Euripides

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Plays by Euripides

Alkestis

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

When Apollo was exiled for nine years from his Olympian home, he found shelter and hospitality at the palace of King Admetus. To pay him back, Apollo offers Admetus the chance to live beyond the day that fate has decided he will die. There is only one catch: when death comes to get him, Admetus must find a willing substitute.

Having been rebuffed by his aging (but not ailing) father, Admetus finds a willing proxy in his wife, the eponymous Alkestis, who is brought to Death's door, indeed is led through it, only to be rescued by Admetus's old friend Herakles, who wrestles with Death, and wins.

In his introduction, the translator J. Michael Walton writes: 'as a play that is ahead of its time Alkestis has no parallel in the classical world. It looks forward not only to the more domestic tragedy of later Euripides, but also to the social comedy of Menander and to the romances of the Hellenistic, and later, the Roman, world... Euripides may have changed the face of tragedy. He also reinterpreted and gave a new face to the expectations of comedy.'

Andromache

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Euripides' Andromache is an Athenian tragedy dramatising Andromache's life as a slave, years after the events of the Trojan War, and her conflict with her master's new wife, Hermione. It was probably written during the early years of the Peloponnesian War, and first performed c.425 BC.

This translation, by Marianne McDonald and J. Michael Walton, was prepared from the Oxford Text edited by James Diggle, and was published in 2001 by Nick Hern Books in its Drama Classics series.

The play's action is set several years after the sacking of Troy. Andromache, once the wife of Trojan hero Hector, now has a child by Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles. She has to live as a slave, a position that is aggravated when Neoptolemus marries Hermione, the daughter of King Menelaus and Helen. Hermione is unable to get pregnant, however, and blames everything on Andromache. Andromache has taken refuge at the shrine of Thetis, the sea-nymph and mother of Achilles, and there ensues a spiralling series of revenge plots before Thetis finally appears, ex machina, to resolve things.

In their introduction to the Nick Hern Books edition, McDonald and Walton write: 'This is a play about passion, jealousy and murder. It shows vividly the problems that arise when one man shares his bed with two women, one of whom happens to be his wife. ... [It] illustrates duplicity and treachery, besides the precariousness of good fortune. If there is a moral message it is that people should try to behave with decency, whatever their circumstances.'

Bacchae

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Bacchae is one of the nineteen surviving plays by Euripides, a tragedy written during his final years in exile in Macedonia. It was first performed in 405 BC, a few months after his death.

The play's action is based on the Greek myth of King Pentheus of Thebes and his mother Agave, and their punishment by the god Dionysus. At the beginning of the play, Dionysus appears before the royal palace of Thebes and proclaims that he has come to avenge his rejection by the people of the city. He intends to make all Thebes accept him, beginning with the women, whom he has filled with ecstasy and driven into the mountains. He disappears to join them there, on Mount Kithairon, where (as the Chorus recounts) his ecstatic worshippers, the Bacchae ('bacchants') or Maenads ('ecstatic ones'), dance in his honour. When Pentheus tries to have Dionysos arrested, the prophet Teiresias counsels him to accept the god, but Pentheus sends his guards nonetheless. Dionysos willingly accepts his arrest, only to instigate his horrific revenge, ending with the murder of Pentheus at the hands of the Bacchae.

This version of Bacchae is a translation by Frederic Raphael and Kenneth McLeish. In their introduction to the play, they write: 'the play’s continuing relevance, 2500 years after it was written, not to mention its extraordinary ability simultaneously to exhilarate and discomfort anyone who takes it even remotely seriously, reflects not merely Euripides’ mastery but also the bitter continuity in human life of political and religious tyrannies and absurdities of every kind'.

The Bacchae

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

One of the greatest of all Greek tragedies – savage, comic and intensely lyrical – The Bacchae powerfully dramatises the conflict between the emotional and rational sides of the human psyche. The magnetic young Dionysus – icon, hedonist, god – returns home with his cult of female followers to exact his revenge, unleashing the full force of female sexuality on the city.

David Greig's version of The Bacchae premiered at the King's Theatre, Edinburgh, in August 2007 in a co-production between the Edinburgh International Festival and the National Theatre of Scotland.

Cyclops

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Silenus, father of the Satyrs, has been trapped on Sicily, held prisoner by the Cyclops son of Poseidon, Polyphemus. Silenus is despondent: his captive fate was found when seeking to rescue another god, Dionysus. Instead, it is Silenus and his sons who are prisoners, of a much lesser, more ravenous god.

The potential for rescue comes when Odysseus, the hero strategist of the Trojan War, washes up on the Sicilian shore. His men too get captured, but rather than bemoan his fate, Odysseus connives to destroy the Cyclops once and for all, using wit, wisdom and plenty of wine.

A celebration of the liberating effects of alcohol, Cyclops is a Euripidean take on the Homeric myth, full of jokes, tricks and stagey comedy.

Elektra (Euripides)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Elektra is a story of revenge, of children on their mother, and the grief and fury of a woman when her filial duties are split down the middle.

When the victorious King Agamemnon returns from Troy, carting his new mistress Cassandra in tow, his wife Clytemnestra murders him. This initial act of revenge sparks off a long held grudge, kindled in the exiled and presumed dead Orestes, twin brother of Elektra.

Just like Sophocles, Euripides was inspired by Aeschylus's great tragic cycle, the Oresteia. Unlike Sophocles (whose focus was a battered and vilified victim of circumstance, fully justified in seeking revenge), Euripides paints a character with a more confused mindset, one who cannot be fully trusted, not even by her returning twin and brother-in-arms. Euripides allows no easy judgement, forcing his audience to pick over the bones of a moral dilemma, as bloody as it is tragic.

