The world of Euripides' tragedies was one that espoused ancient ideas of religion. The belief in ancient legends that formed subject material for the tragic drama had passed. The crowd that attended the theater at this time did so as a sort of religious celebration.
It was under these circumstances that Euripides had to bury what might have been his true beliefs, and instead replace them with ideas that would relate to his audience. This did not mean that Euripides had to forgo his beliefs entirely. Rather, this meant that Euripides had to include his own interpretations of these ancient beliefs in a way that was not outwardly corrupt or blasphemous. By exploiting the human dimension of understanding beliefs, Euripides was able to insert in his tragedies the ideas of satire that would allow the audience to think, but not overtly counter their established beliefs.
The brand of satire used by Euripides can be defined as exposing contradictions and problems. This type of satire is not obligated to solve the contradictions and problems, but rather to just expose them. For the most part, the playwright Aristophanes is best known for this use of satire, but this type of satire, as used by Aristophanes, was mostly political. This can be seen in Aristophanes play The Knights, where there was a direct personal attack on the then powerful Cleon. Alfred Bales suggests in Drama: Its History, Literature, and Influence on Civilization”, that this is an example of the most “scathing and vigorous satires in literature” (Bales 59).
It is also important to note that according to Dana Ferrin Sutton in the book Ancient Comedies: The War of Generations, the ancient Greeks of Euripides time had no word for satire. The terms that were mostly associated with this type of exposition were cynicism and parody (Sutton 56).
Under the circumstances, developing a play that would outwardly hold the audience's traditional beliefs while at the same time forcing them to understand the inconsistencies in them was the true art of Euripides satire. This brand of Euripides satire can be seen and exposed in many of his tragedies that survive today.
Although this interpretation of Euripides satire is not inclusive, there is many examples of it throughout his plays. The focus of this analysis is limited to only a handful of the 18 or 19 plays of Euripides that survive today, and is limited to correctly interpreting the ideas and understanding how they correlated to satire.
Appropriately, I think the first look at Euripides brand of satire should be from Medea as translated by John Davie. It is important to understand that this play is being interpreted, because this was the first Euripides play I was exposed to. While reading the play I began to detect a certain style that Euripides was using that I could not quite understand. I was not sure if it was sarcasm, irony, or perhaps even satire.
In the play when Jason enters and begins his conversation with Medea, at line 864,...