From the Publisher
"Here Euripides stands, in vigorous English versions that fully do him justice. The most modern of the Greek tragedians has found a compelling modern form."—Robert Fagles
"A boon for classicists and general readers alike. For the reader who comes to tragedy for the first time, these translations are eminently 'accessible.'. . . For the classicist, these versions constitute an ambitious reinterpretation of traditional masterpieces."—Boston Book Review
"Directness, vivid imagery, and rhetorical music prevail in different cadences."—San Francisco Chronicle
"Don't look for the wild and woolly—these were put together by wordsmiths. . . . But they are a far cry from some of the stodgier translations."—Washington Post
"The 12-volume set will offer readers new verse translations of the complete surviving tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, as well as the surviving comedies of Aristophanes and Menander. The complete line of Greek theater classics has not been offered to readers since 1938."—Publishers Weekly
Read an Excerpt
APHRODITE, goddess of love, also called Cypris
ARTEMIS, virgin goddess of hunting
HIPPOLYTUS, son of Theseus
NURSE of Phaedra
PHAEDRA, wife of Theseus, stepmother of Hippolytus
THESEUS, king of Athens and Troezen
CHORUS of Troezen women
(Statue of Aphrodite, left; statue of Artemis, right; palace door,
center. Choral space between audience and stage. Aphrodite
enters from her image.)
Everyone knows me. I'm Cypris, the goddess.
Sex and desire, my specialties, draw men
helpless from Pontus to Heracles' Pillars.
Those that delight in me, I can reward them;
those that detest me will harvest my hatred.
Even immortals get caught in my soft snares.
Goddesses love it when worshipers gather.
Listen: I'll prove that this very hour.
There is a fellow, King Theseus' young son,
huntsman Hippolytus, lover of horses,
born of an Amazon lady in Athens.
Grandfather Pittheus raised the boy here in
Troezen because of his unmarried mother.
Hates me, this fellow. The thought of me sickens.
Hates love's bed, scorns pleasures of marriage,
worships instead prim Artemis, huntress,
Phoebus' sister and Zeus' proud daughter;
says she's the sacredest thing in the heavens.
Never can leave her, adores her, his maiden.
There with his dogs hunts beasts in the forest,
he and his she-spirit blessing each other.
Why should that bother me? Why should I mind that?
Well, my Hippolytus, you shall pay dear, dear.
All is prepared, and the path lies open.
Not that I'll work very hard at it, mind you.
Oh, it was years ago now when it started.
Theseus, bringing a sexy new consort,
Phaedra dear, home to his kingdom in Athens,
thought: now what of Hippolytus, young boy
got on that Amazon lady I mentioned?
That's when he sent him to grandfather Pittheus
here to be raised as the ruler of Troezen.
But, as it happened, he went back to Athens
once, to take part in the mysteries held there.
Phaedra caught sight of him, heart in her throbbing
shamefully: she was the wife of his father,
she, proud ladyship, gripped in a raging
criminal lust for him. That was my doing.
Then, before coming to Troezen herself, she
built me a shrine on a storm-lashed headland,
visible here in the city, and called it,
"Love from afar," for Hippolytus: wishes.
("Goddess, be seated!" our aftertimes call it.)
Meanwhile Theseus, dealing with uncles,
shed much blood, so he took a vacation,
hoping for calm, and he moved his young family
here, where Hippolytus lives. Here Phaedra
wastes away, stung by her furious longings,
dies of them, agonized; dares, though, no word
breathe of it, guiltily hoarding her sickness.
Terrified servants in wonderment whisper.
Ah, but the truth of it's sure to get out soon,
Theseus hear of it ... that I will see to.
Oh then loudly he'll cry to Poseidon,
call down curses the Sea God promised,
down on that hateful Hippolytus, sweep him
deep under earth ... poor Phaedra, devoted ...
Oh what a pity! for she will die also,
nevertheless with her name unsullied;
still, she must die. How else can my proud foes
learn that it's most unwise to insult me?
Look there: Theseus' boy is approaching,
beautiful man, and his hunting is over,
lordly Hippolytus. Best that I leave now.
Followers come with him, raising their clamor,
filling the day with his Artemis ditties.
Hasn't a clue that the Underworld's waiting.
This day's light won't end till it ends him.
(Exit. Enter Hippolytus and huntsmen.)
