Euripides: The Complete Plays, Volume II

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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: 9781575253213
  • Publisher: Smith & Kraus, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/1/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 316
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.90 (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:
ANDROMACHE
HÊKABÊ
SUPPLIANT WOMEN
ÊLEKTRA
THE MADNESS OF HERAKLÊS
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Foreword

ANDROMACHÊ
I
Most of the subjects on which the Athenian tragedians based their plays came from the poems of the so-called Epic Cycle of earlier Greek antiquity. Widespread loss of poems belonging to the Epic Cycle, however, as well as much of the lyric poetry of the time, leaves us largely guessing about the form in which much of this material reached the tragedians of the fifth century. In any event, all the characters of Euripides' Andromachê, with the exception of Hermionê, are well attested to in the epic tradition. Neoptolemos, the chief figure in the myth on which Euripides based his play, is mentioned frequently in Homer. In the Iliad he is spoken of only once, as the son of Achilleus, but in the Odyssey he is given greater attention. There he is said to have returned from Troy to be a prospective husband of Hermionê and on a visit to Hades Odysseus gratifies the shade of Achilleus with a report of his son's accomplishments at Troy. Later Epic tradition informs us of his prowess in the final stage of the war at Troy, his participation in the capture of the citadel, and of his brutal murder of the aged Priam at the altar to which he had fled for safety. He is also credited with casting Astyanax, the infant son of Hêktor and Andromachê, to his death from the walls of Troy. Of his death there are various versions, though in each it is at Delphi that he meets his end. Pindar, in his Paean 6, from about 490, has him die at the instigation of Apollo for having killed the aged Priam at the altar of Zeus. Pindar, however, in Nemean 7, adopts, or invents, another version that has him killed, at Delphi, in an argument over the flesh of sacrificial victims. And there were many other versions, including that of Euripides, which may be original with him. Of Andromachê, in the Iliad Homer refers to her as a noble and loving wife of Hêktor, particularly moving as she and her husband consider their probable fate. Hêktor speaks to his wife concerning her life as a slave when Troy falls:
You will live in Argos, weaving at the loom at another woman's command, and carrying water from a foreign spring, from Messeïs or Hypereia, much against your will, but compulsion will lie harsh upon you. And someone seeing you with your tears falling will say: "This is the wife of Hêktor, who was always the best warrior of the horse- taming Trojans, when they were fighting over Ilios." That is what they will say: and for you there will be renewed misery, that you have lost such a husband to protect you from the day of slavery. Hermionê is mentioned by Homer and Hesiod. Homer says she was the only child of Menelaos and Helen; Hesiod says they had two. Homer also mentions that her wedding to Neoptolemos is being arranged by Menelaos, and Homer, Hesiod and possibly Sappho, in a fragment, speak of her as having inherited some of her mother's beauty. Of the three remaining characters, Pêleus, Menelaos, and Orestês, they are legendary figures of considerable distinction in the Epic tradition, except that in Andromachê Menelaos and Orestês come in for a dressing-down from their former nobility, especially in Homer. Nor is this unusual in Athenian tragedy of the fifth century, for various reasons. Here in Andromachê, for example, Menelaos is reviled because he is a Spartan, a reasonable reaction inasmuch as at the time of the play's first production around 425 Athens and Sparta were battling each other in the Peloponnesian War. That Orestês was demoted may have to do with the fact that he was in league with Menelaos. II
Andromachê takes place several years after the Trojan War. The scene is the palace of Neoptolemos, son of Achilleus, at Thetideion, in Thessaly, not far distant from Phthia, where his grandfather Pêleus is king. Following the Greek victory at Troy, Neoptolemos is awarded Andromachê, widow of the valiant Trojan warrior Hêktor, as his war prize. She becomes his mistress by whom he has a son named Molossos. However, in his need to produce legitimate male heirs, he marries Hermionê, the daughter of Menelaos and Helen of Sparta. While her husband is at Delphi, Hermionê, jealous of Andromachê, who is now her slave, plans to murder Andromachê and her son by Neoptolemos. Hermionê summons her father Menelaos from Sparta to serve as her accomplice.At the opening of the play, Andromachê, after spiriting her son away into safekeeping, is found in the position of a suppliant at the altar dedicated to Thetis. Menelaos, however, has recovered the boy and, in an attempt to get Andromachê to surrender herself, threatens to slaughter Molossos unless she does so. When she does surrender, he tells her that it is for Hermionê, not for him, to decide the boy's fate. Just as they are being prepared for the slaughter, the aged King Pêleus, grandfather of Neoptolemos, arrives and, after condemning Menelaos for his action and his Spartan cruelty, scornfully dismisses him. Menelaos exits, and after unbinding Andromachê and the boy, Pêleus takes them back with him to nearby Phthia. With Menelaos' exit, a hysterical Hermionê enters, terrified that Neoptolemos will kill her on his return for her attempted murder of Andromachê and her son. As if in answer to her prayers, her cousin Orestês enters, presumably on his way to Zeus's oracle at Dodona, and while in Thessaly he