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(Disaster ensues when Phaedra falls for her stepson!)
The gods will have their play, and we piteous humans must suffer in double jeopardy. First, vice will eventually bring destruction, and yet we are by nature weak and prone to vice. Second, everyone is subject to fate, which is not kinder to good people than to bad. So we are doomed—we cannot be virtuous as we want to be, and so we are in trouble; and yet even if we could be virtuous we would get smacked anyway by the vicissitudes of fate! Hence Euripides’ fist-waving at the gods… yet he manages to preserve some reverence. Artemis tells us that the pious are still much more highly regarded by the gods than the impious. When the impious person suffers, the gods nod “take that!”, whereas the faithful incur their favor, which can bring some benefit. So, given our sad lot in life, it is better to be suffering and good than suffering and evil. Or that is Euripides’ line anyway. In this play we see how this web of cosmic influences plays out in the life of a chaste and honorable man destined for greatness by rights, when (through no fault of his own) his stepmother takes an improper liking to him.
(A young man is thrown into the sweet agony of unrequited love for his beautiful new neighbor.)
Russian Beauty, by Konstantin Makovsky (1839-1915). This painting appears to be in a private collection. See Makovsky’s paintings at Wikiart.
Woldemar, a young man of sixteen, experiences the whirlwind of love descending on him for the first time, as he becomes acquainted with the beautiful and elegant Zinaida, the daughter of a princess, who has moved in next door. She enjoys a crop of suitors, and in her charming and carefree way pits them against each other. They make fools of themselves competing for her attention and smiles; but Woldemar is different, so awed he is in her presence. She is very kind towards him, and eventually gives him more attention than any other. He is enraptured, able to think of nothing else, obsessed with thoughts and dreams of her. He is overcome with the pain of his unrequited feelings, and is blissful when with her, sent into reverie with every careless touch or soft look. In this experience he realizes the power of love, and the strong—even dangerous—grip it can have on a person. Meanwhile, although he pays little attention to it, his home life is unsettled, with his parents often arguing.