The contemporary nation state of Greece was non-existent in Euripides’ day. The Greek civilization of the 5th century BCE only consist of countless of independent city states that were scattered in different parts of the Mediterranean region. Today, they are recognized as Greece and the Greek islands, western Turkey, Bulgaria, southern France, Sicily, and southern Italy. Even though these cities have dissimilar political forms, dialects, and many other local distinctions, they were bound together by shared culture.
In Euripides’ day, Sparta and Athens were two of the most powerful cities and deciphering abstract art is easier here than anywhere else. Together, they battled side by side to defeat the Persians before the birth of Euripides. When 5th century arrived, the two formed alliances with the rest of the Greek cities and slowly ruled over them. After that, there were a lot of conflicts and rivalries that happened. In 431 BCE, Medea was first created, several months before the Peloponnesian War between Sparta and Athens took place, which was the last remnant of Euripides’ life.
One thing about Athenians was they don’t go to the theatre solely for entertainment or visit it all throughout the year. In January they would have comedy festival and in March or April, a tragedy festival. Both of these are major state events that were strongly rooted to their religious belief. They called the tragedy festival as City Dionysia, in honor of the god of wine, agriculture, and grape vine: Dionysus. The festival was also held to celebrate the planting of crops and the arrival of spring. During the City Dionysia, three dramatists performed three tragedies and one satyr play.
The latter was performed last to offer a sort of relief – since it was a comedy – right after the three tragedies. The talents perform their plays on consecutive days and the rich patron would shoulder the cost of the production. There was also a panel of judges who decides which play wins and after that, a prize would be given to the winner.
Euripides was a devotee of the City Dionysia. As a matter of fact, he composed approximately 90 plays and only won the first prize for four times – the last one was a posthumous win. When Euripides’ Medea debuted, the Athenian theatre was jam packed with all the citizens and their guests. This was because it was the first time the theater hosted a festival right after the tragic winter storms.
Generally, the settings of Athenian tragedies were written to take place outside of Athens. This way, performers could call out local politics without worrying that it would appear as if they were directly criticizing the city. With regards to this, Euripides’ intentionally set Medea in Corinth. One aspect of the play that interests a lot of people was even if the actors are male, the majority of the main characters are female.
For thousands of years, people have debated over the meaning of the play. Recently, the debate circulated whether Euripides was a misogynist or feminist?
1st and featured image from https://pixabay.com/photos/musical-actor-actress-acting-2710927/
2nd image from https://pixabay.com/photos/opera-orchestra-music-concert-594592/