Sing of her, sing of her,
sing of sweet Artemis,
Zeus' great daughter
cares for us ever.
Lady, lady, most holy,
Zeus' great daughter,
joy to you, joy to you,
daughter of Zeus and of Leto,
fairest of maidens
high in the heavenly
courts of your father
fairest of all on Olympus.
Lady, this wreath from an untouched meadow,
picked for you, woven with my own fingers,
where no shepherded flocks, no farmer's
plow has invaded, but only the bees in the springtime
frequented, spirit of reverence tilled it,
coaxed from the nearby stream sweet waters:
men who have learned things, dominant sure ones,
they have been left out, they have no place here.
Untaught modesty gathers your flowers,
leaving those impure spirits excluded.
Queen of my being, accept this wreath now,
meant for your glorious hair, all golden.
I among mortals alone, great goddess,
speak with you, hear you alone in the darkness,
never have seen you, nor do I hope to.
Let life end for me as you began it!
Only the gods have the title of master:
would you consider a piece of advice, Prince?
Fool I would be, good friend, if I wouldn't.
One great rule for us mortals--you know it?
Know what? I don't understand what you're saying.
Men can get fall of themselves, lack friendship.
Right. People full of themselves will deserve that.
And your relaxed ones tend to be charming?
Definitely, and it costs them nothing.
SERVANT (pointing to the sky)
There among gods, things also are like that?
Doubtless. We copy immortals, so yes, friend.
Furious goddesses, Prince, we should placate?
Which goddess? Tell me, and watch what you're saying.
SERVANT (pointing to the statue of Aphrodite)
This goddess standing right here now, Cypris.
That one chastely I greet from a distance.
Still, though, terrible, glorious is she.
Bedtime goddesses, friend, you can keep them.
Honor all goddesses, or you'll regret it.
Some choose one goddess, others another.
Luck to you, Prince, I'm afraid you may need it.
Inside, followers! Look to our supper!
After a good hunt, eating's a pleasure.
You there, rub down my horses, and when we've
eaten our fill, we'll go chariot riding.
I say, Joy to you, Cypris, stay far off.
We say, young fools need not be mimicked.
We who must serve in humility, humbly
worship you, Cypris, and beg of you, dear one,
try to forgive youth's follies, forgive him.
Goddesses ought to be wiser than mortals.
(Exeunt. Enter Chorus of Troezen women.)
Cliff in the mountains,
flowing with water
far from the ocean,
fair to be scooped up,
filling our pitchers,
there a companion,
washing our garments,
spread them for drying,
warm on the rock face--
there I heard news of my Queen.
there in her bedroom
three long days now,
nothing to nourish
poor wracked body,
golden hair shrouded:
what secret grieving
drives her life's voyage,
soon to be harbored in death?
Is it the wildness of forests
deeply invades you,
oh my suffering queen?
Hecate's spirit or Pan's,
mad Corybantian revels,
honoring mountain-born Cybele?
Have you sinned against Artemis,
queen of all hunters?
Dear, are you tainted?
Is it the Lakelady
lost in the eddying surf?
Maybe your husband,
nobly born ruler of Athens,
ruled by his passions,
finds other women,
here in the palace perhaps
makes love far from your bed.
Maybe some sailor from Crete
new to our harbor has just brought
terrible news to our queen,
binding her fast to her bed,
lost in misfortunes.
Nature in woman lacks harmony.
Helpless she dwells among dangers,
helplessness ever in all things.
Birth's hard suffering wracks her,
her own great foolishness also.
Into my womb pierced birth pangs.
Artemis, hearing me calling,
came to me, quietly soothing.
Her I shall worship forever.
Look! It's her mistress' nurse in the doorway,
and she is bringing the queen into daylight.
Look there, look at her face all clouded!
Sweet sad body so ravaged, so altered!
Somehow, if we could just comprehend this ...
Oh, these wretched diseases that plague us!
What shall I do for you? What shall I not do?
Darling, there's light here, I've brought out your sickbed
just as you asked. Will you find some contentment
clear of the house? "Take me out!" you kept calling.
Now that you're out here, you still cry, find no
constancy anywhere. What do you want, dear?
Nothing, apparently, gives any pleasure.
Anything present displeases you, not there's
wished for. Better be sick than this nurse work!
Sickness is miserable, yes, and I know that.
