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Psychiatry and the plays of Euripides.

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In this study, the nineteen extant plays of Euripides are reviewed from a psychiatric point of view. This has not been done before, as few classicists have an intimate knowledge of modern psychology and psychiatry, and few psychiatrists have the requIsIte classIcal background. Two major areas of interest emerge: l.(a) The clinical descriptions of major psychiatric disorders found in some of these plays are astonishingly accurate by modern standards. The main examples are to be found in the Herakles (epilepsy), Hekabe (manic-depressive disease), Orestes (paranoia) as well as in some of the minor characters in other plays, particularly Kassandra (Troades, hysteria), Andromache (Troades, anankastic personality), Helene (Troades, histrionic-narcissistic personality), Hermione (Andromache, parasuicide), Euadne (Hiketides, schizophrenia). l.(b) Equally good descriptions can be found of characters which could nowadays not be regarded as suffering from a mental "disease" but are decidedly unusual and within the field of psychiatric endeavour. They are the main characters of the Medeia, Elektra and Hippolytos. l.(c) The remainder of the plays, with the exceptions of the Kyklops and the Rhesos which are discussed separately, contain astonishingly modern studies of the psychological motivation of ordinary people. These are the phenomena of role playing (Alkestis), ambivalence and the causes of irrational behaviour (Iphigeneia among the Taurians) , the morality of slogans (Herakleidai), the fight for social status (Andromache), guilt feelings (Phoinissai) , the causes of violence and war (Hike tides), the basic psychology of politics (lphigenia in Aulis), the contrast of religious and everyday morality (Helene), the adolescent's struggle for social and religious integration (Ion) and the search for social and religious integration in the adult (Bakchai). 2. Based on the above it is proposed that Euripides' main interest in writing his plays was in the search for human motivation: why do people behave in the (often ridiculous) way in which they do? In this he differs from Aischylos and also from the ideas of Aristotle. The main interest of the thesis lies in the way that when the plays are viewed from this angle virtually all the passages which have been severely criticised in the past suddenly make perfect sense. Many parts of the plays have been dubbed inept, irrelevant, contradictory or put in for effect only. Seen from the psychiatric point of view they all fulfil vital functions in their respective plays. Choral odes are not detached embolima; epilogues really solve the psychological problems of the play; humorous, patriotic, xenophobic and sophistic passages all have their reasons. Where there are contradictions they invariably arise from the fact that different characters have different approaches, or frequently the same character is torn between two possible approaches. Euripides himself hardly ever makes a definite statement but allows his characters to put forward the various points of view and the audience is invited to judge. In the process the audience itself often becomes the butt of the playwright's condemnation for they are frequently inveigled by this past master of deceit into adopting a premature stance on various issues which is later shown to be foolish, immoral or plain ridiculous.


Thesis (Ph.D.)-University of Natal, 1994.


Theses--Classics., Euripides--Criticism and interpretation.