In this same time lived the great tragedians Æschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, who were also great religious teachers. Æschylus endeavored to interpret the higher truths of religion as he saw them, and to bring these truths into relation with morals. He dwelt on the nature of sin, the stain it brings to each succeeding generation, the punishment of wrongdoing which the divine justice must inflict, and on the disciplinary value of suffering. These characteristics of his tragedies are well illustrated by the “Prometheus”〖H. C., viii, 166ff.〗 and by the Trilogy.〖“Agamemnon,” “The Libation-Bearers,” and “The Furies,” H. C., viii, 7ff.〗 Sophocles emphasized the divine source of the higher moral obligations which transcend all human laws. He further taught that pain may have its place even when the sufferer is innocent; and that purity of heart, faith in Zeus, and acquiescence in the divine will are fundamental principles of righteous life. These doctrines underlie the “Antigone”〖H. C., viii, 255ff.〗 and “Œdipus the King.”〖H. C., viii, 197ff.〗 Euripides belongs in temper to the rational age which followed him. He had no consistent message to his time. On the whole he contributed to the rejection of the old Olympic religion, but at the same time he constantly stirred men to ask fundamental questions about life. In his “Hippolytus”〖H. C., viii, 303ff.〗 he shows his chaste hero brought to death because he will not yield to the goddess of love, and thus the poet belittles the sacred tradition; in “The Bacchæ”〖H. C., viii, 368ff.〗 he exalts enthusiasm and inspiration above reason, not, however, without a certain cynicism at the end.

From the close of the fifth century philosophy began to take the place of the traditional religion for thinking men; yet philosophy did not break with the religious sentiment of the time. Eventually the spirit of individualism and cosmopolitanism destroyed men’s faith in the state religions, and although the ancient rituals continued to the end of antiquity, they never regained the position which they had in the sixth and fifth centuries B. C.

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