That's just one thing. Nursing is two things:
feeling the trouble and hard labor also.
Nothing but misery, life for us mortals!
Oh, is there anything better beyond this?
All is in darkness, the poor sad light here
all that we have, this light that we cling to,
knowing not anything better behind it.
Stories we tell of it, nothing but stories.
Lift me up! Hold up my head! All my muscles
loosened and feeble, my beautiful arms, look!
Off with this hat! Can't bear it. It's heavy.
Off with it! Free my hair to my shoulders!
Easy, my dear one! Don't toss about so!
Sickness is easier, dear, when you're patient.
Think of your dignity! People can see you.
Suffering goes with mortality. Bear it!
Bring me to fresh springs high in the mountains.
Let me drink cool fresh water and lie there,
glad in the untouched meadows.
Child, this is madness; those people will hear you,
shocked that their queen's gone out of her senses.
Mountains! I must to the mountains. The pine groves
wait for me, hounds of the huntsmen, the wild beasts,
stags and the dog pack hurrying after,
huntsmen shouting, the javelin cocked back
right at my gold-haired ear, steel-pointed.
What strange feverishness, wild madness?
Hunting? And you such a delicate lady?
Fresh springs? Right by the city wall, flowing.
Drink there, dearie--as much as you thirst for.
Artemis, there in the salt lake splashing,
mistress of echoing hoofs, you must help me.
Oh, I shall run with you, taming wild horses.
Gyrating words, wild frenzy and madness.
Off to the hunt in the mountains, then horses
suddenly breaking in--where? By the seashore?
Dearie, my dearie, what god, what diviner
is there to tell us what fury has gripped you?
Miserable! Oh, I'm so miserable! Help me!
What have I done? Gone out of my senses.
Madness, some goddess has maddened me, helpless.
I'm so ashamed. Quick! Cover me quickly,
hide me away again, Oh, so unhappy.
Tears on my cheeks, I can feel them. They scald me,
torture me, tell what I lack ... moderation.
Bitter to know that, bitter to feel it.
Better to die, know no more ever.
There now, I've covered you. My old body,
may deep death soon cover that also.
(turns to the audience and Chorus)
This long living can teach many lessons.
Friendship, the feeling of one for another,
sweet wine mixed with the evenings--
not to be mixed too strong. Sweet affection--
never allow it to touch to the marrow.
Let such fetters be easily broken,
easily tightened and easily loosened.
it is not good that a bond pull deep as
mine for this woman, and many have said it:
thoughts too constant, too pure, can destroy us.
Men must attend to their health, must remember,
love may be sweet; moderation preserves us.
Gray-haired nurse to the queen, we can see poor
Phaedra's affliction, but don't understand it.
Kindly inform us. We wait for your answer.
Nothing to tell you; she'll tell me nothing.
Not one hint of her trouble's beginning?
Nothing, I tell you; obstinate silence.
Look at her body, though, agonized, wasted.
Three whole days not a morsel has eaten.
Then ... is it madness, her longing for death, then?
Yes, undoubtedly that's where she's headed.
Well, does her husband know anything of this?
No, she denies it, her sickness conceals it.
But he would guess with a glance at her wracked face.
He's not here. He's away from the city.
Well, you must force her, must press her to tell you
clearly what's making her poor wits wander.
Look, I've tried everything; nothing unlocks her.
Well, even now, though, I won't stop trying.
Judge me, you women; I have always been faithful,
haven't I, fighting my master's afflictions?
So, noble lady, dear child, let's be gracious,
kind; and let's soften that glowering at me.
Granted, I've not sympathetically listened
always before. So we'll try something new now.
If you are ill with a secret, some illness,
women are standing right here who can help you
if you will let them and tell them your troubles.
Say, so a doctor can make a pronouncement.
Nothing, dear? Can't you say anything, lady?
This grim silence is getting us nowhere.
Either I'm wrong and you can correct me,
or I am right and you should obey me.
Say something! Look at me! ... Oh, it's hopeless.
Woman, I've tried, I have labored, belabored ...
(to the Chorus)
We are as far from all knowledge as ever.
Now it's the same as before. Unmelted,
stiff she remains and refuses to hear me.
Queen, you should know this, though to my reasons
obstinate still as the circling ocean:
Dying is murderous, murders your children.
They, if you die, lose out in your kingdom.
