EURIPIDES ON RELIGION

This article was originally published in A Short History of the Drama. Martha Fletcher Bellinger. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1927. pp. 48-9.

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BESIDES criticism of men and political institutions, there was in Euripides evidence of independent ideas about religion. He despised necromancers and soothsayers, and had no belief in the "blind fate" which was seemingly such a reality to the earlier generation. He almost impeached the gods for making men their plaything. "Arrest the god, whose word we must obey . . . . His is the sin, not mine", one of his characters is made to say. Amphitryon rebukes Zeus himself, saying that justice and wisdom are not known to him. How different from the pious and devout words of Aeschylus! Coleridge says, "Euripides . . . is never so happy as when giving a slap at all the gods together." Such a judgment, however, tells less than the whole story. At his best, Euripides filled the framework of the myths with the ideas of personal integrity and the reign of the universal law. Even to his keen skepticism there was the Great Mystery and the Great Obligation.

"And is thy faith so much to give?
Is it so hard a thing to see,
That the Spirit of God, whate'er it be,
The Law that abides and falters not, ages long,
The Eternal and Nature-born--these things be strong?"

In the Hippolytus the chorus of Old Huntsmen sing:

"Surely the thought of the gods hath balm in it always, to win me far from my griefs; and a thought, deep in the dark of my mind, clings to a Great Understanding."

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