Herakles

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

While the great Greek hero Herakles was in the underworld completing his divinely ordained labours, above ground, a rival king, Lykos, was busy plotting to murder Herakles' living mortal family. Instead, Herakles' returns just in time to kill Lykos.

This is a short-lived redemption, however; after the murder of Lykos, Herakles' descends into madness and murders his own offspring, a madness initiated by an angry Hera, the goddess protector of Lykos.

Only the appeal of the legendary king of Athens, Theseus, can bring Herakles back to sanity again, a sanity he reaches only to be realise his actions and be faced with a lifetime of heartbreak and an empty future ahead of him.

In his introduction, editor J. Michael Walton writers that 'Herakles is the most underrated of all Greek tragedies. Translator Kenneth McLeish adds: 'As so often, Euripides offered his audience an experience on two entirely different levels: a fast-moving, continuously intriguing theatrical entertainment, and an examination of knotty philosophical and theological questions, teased out in irony and paradox, and (characteristically) left at the end of the play unresolved.’

Herakles' Children

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Herakles' Children is described in the introduction by translator Kenneth McLeish as dramatising 'a section of the Herakles myth which seems to explain how initial enmity between Athens and the Pelopennesian state of Argos was, at some remote period of mythological time, replaced by alliance. After Herakles' ascension from earth to Olympos, his mortal rival King Eurystheus of Argos (who had devised his Labours) was afraid that Herakles' sons might grow up to contest the throne. He harried them from town to town across Greece, demanding that they be returned to Argos on pain of invasion. The play takes place after the children, led by Herakles' aged mother Alkmene and his equally decrepit nephew and former companion Iolaos, take refuge in Marathon, a town in Attika not far from Athens.'

The Argives then declare war on Marathon and the Athenians, a war whose victory is underwritten for the Athenians by the decision of Herakles' daughter Makaria, to allow herself to be sacrificed to the gods.

The subsequent defeat of the Argives, and the punishment of Eurystheus, defines the second half of the play, which was first produced some time between 430 and 427 BC, contemporaneously with Euripides' other great plays Hippolytos and Medea.

Hippolytos (trans. McLeish)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Euripides' play tells the story of Phaidra's love for her step-son Hippolytos, Theseus's illegitimate son, a man so devoted to his chastity and the cult of Artemis that he spurns the goddess of love Aphrodite. To return the insult, she condemns him via his stepmother's passion, causing the subsequent fall of the royal house.

In his introduction, editor J. Michael Walton writes: 'However priggish or puritanical Hippolytos may seem, Aphrodite's wholesale destruction of the household is pre-planned and calculated to affect everyone within range. Nor is this some sudden whim. It is two years since she contrived for Phaidra first to see and fall in love with Hippolytos. At the far end of the play, Theseus receives news from the Messenger of his son's accident and asks for the dying Hippolytos to be brought in for him to gloat over. Before his attendants can fetch the litter Artemis appears to accuse Theseus of murdering his son. Despite her affection for Hippolytos, she confesses to declining to become involved because "We have an agreement in Heaven: Never interfere with other gods' decisions" (ll. 1328–9). The mortally injured Hippolytos is then carried in and a reconciliation engineered with Theseus. Artemis consoles Hippolytos in a desultory sort of way before leaving so as not to be defiled by having someone die in her presence. As a Parthian shot to confirm a general disdain for human affairs it is telling and chilling.'A play that at once cautions people not to disregard the strength of the divine, but also illustrates the futility of trying to second-guess its intention, Hippolytos is an astonishing and disturbing tragedy.

Hippolytus (trans. Wertenbaker)

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Furious that Prince Hippolytus will not worship her, Aphrodite, goddess of love, seeks revenge. Infecting Hippolytus' stepmother, Phaedra, with an overpowering desire for him, Aphrodite's retribution will sweep both prince and queen to a brutal end.

A secret torment

Storms through her

Tosses her into that black harbour

Death.

Timberlake Wertenbaker's translation of Euripides' tragedy Hippolytus premiered at Riverside Studios, London, in February, 2009 in a production by Temple Theatre.

Picture of Euripides

Euripides (484-406 BC) was a Greek dramatist. The last major tragic playwright of the classical world, he has also been called 'the first modern'.

Euripides was not highly successful in his lifetime, winning the first of only five victories at the Dionysia at the age of 43. By the end of the 19th century, however, Euripides was the most acclaimed Greek playwright. And, when the Royal Shakespeare Company presented a ten-play cycle The Greeks in 1980, seven of the works were by Euripides.

Only 17 of his 92 plays survive. These include Medea, The Bacchae and Electra. Euripides's innovations included the deus ex machina and the formal prologue. He used simple everyday language, bringing a new realism to the stage. Although contemporaries accused him of killing tragedy, he humanized drama by adding elements of sentiment, romance, and even comedy. He was the first to argue against the social inferiority of women, and the first to show women in love. He was also the first to explore such subjects as madness and repression.

A recluse, he shunned Athenian civil and social affairs, and in later life would sit all day in a cave on Salamis overlooking the sea as he contemplated and wrote 'something great and high'. In 408 BC Euripides was exiled for his unorthodox views to Macedonia, where he died less than two years later. According to tradition, when the Spartans arrived to burn Athens, they desisted after a reminder that this was Euripides's city.