One, by the Amazon rider who bore him,
bastard in birth, but a prince in his own mind,
one you know well, dear, Hippolytus--
So, that's touched you.
O nurse, don't kill me.
Oh, don't mention that man to me ever.
Well then; you've come to your senses ... and still you
don't mind killing yourself and your children?
Children? I love them. Other storms wrench me.
Is there a stain on your hands? Are they bloody?
Clean! It's my heart that is stained, blood-sodden.
Sorcery, then, from some enemy taints you?
Loved one! Ruins me! Neither one wills it.
Master? Has he done something against you?
Gods! Keep me guiltless in that man's presence!
What is this strange thing driving you deathward?
Leave me my wrongs. You're not wronged by them, are you?
NURSE (on her knees, clasping Phaedra)
Why are you doing this, driving me from you?
Why are you grasping me, grasping my hands now?
Knees too grasping. I won't let you go, dear.
Sorrowful nurse! You will find out my secret.
Losing you, what more terrible sorrow?
And you will kill me. My life is in silence.
Still you'll hide it, ignore my pleading?
Here in my shame, dear, I will have honor.
If there's honor here, let words tell it!
Oh, by the gods, let go of me, go, go!
Not till you tell me, not till I hear it.
Spoken! Your suppliant arms have compelled me.
I'll say no more; yours is the word now.
Miserable mother, your lust ... what horror!
That she adored that bull, even mated ...
Sister as well; Dionysus seduced her.
Why these tales of your relatives, darling?
I am the third who miserably perish.
Frightening words, where, where are they leading?
It's an inherited curse, not recent.
What's not recent? I still have heard nothing.
Oh can't you say them, the words? Do I have to?
Am I a prophet, to guess hidden secrets?
What is it? Poor men label it, passion.
Pleasure it brings, pain, braided together.
Pain, yes; that I have known, and I know it.
Ah! You're in love, child! Who is the man, then?
There is a man ... with an Amazon mother ...
Meaning ... Hippolytus!
You said it, not I.
What do you say, child? This will be my death.
No, woman; no one's alive who can bear this.
I ... live? Die rather, cursing the daylight,
cursing the bright hot sun there above us,
throw myself from a cliff, fall headlong.
I will be rid of life somehow, somehow
say to you all, Farewell!--and be ended.
(goes to the statue of Aphrodite)
Chaste people don't love vice, now do they?
Oh, but they do love it. You are no goddess,
Cypris; you're stronger than that, if it can be,
you who have ruined her, ruined this great house.
Hear, did you hear it,
hear the queen crying
cries of disaster?
Ears oughtn't hear that.
Die I would rather,
rather then hear that.
Sorry I am for her,
cry for her troubles.
Troubles destroy her.
You are the dead one,
dragging your ruin
into our daylight.
Now what will happen,
now what waits in your
long life's ruin?
What new horror
comes to this house now?
Yes, we can see now
how it will all end,
miserable Crete girl,
victim of Cypris,
born of your dark and
PHAEDRA (distracted, trying to make sense)
Listen to me, you women of Troezen,
watching me here on Hellas' headland:
often through night's long dark I've considered
how an existence like mine can be shattered.
Foolishness can't be the cause, for the victim's
often intelligent. Look at it this way:
Some know the good, apprehending it clearly,
just can't seem to achieve it, and others,
lazy perhaps, or they value some pleasure
other than honor ... and woman's existence,
so full of pleasures--amusements and gossip--
leisure, that curse of us. Shame! How it plagues us!
Shame is of two kinds: one, quite harmless ...
then, there's this other, this ruin of houses.
Can't I be clearer? I think so. I'll try to.
That one word, it has two different meanings.
Oh, have I said that? ... Here's my opinion.
Nothing will change it, no spell, no elixir.
From the beginning I'll say how my thoughts went.
Then, when the rage first entered me, how best
bear it, I wondered? Conceal it in silence!
That is the best thing clearly, for tongues are
not to be trusted. They criticize, slander,
and to their owners they bring much trouble.
Second, I thought I could fight love's fury,
nobly endure it, subduing the madness,
brave, overpower her, Cypris ... My failure
moved me at last to consider the third way.
Death is the best of all plans. Who disputes it?
Death leaves virtue intact. Let my good deeds
honor my memory, shames be forgotten.
Cursed be the deed and the passionate longing!
