Euripides: The Complete Plays, Volume III

Overview

Athens of the fifth century B.C.E. represents one of the towering achievements of civilization. It is the crucible in which Western Civilization was given form. It created democracy, not in its modern parliamentary or representative form, but a direct democracy, one in which the Athenian citizen governed himself, which is what democracy means: rule by the people. Along with this gift to civilization came trial by jury, and from there the flowering of a culture whose achievement has led the world ever since: ...
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Overview

Athens of the fifth century B.C.E. represents one of the towering achievements of civilization. It is the crucible in which Western Civilization was given form. It created democracy, not in its modern parliamentary or representative form, but a direct democracy, one in which the Athenian citizen governed himself, which is what democracy means: rule by the people. Along with this gift to civilization came trial by jury, and from there the flowering of a culture whose achievement has led the world ever since: Philosophy, sculpture, architecture, poetry-and by no means least-theater. Of the three supreme tragedians of Classical Athens, Aeschylus, in the first half of the century, took his tales largely from Homer and the Heroic World of war and warriors. Sophokles regarded man more humanistically, and created characters of grand moral integrity. Euripides, the last of the three, created his image of man less heroically, less idealistically. His image of man reflected what Athens became from mid-century onward: a super wealthy world power, a cruel colonist, and an ever-present danger to its Greek neighbors, a threat that precipitated the devastating Peloponnesian War (431-404) which was to end with the fall of Athens. The glory of Athens, then, from mid-century onward, degenerated fast into a world of collapsing political and moral structure, and this is the world that Euripides mirrors in his characters. His people are no longer the heroes of Aeschylus, the moral giants of Sophokles, but men who are frequently petty, conniving, small minded, out for themselves and their own aggrandizement. They are psychologically drawn, they are conflicted, they are frequently mad-in a word, they are us, if only we look deeply enough. Euripides is the most modern of the Greek tragedians. Volume I: Alkêstis, Mêdeia, Children of Heraklês, Hippolytos.
Volume II: Andromachê, Hêkabê, Suppliant Women, Êlektra, The Madness of Heraklês.
Volume III: Trojan Women, Iphigeneia in Tauris, Ion, Helen, Cyclops.
Volume IV: Phoenician Women, Orestês, Bakkhai, Iphigeneia in Aulis, Rhesos. Of Mueller's Aeschylus translations, PAJ (Journal of Performance and Art) has written: "For those who want their Greek alive and kicking (and screaming and bleeding), these translations of Aeschylus's extant works will serve as a vital and exhilarating read. But more importantly, they will serve as superb acting texts of the world's earliest playwright for today's directors and designers." And Library Journal writes of his Sophokles co-translations: "These contemporary English translations . . . bring Sophokles dramatically to life and serve to enhance our appreciation of the timelessness of his work."
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Editorial Reviews

Stephen Peithman
"If longevity is any sign of success, we must bow to Euripides, one of the great tragedians of ancient Greece. ...Euripides is the playwright who reshaped the formal structure of traditional tragedy by introducing strong women characters and smart slaves, and by satirizing heroes of Greek mythology. At the same time, his characters often dare to go beyond their expected roles, sometimes with spectacularly tragic results. Mueller's crisp translations help bring these characters to life once again"
Stage Directions, January 2006
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781575253589
  • Publisher: Smith & Kraus, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/1/2003
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 319
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Introduction

Athens of the fifth century B.C.E. represents one of the towering achievements of civilization. It is the crucible in which Western Civilization was given form. It created democracy: rule by the people. Of the three supreme tragedians of Classical Athens; Aeschylus, Sophokles and Euripides, Euripides (480's-406 B.C.E.) is the most modern. His people are no longer the heroes of Aeschylus, inspired by Homer and the Heroic world of war and warriors. Nor are they the more humanistic characters of Sophokles, who created men and women of grand moral integrity. Rather, Euripides' people are pyschologically drawn, they are frequently petty, conniving, and conflicted. In other words, they are like us. The plays included are:
TROJAN WOMEN
IPHIGENEIA IN TAURIS
ION
HELEN
CYCLOPS
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Foreword

