Euripides falsely accused of hating women

Euripides

Euripides was an eminent and prolific fifth-century Athenian tragic playwright. Long after he was buried, he was accused of hating women. Those accusations were largely invented from fanciful readings of his plays. Euripides actually was a conventional elite man who ultimately bowed to the dominant interests of gynocentric society.

According to an ancient biographer, Euripides spent his days alone in a cave by the sea. In short, he spent time in a man cave. That’s normal, healthful, and important to men. The ancient biographer, however, pathologized masculine behavior:

His looks were melancholic, thoughtful, and severe; he hated laughter and he hated women. [1]

Just because a man spends time in a man cave doesn’t mean that he hates laughter and hates women.

Euripides was so conventional that he not only married, but married twice. Euripides experienced men’s vulnerability to cuckolding:

They say that after he married Mnesilochus’ daughter Choirile and realized that she was unfaithful, he first wrote the play Hippolytus, in which he exposes women’s immorality, and then he divorced her.

Greek tragedies are filled with instances of men’s immorality. No one would invent a biographical explanation for a playwright “exposing men’s immorality.” Gynocentric society suppresses public discussion of women’s immorality. Euripides was falsely accused of hating women because he didn’t pedestalize women.

Euripides’s second marriage was nearly the death of him. Euripides offered sage advice to his ex-wife’s new husband:

When her next husband said: “She is chaste in my household,” Euripides replied: “You’re a fool if you think the same woman will be chaste in one man’s house but not in another’s.” [2]

Apparently not prudently evaluating chastity before he married again, Euripides again faced the risk of forced financial fatherhood for some other man’s child. Ancient biographers used this misfortune to slander Euripides:

He {Euripides} took a second wife, but when he found she tended to be unchaste, he was more readily encouraged to slander women. The women planned to kill him and to come to his cave, where he spent his time writing. [3]

A twice-divorced man retreats to his man cave to seek consolation in writing. Is that a fair reason to smear him with an accusation of slander? Is that a fair reason for women to plan to kill him? Scholars today claim that Matheolus slandered women. That’s merely a common tactic to crush dissent. With Euripides, silencing him wasn’t enough. They also sought to kill him.

Euripides ultimately fell in line and served the ideological interests of gynocentric society. Women threatening gang violence intimidated him:

The women ganged up against him at the Thesmophoria and assembled in a group at the place where he happened to be resting. They spared him, first because of his poetry and then because he promised never again to say anything bad about them. For example, this is what he said about women in the Melanippe: “In vain men shoot their criticism at women. In vain men’s blame, like an empty bowshot, twangs at women and speaks ill of them. Women are better than men! I shall prove it” and so on. [4]

In short, Euripides became a female supremacist spewing sexist anti-men bigotry. That sort of bigotry is so common today that few recognize it while they slander others as women-haters.

While medieval anti-meninism is finally attracting scholarly attention, the roots of anti-meninism go back much farther than the Middle Ages. Like false accusations of rape, false accusations of hating women have a long and sordid history. Falsely accusing Euripides of hating women indicates societies that understand neither themselves nor brilliant, tragic literature.[5]

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Notes:

[1] Life of Euripides, TrGF 5.1 T 1, from Greek trans. Lefkowitz (2012) p. 154. Subsequent quotes are from id. pp. 154-5, unless otherwise noted. The Life of Euripides is associated with surviving Greek manuscripts of Euripides’s tragedies.

[2] Euripides discovered that his wife was having an affair with “O best and darkest Cephisophon,” their “home-bred slave.” He couldn’t persuade her to end that affair, so he left her. Id. p. 155.

[3] In his play Thesmophoriazusae, Aristophanes gives details on the Confederacy of Women’s plot to kill Euripides. A character in one of Euripides’ Melanippe plays stated: “Except for my mother I hate all womankind.” Fr. 498, from Greek trans. Collard & Cropp (2008) p. 605. That character’s utterance seems to have been attributed to Euripides personally. Some women today hate all men, including their fathers.

[4] In this quote, the first part is from the second-century BGC biographer Satyrus of Callatis. Id. p. 87, p. 195, n. 12. The quote survives in a fragment with additional text that includes a men-disparaging claim and a NAWALT assertion:

no house deprived of a woman can be tidy and prosperous. … Why then should womankind be denigrated? Will the vain censures of men not cease and those excessively thinking if just one is found to be bad, to condemn all women alike? For my part I will make a distinction: on the one hand nothing is worse than a bad woman, but on the other nothing excels a good one in goodness. The natures of each are different.

Euripides, attributed to Melanippe, fr. 494 in Collard & Cropp (2008) pp. 595-7. From the same source, fr. 493 further defends women:

Hatred of womankind is a most grievous thing. Those who have fallen bring disgrace on those who have not, and the bad ones share their censure with the good; and where marriage is concerned men think they have no integrity at all.

Id. p. 595. Athenaeus records that Euripides liked women:

The poet Euripides also liked women. Hieronymus in his Historical Commentaries, for example, says the following: When someone remarked to Sophocles that Euripides hated women, Sophocles said: “In his tragedies he does; but he certainly likes women in bed!”

Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 13.557, from Greek trans. Olson (2010) p. 235. In the context of banter between Euripides and Sophocles, Deipnosophists 13.604f refers to Euripides forcefully kissing a courtesan and having sex with another man’s wife.

[5] Recent scholarship has tended to present Euripides as a champion of women. See, e.g. Long (2015), which describes women in ancient Greece as powerless and oppressed. Was Candaules’s queen really powerless? Even slave girls had astonishing power over caliphs in the ancient Islamic world. More generally, claims that Euripides hated women and claims that Euripides was a champion of women share a common, telling feature: they’re both centered on women.

[image] Bust of Euripides. Marble, Roman copy after a Greek original from c. 330 BGC. Preserved in Vatican Museums, Museo Pio-Clemntino, Sala delle Muse, Inv. 302. Thanks to Marie-Lan Nguyen and Wikimedia Commons.

References:

Collard, Christopher, and Martin Cropp, trans. 2008. Euripides. Fragments: Aegeus-Meleager. Loeb Classical Library 504. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Lefkowitz, Mary R. 2012. The lives of the Greek poets. 2nd. Edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Long, Roderick T. 2015. “Ancient Greece’s Legacy for Liberty: Euripides on the Woes of Woman.” Column, December 31, 2015 at Libertarianism.org

Olson, S. Douglas, ed. and trans. 2010. Athenaeus VI, the learned banqueters. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

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