I am a woman, and men don't forgive that.
Vile to pollute it, the marital chamber,
bringing strange men there. Our high-born women
showed us the way. The nobility lead us;
they're the example. The lowly will follow.
Women who mouth chaste words, but in secret
revel in lechery--Oh, I detest that!
How can such guilty ones look at their husbands?
Answer me, Cypris! Oh, won't they in terror
hear in the darkness their roofbeams screaming?
Death will protect me from that, and my husband,
children. And may they have prosperous lifetimes,
nurtured in Athens, where free men flourish!
They will have strength from their much-honored mother.
How it enslaves stout men to remember
sins that their fathers and mothers committed!
One thing only in life gives mortals
strength to endure life: they have been decent.
Life shows, as to a girl in a mirror,
each of us, sooner or later, his vileness.
All must look at it. I shall not be there.
Ah, ah! Everywhere chastity valued,
felt to be beautiful. Isn't that lovely!
Mistress, the terrible news that you gave me
suddenly just now--dearie, it shocked me.
Now I can see I was foolish. With mortals,
second thoughts, now I can see, might be better.
Really, they strike us a lot, to my thinking,
passion-bolts flung by the Goddess. You love him.
What's there to marvel at? Many are like you.
Will you destroy your existence because love
doesn't seem proper? What profit's in that, dear?
Everyone loves, and it's nothing to die for.
Cypris attacks us; she's rough when resisted,
but when we yield, she becomes much milder.
How she mistreats them, the haughty and proud ones!
Flies through the air, then dips in the sea-wave.
Everything's born of her, everything living.
Hers is the urge and desire that brings forth
all earth's creatures, and all are her children.
Haven't you read in the books of the poets
how once for Semele great Zeus lusted?
Didn't the radiant Dawn once snatch up
Cephalus? These have been driven by love, all.
Think of them, happy up there in the heavens,
glad, though they're gods, to be conquered by passion.
Won't play along with this, will you? Your father
should have begotten you under a contract
not to obey love's laws--under different
gods set apart from the rest of us. Tell me:
How many men, dear, seeing their wives in
bright day carrying on with a lover,
close their eyes and pretend to see nothing?
How many fathers have pandered for sons, dear?
Wise men can tell you: dishonor kept hidden's
perfectly honorable, and I ask you:
whence comes man's strange itch for perfection?
Even the roofs of his houses are sloping.
Lost on your life's deep storm-tossed ocean,
think about swimming to shore. And consider:
here in our state of mortality, when your
good deeds outweigh evil, you're lucky.
Dearie, get rid of your thoughts, of that proud old
urge to outdo the immortals, that madness.
Courage! Some deity wished this to happen.
Since you are sick, find something to cure you:
charms, incantations, who knows what might help you?
All those clever discoveries men make
wouldn't be made without women to help them.
Phaedra, the words that she utters are useful
in your predicament; praiseworthy, your words,
though they may sound to you much less pleasant:
kind to your name, not to you; yet I praise them.
PHAEDRA (to the Nurse)
Speeches like yours bring cities to ruin,
pleasant to hear, yet they dash down houses.
Words aren't needed to flatter and soothe me;
words are required that will save my honor.
Fiddlesticks. High-flown rhetoric's not what's
needed. What's needed's a lover. It's high time
plain words entered and stripped the disguises,
spoke clear truth to you, desperate mistress.
Oh, if your life didn't hang in the balance,
or if you weren't too weak to resist love's
fury, I wouldn't be pandering like this.
Life's to be saved, and I'm fighting to save it.
Speaker of horrors, for once will you keep still?
Lock up your words! They are wicked and shameful.
Shameful, no doubt; but they're beautiful for you,
saving your life as they do. And your good name?
Proud words bring you, my dear, to destruction.
Oh, gods ... these sweet words ... are disgusting.
Go no further! I'm schooled. I am ready.
I can endure love's fate. Won't you let me?
Oh, I am trapped in the shame I would flee from!
That's how you feel? Stick closer to virtue!
Next best thing is to do what I tell you.
I can provide you with medicine, love-cures,
there in the house, that I just now thought of
Nothing to frighten you, nothing to shame you,
but it will lull you; you mustn't be timid.
Yes! We must get from the loved man something--
maybe a word, or his hair, or a piece of
clothing, to knit you two firmly together.