TROJAN WOMEN
I
The date of Trojan Women, 415, is one of the few secure dates of Euripides' extant plays and that only because it was listed as winning second prize at the City Dionysia in Athens. It was also the year when the Peloponnesian War, which began in 431, took a breath. Athens was, technically speaking, at peace. But peace or no peace, Euripides, by the time he wrote Trojan Women, had witnessed enough atrocities to decide that, particularly regarding prisoners of war, neither Athens nor its enemies were above contempt. The litany of these horrors regarding the fate of war prisoners is recorded in Thucydides. In 431, even before the declaration of war between Sparta and Athens, a party of more than three hundred Thebans, collaborating with a group of Plataian traitors, attempted to seize their near-neighbor city Plataia, an ally of Athens. When the operation failed, the Thebans surrendered, assuming their lives would be spared. Some 180 of them were, however, summarily executed. Four years into the war, in 427, Plataia surrendered to the Spartans and Thebans only to have its defense force of more than two hundred executed along with twenty-five Athenians who had been with them in the siege. "The women were made slaves," writes Thucydides. "As for the city . . . they razed it to the ground from its very foundations." In the same year, Athens put down revolts in several cities on its ally-island Lesbos, in particular Mytilene. Athens voted to punish Mytilene by executing all its men of military age and by enslaving its women and children. A ship was dispatched to Lesbos with the decision, but as it happened, Athens changed its mind. Immediately another trireme was sent out in all haste, since they feared that, unless it overtook the first trireme, they would find on their arrival that the city had been destroyed. The first trireme had a start of about twenty-four hours. The ambassador from Mytilene provided wine and barley for the crew and promised great rewards if they arrived in time, and so the men made such speed on the voyage that they kept on rowing while they took their food (which was barley mixed with oil and wine) and rowed continually, taking it in turn to sleep. Luckily they had no wind against them, and as the first ship was not hurrying on its distasteful mission, while they were pressing on with such speed, what happened was that the first ship arrived so little ahead of them that [General] Paches had just had time to read the decree and to prepare to put it into force, when the second ship put in to the harbor and prevented the massacre. So narrowly had been the escape of Mytilene. . . . The other Mytilenians whom Paches had sent to Athens as being the ones chiefly responsible for the revolt were, on the motion of Cleon, put to death by the Athenians. There were rather more than one thousand of them. In the summer of 421, Athens recaptured and reduced Scione, an ally city in northern Greece that had revolted. "They put to death," writes Thucydides, "the men of military age, made slaves of the women and children, and gave the land to the Plataians to live on." This treatment of Scione (along with that of Melos) was held in the fourth century as a standard reproach against Athens. As for the Spartans, in the winter of 417 they marched against Argos and in the process "took the Argive town of Hysia, putting to death all the free men who fell into their hands." And then there was Melos, the island city that joined Athens in winning the battle of Marathon in 480 by contributing ships. It had remained neutral ever since, a neutrality that rankled Athens. Grube writes eloquently of the encounter. In 415 bc the Athenians sent out an expedition to Melos, a small island in the southern Aegean, whose only crime was to have maintained its independence from Athenian influence. They laid siege to the town and captured it; all men of military age were put to death, the rest of the population sold into slavery. The Trojan Women, perhaps the finest war-play of all time and certainly Euripides' masterpiece on the subject, was produced the following spring, at the very time when the great fleet that was soon to start out upon the conquest of distant Sicily was gathering in the harbor of the Piraeus. Neither Sicily nor Melos are mentioned in the play; they are not directly relevant to its appreciation, but the contemporary background undoubtedly accounts for the passionate intensity that inspires this drama, in which the poetry is uniformly great. It is that same conquest of Melos which Thucydides puts into such bold relief in his history of the Peloponnesian War. His condemnation of it as a terrible example of conquering brutality is clear in the famous Melian Dialogue, where he makes the Athenian uphold, brutally and without shame, the doctrine that might is right. We can thus still feel the horror with which the more cultured and thoughtful among the Athenians witnessed this cruel exhibition of power-politics on the part of the city which they loved so well.Whether the Melian slaughter was in Euripides' mind as he wrote Trojan Women is not certain. Scholars have thought it to be so for a considerable time, and yet it is now believed that the author hadn't the time to write the play between the time of the incident at Melos and its early March production in Athens. In any case, even without Melos, there were other examples, as we have seen, of such brutality regarding captured populations. And even if Melos wasn't on Euripides' mind as he wrote his play, Melos was unquestionably on the mind of the Athenian spectator in the Theater of Dionysos in 415.II
Trojan Women is unique in its form and content among not only Euripides' oeuvre but in extant Athenian tragedy. If many have complained about Euripides' penchant for writing episodic plays, Trojan Women, though broken down into four or five scenes (depending on where the breaks are made), is uniquely united by not only the character of Hêkabê, who is onstage throughout but by the narrow time frame of the action and the almost inevitable succession of scenes. "It has a less intricate plot than many [plays of Euripides]," as Barlow observes, [it] is more static and it differs markedly from other Euripidean episodic representations too in its representation of character. It is not only that most of its characters are women but also that those roles are on the whole interpreted as those of normal people caught up in abnormal circumstances. There is an ordinariness about Hêkabê and Andromachê which cannot be said about Êlektra, or Orestês, or Mêdeia, or Phaidra, or Pentheus. These women's feelings for their children and grandchildren , husbands and parents, are the feelings of millions of people for their families-not feelings out of balance, as are so often depicted elsewhere in Euripides-but feelings naturally felt. The tragedy occurs not from some neurosis in them, but from cruelty imposed from outside which draws out their natural responses of love, protectiveness, and grief. The germ of naturalness must be there in all tragedies, but often in Euripides it is distorted, so that it becomes something else-an obsession, a pathological condition. Here there is none of that in the case of Hêkabê, Andromachê or indeed Talthybios. Only Kassandra's reaction is one peculiar to her special function as priestess. This normality in the midst of cruelly imposed circumstances somehow gives hope in the midst of an otherwise bleak play. For as the women work through their natural emotions, so they become for the audience more than just passive victims. They do respond-they do articulate, they do rationalize and they do grieve. And even if they face only despair, the play had brought them to vibrant life for the audience even in that _expression of despair. And in that vibrant life is a tribute to the human spirit in the face of cruelties imposed upon it.But no tribute, one might say, to the Greeks-the Athenians and Spartans alike-who have imposed precisely such cruelties on enemies and former allies in a war that is now merely in intermission: Mytilene, Scione, Hysia, and, only months earlier for those Athenian male citizens sitting on that March day in the Theater of Dionysos at Athens, Melos.
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