The Sea and Moral Relativism in Euripides'



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The Sea and Moral Relativism in Euripides' Andromache

Because of the lack of obvious unifying devices in the plot of Euripides' Andromache, scholars have tended to at broader features such as language, rhetoric, and the role of the gods. The role of Thetis and her temple is one such feature (Allan 2000). Setting the play at the temple of Thetis leads to a broader emphasis on the sea and maritime language (Lee 1973); this can be connected with the chorus and all of the major characters. The sea becomes a liminal feature which encompasses the qualities of the natural world but also acts as a foil to the conflicted oikos inhabited by Hermione and Andromache. As such it draws the conflict from the household to the temple and the broader world (cf. Rehm 2002). Ultimately, however, the poet also juxtaposes this language with the terminology and argumentation of fifth-century philosophical discourse.


For Andromache maritime language presents a paradox: she must try to save herself by huddling "at the monument to the Sea-nymph's marriage" (46), but "the thousand ships" (161 χιλιόναυς) destroyed both Troy and Hector, and the son of Thetis of the sea (ἁλίας Θέτιδος) dragged Hector's body behind his chariot. Andromache was led to slavery ἐπὶ θῖνα θαλάσσας (110). Even the smallest droplet is tinged with Andromache's misfortune, as she "melts in tears like a spring gushing on a crag" (117 τάκομαι ὡς πετρίνα πιδακόεσσα λιβάς).
Hermione echoes Andromache's language of the shrine of the Sea-nymph (161), but uses it to preface her insults to her rival's character. These invectives appropriate philosophical terms and, in particular, the nomos-physis debate. Hermione describes Andromache's language as arrogance (164 φρονημάτων) and her behavior as the height of ignorance (170 ἐς τοῦτο ἀμαθίας). By serving as one of "two wives," Andromache is compared to πᾶν τὸ βάρβαρον γένος, who commit incest and murder and who have no νόμος (173-176; see Lee 1975 and Kovacs 1980; cf. Conacher 1998).
Menelaus uses similar arguments against Andromache, telling her to "learn" (μάθῃς) not to show hubris against the free (433-4). Andromache's response, "Did you get your wisdom (σοφά) on the banks of the Eurota?" (437), receives its own echo in Menelaus's later "solution" to his accusation that Peleus is not σοφός (645) or showing sense (646 φρονεῖν) in his regard for "a foreign woman" (649): he should drive her beyond the Nile or Phasis (650-1) (Boulter 1966).
The chorus, meanwhile, makes even closer associations between maritime language and broader intellectual ideas. They describe the stasis resulting from double kingship (473 δίπτυχοι τυραννίδες) through the metaphor of a ship with two competing helmsmen (479-485), and they tell Andromache to leave the Sea-nymph's temple (129, 135) and to know (136 γνῶθι) that she is a slave among foreigners.
In Greek philosophy, however, water is not only associated with intellectual dialogue on the basis of contiguity or characterization, but is important as an element in its own right. Although Euripides does not make this connection per se, Hermione, wishing to commit suicide after the discovery of her plot against Andromache, alludes to methods —fire, jumping into the sea or a forest, or being blown to the winds, in addition to the sword and noose— that encompass the four major elements posited by Empedocles, who himself leapt into a volcano. (See Dillon 2004 re Euripides and Empedocles elsewhere.) Finally, water provides both Thetis's own origin and a home for both her and Peleus at the end of the play. In fact, Peleus is the only human character who consistently uses water imagery in a positive sense. He, too, is a veteran of a naval expedition, in this case with the Argonauts. Not surprisingly, Peleus' core personality is not disrupted by the Trojan war, and his finest use of contemporary language, in a passage condemning the bad custom (κακῶς νομίζεται) among the Greeks to reward the general and not the whole army (693-698), is consistent with Athenian democratic sentiments.
Bibliography:
Allan, William. The Andromache and Euripidean Tragedy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Barlow, Shirley A. The Imagery of Euripides: A study in the dramatic use of pictorial

language. London: Methuen & Co., 1971.
Boulter, Patricia N. "'Sophia' and 'Sophrosyne' in Euripides' Andromache." The Phoenix 20.1 (1966) pp. 51-58.
Conacher, Desmond. Euripides and the Sophists. London: Duckworth, 1998.
Diggle, James. Euripides, Fabulae. Vol I. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983.
Dillon, John. "Euripides and the Philosophy of His Time." Classics Ireland 11 (2004).

18 Sept. 2010.


Lee, K.H. "Euripides' Andromache: Observations on Form and Meaning." Antichthon 9 (1975) pp. 4-16.

Kovacs, Paul David. The Andromache of Euripides: An Interpretation. Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1980.


----------. Euripides' Andromache. 18 Sept. 2010.
Rehm, Rush. The Play of Space: Spatial Transformation in Greek Tragedy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002.
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