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Euripides Depicts People Accurately

Updated on April 27, 2015

Helen

It is said that Sophocles’ alleged dictum was, “I depict people as they ought to be, Euripides depicts people how they are.” Whether or not Sophocles said this or not is a moot point, but the statement itself is correct. Euripides does depict people how they are. The perfect example of this is the character of Helen in “The Women of Troy.”

In the drama “The Women of Troy” we see Helen as she truly is: a clever and seductive temptress. Helen is the epitome of selfishness as she only thinks in terms of herself. Helen uses her beauty and wit to secure what she wants. She is second only to the “Whore of Babylon”. In the drama “The Women of Troy” we witness a conversation between Menelaus and Helen. It is through this conversation that we begin to see the true character of Helen.

Helen begins by stating the first of many reasons why these circumstances are not her fault. She says that the first cause of this war should fall to Hecabe because she gave birth to Paris. Next, Helen blames Priam for not heeding the warnings of dreams and killing his own son. She blamed Aphrodite for using her as a bribe. Rather than accepting responsibility for any role in the war and its aftermath Helen lists all the reasons why everyone else is to blame. Helen, however, refuses to even entertain the thought that she might have something to do with her current situation.

Helen uses her wit to project herself as being not guilty. Her arguments are strong and on the surface totally true. This fact on top of her overwhelming beauty makes for a very compelling argument that Menelaus struggles to reject. Although he says one thing, it is obvious to the reader - and even Hecabe, that he will do another.

One should shed no tears after reading Helen’s speech to Menelaus. There was no sympathy to be felt. Here was a woman who watched thousands of men die all in her name, and Helen did nothing. She watched and did nothing.

Euripides shows us great insight into the character of Helen. He looked at the story of the Trojan War and asked what kind of woman is Helen? How would Helen’s mind need to work in order for events to unfold as they did? Euripides describes Helen with such clarity and accuracy that no other playwright can top his portrayal of the woman who launched 1000 ships.

Euripides is a writer who wants to show us all who we really are. Not some ideal of who we should try to be, but instead a representation of what is inside of each of us. We should take his images of ourselves to heart, and see that the bad exists inside all of us just as much as the good. That it is an obligation of each individual to try to change the things we don’t like when we look, lest we suffer the fate of the tragic characters he so eloquently represents to us in his tragedies.

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