, Research Paper
Everybody learns something in life, but not everybody learns something about life. This principle is easily demonstrated in the two characters of Andromache, from the play ?Trojan Women?, and Admetos, form the ?Alcestis? by Euripidies. While Andromache learns something about the meaning of life and death, Admetos does not; or at least he does not understand anything about life and death. Understanding is the key part of learning, without which one cannot actually learn.
The need for understanding life is a pressing issue for the characters of Euripidies. Hecuba spends an entire play lamenting over her lack of understanding for life. She goes through many lines of the pain she has been caused in life, but she struggles when it comes to why this has happened. Could it be the fault of the Gods who have something against her? Or perhaps it was the because Hera was overcome by a hatred for beauty. None of these explanations are correct by the final scenes, but it is important to understand the thought process she went through, to reach the first conclusions, so that we can understand how Andromache came to her final conclusion: only through misery and strife do we learn to appreciate being alive; and the end of that life is not ours to decide, but the choice, rather, of the gods.
Although Andromache has had a husband and her people slain, she eventually comes to the realization that she must live and go on. What is life if we dwell only in our misery? Should pain and suffering really bring us to the point of death as is the idea suggested by Hecuba: ?best now to die in the ruins and flames of our Fathers? house? (lines 1282 and 1283). If the dead, as Andromache states, have no ?perception of evil feel no grief;? they cannot understand the suffering they went through because they don?t remember it. It can then be inferred that those who are dead have no happiness. In so saying, Andromache realizes that without life she would not have had the happiness to loose, nor would she have given up that happiness.
Andromache must suffer more in the play, when her baby boy, Astyanax, is taken from her and killed. She has lost at this point all strength to keep her son from execution, but even if she had not, it?s questionable whether or not she would have saved him. She states that: ?These are the gods who damn us to death.? To me this statement says that she lacks the strength to determine who should die and who should live. It?s not the choice of mortal men/women to condemn someone to death. It?s possible that she is saying that because we are so inclined to strive for happiness we are unable look beyond the suffering and thus being caught up in our own pain we can not determine who?s death is warranted. We, as mortals lack the ability to abstain from wallowing in our sorrow, and so we would have no one die in order to preserve the enjoyment of life. But as stated before, without suffering life would be with out joy, so someone, ?the gods,? must choose our deaths, in order to preserve the will to live (for the mortals). With this realization Andromache is able to go on and serve another master, because she understand that without this misery she would not have had such a life in which she had the happiness.
Admetos is setup to learn the a similar such lesson of life in the ?Alcestis.? He is given the power over determining his death if he can find someone who will die for him. His wife, Alcestis, volunteers to take his place. Life to him is something that can be that can be avoided no matter the cost. He is immediately willing to allow his wife to die instead of him, because he does not understand how valuable life really is, and until he suffers, he will not. He has had no suffering up to this point, having inherited a huge kingdom and even been granted a god for a slave. So why would he feel that he should die, he has lived a life of privilege: why not continue in the same fashion?
After her death, he goes into lamentation. It seems as if he begins understand the value of life, the very sanctity of which he has violated. The misery drives him to realize that life is nothing if you can?t have happiness, but he would not have realized that without the pain that the death of Alcestis brought him. Admetos did not appreciate the happiness he enjoyed in life until confronted with the death of a loved one, someone who needed not die at all. Alcestis, in her death, understands that life is what matters because, as she states, ?the dead are nothing.? What is life without death? What drives a person to live if they never need fear death?
Admetos would let his life essentially end when his wife dies, or so he promises to. His intentions do not control his actions, instead he entertains guests. He also breaks the promise to not have another woman enter the house, in doing so he mocks the sanctity of the life lost, and the happiness that went with it. Through his misery he ?learns? life is to be appreciated, but he does not understand this teaching due to his own ignorance. His realization is not reinforced due to his wife?s return, so the new found wisdom of life is lost and changes nothing.
The idea that one must suffer in order to be happy is a hard pill to swallow. The audience at the time might not have understood the magnitude of what Euripidies was trying to say: dwell not in pain and loss, but rather suffer though it and happiness will reign. Life is not without pain because pain is what makes life. We choose not our fate, our joys, or our pains. We live with the knowledge that bad things happen to good people, and that they can get over it and move on. To wallow in one?s pain is not to live because the happiness that life brings will not be recognized unless we realize that without the suffering we would not have happiness. Once analyzed, this principle of Euripidies?, holds much validity not matter if it is learned or not.