her only companions as Jason has abandoned her. “It was too much, I couldn’t bear it”, says the nurse as if it were her that is suffering from such betrayal. Perhaps, this is what becomes of the lower class, as they get attached to their masters who employ them and have no form of power to influence the disasters that take place.
Finally, Medea makes evident, a running theme of class in the play. She is obviously of a very high class, as she is the wife of a King. This thereby contributes the power she is entitled to in the society. It is however difficult to pin point exactly where Medea stands, as she is obviously respected in the society, but not shown to be of great importance to some characters, such as Creon due to the fact that she is banished by him. “I have made my mind up, you are my enemy”. Her barbaric background also contributes to her high class as she is a Princess. In my opinion, I do not believe that the Greeks would have recognized her class but not necessarily respected her character due to those grounds. I personally don’t think this was particularly reflected in the play by Euripides, rather, he concentrated on building her character on more intellectual grounds such as her cleverness.
In conclusion, I think Euripides is able to explore these themes in great detail giving us different opinions which maybe sometimes ambiguous, as we are not able to know what he is thinking. This, in my opinion is what makes the play a very well written work of art and I think it also would have appealed to the Greeks.

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