has decided to look up his relation. She tells him of her failed plans, and he reveals to her that he already knew of the trouble she was in and that he has come to take her off to safety and to marry her. As it happens, she was originally promised to Orestês by her father Menelaos before the war, an arrangement then altered when Menelaos gave her instead to Neoptolemos as a war-prize for bringing down Troy. Orestês then announces that he has already organized a plot to kill Neoptolemos at Delphi, where he has gone to seek forgiveness for an earlier affront to Apollo. With Orestês and Hermionê gone, Pêleus returns (possibly with Andromachê and Molossos in tow). He has heard rumors that Hermionê has fled, the reality of which the Chorus confirms and tells him that his grandson Neoptolemos is in danger for his life at Delphi. Sooner, however, than Pêleus can send a slave to Delphi to warn him, a messenger arrives with news of Neoptolemos' death. The rumor had been spread by Orestês that Neoptolemos had come to plunder Delphi and that he was slain by angered Delphians in the precinct of Apollo's temple. No sooner is the report concluded than the body of the dead Neoptolemos is brought on in procession. Pêleus is close to being destroyed at the news and laments that his house is near to destruction. Euripides then uses one of his favored devices: the sea goddess Thetis appears as the dea ex machina to resolve the action as well as to bring needed solace to Pêleus her former husband. As for his house, it is not extinguished, for Molossos is in any case Neoptolemos' son. Andromachê, who is now free, will marry Priam's son Helenos, Hêktor's brother, and live in Molossia, where Molossos will be the region's first king as well as the father to a distinguished line of kings. As for Pêleus, he will become an immortal and live with Thetis in perpetuity in her father the sea god's kingdom. III
That Andromachê, written and performed sometime between 427 and 425, reflects the attitude not only of Athens but of Greek society in general during the first years of the almost three-decade's long Peloponnesian War between Sparta and Athens is difficult to deny. Revenge, according to Thucydides in his History of the Peloponnesian War, became a national epidemic, and revenge is surely the most pervasive factor in the play's fabric. Its every action is revenge motivated: Hermionê on Andromachê, Menelaos on Neoptolemos, Orestês on Neoptolemos.
Of revenge in those years Thucydides writes, years later:
Revenge was more important than self-preservation. And if pacts of mutual security were made, they were entered into by the two parties only in order to meet some temporary difficulty, and remained in force only so long as there was no other weapon available. When the chance came, the one who first seized it boldly, catching his enemy off his guard, enjoyed a revenge that was all the sweeter for having been taken, not openly, but because of a breach of faith. It was safer that way, it was considered, and at the same time a victory won by treachery gave one a title for superior intelligence. And indeed most people are more ready to call villainy cleverness than simple-mindedness honesty. They are proud of the first quality and ashamed of the second. What else can we think of in this regard but the advantage to Menelaos in dissolving Sparta's alliance with Neoptolemos and Phthia? Neoptolemos, and therefore Phthia, is out of favor with Delphi, and that is not propitious to Menelaos and Sparta. Furthermore, his marriage to Hermionê has produced no legitimate heirs, another serious consideration in political terms, and so what else for Sparta to do but break that alliance (even if it means the death of Neoptolemos) in favor of an alliance between the new Argos about to be founded by Orestês, Menelaos' nephew, and sealed, as such matters frequently were, with a marriage? The cruelty of Menelaos and Orestês, as well as Hermionê in her plan to murder Andromachê and Molossos, can be clearly seen in Thucydides' description of the changes taking place in Greece as a result of the Korkyrean revolution of 427, just before the writing of Andromachê: a precipitous decline in standards of morality and behavior. Bear in mind that Euripides was not reflecting Thucydides who was not to write his History for many years, but reporting in his play what he observed going on around him as the war raged.Thucydides continues:
To fit in with the change of events, words, too, had to change their usual meanings. What used to be described as a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the courage one would expect to find in a party member; to think of the future and wait was merely another way of saying one was a coward; any idea of moderation was just an attempt to disguise one's unmanly character; ability to understand a question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action. Fanatical enthusiasm was the mark of a real man, and to plot against an enemy behind his back was perfectly legitimate self-defense. Anyone who held violent opinions could always be trusted, and anyone who objected to them became a suspect. To plot successfully was a sign of intelligence, but it was still cleverer to see that a plot was hatching. If one attempted to provide against having to do either, one was disrupting the unity of the party and acting out of fear of the opposition. In short, it was equally praiseworthy to get one's blow in first against someone who was going to do wrong, and to denounce someone who had no intention of doing any wrong at all. Andromachê is a play that so thoroughly mirrors the temper and obsessions of its time that even its apparent fragmentation might well be Euripides' way of suggesting the fragmentation of the world in which he lived.
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