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A recent article by R. P. Winnington-Ingram elucidates Euripides' penchant for clever "jokes" at the expense of the literary traditions or the stage conventions within which he worked. While Winnington-Ingram voices some trepidation that other critics may find his identification of such levity in a great tragedian "repugnant or even abhorrent," his assessment of these witticisms, which (in a play on the word's current and etymological meanings) he dubs "sophisticated," has offered insight into Euripides' artistry and inspired further study along similar lines, notably by Geoffrey Amott.

A keynote of the examples of cleverness noted by these scholars is their self-conscious and essentially anomalous calling of attention to tragic traditions or conventions which--to be serious--must be kept silent; thus Winnington-Ingram notes the wry humor involved when Elektra assumes that the intended murder of Aigisthus must have failed, "For where are the messengers?" Winnington-Ingram characterizes such bits of humor as clever novelties aimed at an Aristophanes or an Alcibiades, or at the younger, more restless, more sophistically oriented population in general.

I will suggest here that just such a witticism occurs in Euripides' Medea, in a dark and serious moment and so thoroughly "tucked away" that it might not be readily appreciable even by an Agathon in the audience.


Published in American Journal of Philology, Vol. 108, Iss. 1 (1987).

Medea37_Note.pdf (315 kB)


American Journal of Philology



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