EURIPIDES (LITERATURE)

Born: 480 or 485 bc. Family: Married to Melito; three sons. Career: Held a local priesthood at Phlya; not prominent politically, but did go on an embassy to Syracuse; also went to the court of Archelaus in Macedon, c. 408 BC; first competed in the City Dionysia in 455 BC: won four prizes during his lifetime, and one posthumously; of the 92 plays he is said to have written, 80 titles are known, and 19 are extant. Died: Before February/March 406 BC.

Publications

Collections

[Plays], edited by Gilbert Murray. 3 vols., 1902-13; also edited by James Diggle, 3 vols., 1982-94; as The Tragedies, translated by Robert Potter. 2 vols., 1781-83; as The Nineteen Tragedies, translated by Michael Woodhull, 4 vols., 1782; also translated by T.A. Buckley, 2 vols., 1850; W.B. Donne, 1872; Arthur S. Way, 3 vols., 1894-98, revised edition [Loeb Edition], 4 vols., 1912; Percy Bysshe Shelley and others, 2 vols., 1906; Moses Hadas and J.M. McLean, 1936; edited by David Grene and Richmond Lattimore, various translators, in Complete Greek Tragedies, 5 vols., 1955-59; translated (prose) by Edward P. Coleridge, 2 vols., 1891; as Euripides, edited and translated by David Kovacs, 1994; as After the Trojan War: Women of Troy, Hecuba, Helen: Three Plays, translated and introduced by Kenneth McLeish, 1995; as Alcestis and Other Plays, translated by John Davie, 1996; as Plays: Three, introduced by J. Michael Walton and Kenneth McLeish, 1997; as Plays: Four, introduced by J. Michael Walton and Kenneth McLeish, 1997; as Plays: Five, introduced by J. Michael Walton and Kenneth McLeish, 1997; as Plays: Six, introduced by J. Michael Walton, Frederic Raphael and Kenneth McLeish, 1997; as Medea; Hippolytus; Electra; Helen, translated with notes by James Morwood, 1997; as Euripides, edited by David R. Slavitt and Palmer Bovie, 1998; as Electra and Other Plays, translated by John Davie, 1998; as Iphigenia Among the Taurians; Bacchae; Iphigenia at Aulis; Rhesus, translated by James Morwood, 1999; as Women on the Edge: Four Plays, translated and edited by Ruby Blondell, 1999; as Hecuba; The Trojan Women; Andromache, translated by James Morwood, 2000; as Orestes and Other Plays, translated by Robin Waterfield, 2001.


Plays

Alcestis (produced 438 bc). Edited by W.S. Hadley, 1896; also edited by E.H. Blakeney, 1899, revised edition, 1933, Amy Marjorie Dale, 1954, revised edition, 1978, and Antonio Garzya, 1980; edited and translated (with commentary) by Desmond J. Conacher, 1988; as Alcestis, translated by Robert Browning, 1871; also translated by H. Kynaston, 1906; Gilbert Murray, 1915; Richard Aldington, 1930; Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald, 1933; D.W. Lucas, 1951; Philip Vellacott, in Three Plays, 1953, revised edition, 1974; Richmond Lattimore, in Complete Greek Tragedies, 1955; Alistair Elliot, 1965; C.R. Beye, 1973; William Arrowsmith, 1974; Ted Hughes, 1999.

Medea (produced 431 bc). Edited by A.W. Verrall, 1881; also edited by Clinton E.S. Headlam, 1897, Denys L. Page, 1938, and Alan F. Elliott, 1969; as Medea, translated by Gilbert Murray, 1910; also translated by John Jay Chapman, in Two Greek Plays, 1928; Countee Cullen, 1935; R.C. Trevelyan, 1939; Rex Warner, 1944, in Complete Greek Tragedies, 1955, and in Three Great Plays, 1958; Frederick Prokosch, in Greek Plays in Modern Translation, 1947; D.W. Lucas, 1950; Moses Hadas and John McLean, in Ten Plays, 1960; Philip Vellacott, in Medea and Other Plays, 1963; Peter D. Arnott, in Three Greek Plays, 1964; Michael Townsend, 1966; Kenneth McLeish, 1970; Jeremy Brooks, in Plays One, 1988; D. Egan, 1991; Nicholas Rudall, 2000.

Heracleidae (produced c. 430-28 BC). Edited by Antonio Garzya, 1972; also edited by John Wilkins, 1993; as Children of Heracles, translated by Ralph Gladstone, in Complete Greek Tragedies, 1955; also translated by Philip Vellacott, in Orestes and Other Plays, 1972; Henry Taylor and Robert A. Brooks, 1981; John Wilkins, 1993.

Hippolytus (produced 428 bc). Edited by J.P. Mahaffy and J.B. Bury, 1881; also edited by W.S. Hadley, 1889, W.S. Barrett, 1964, and John Ferguson, 1984; as Hippolytus, translated by Gilbert Murray, 1900; also translated by David Grene, in Three Greek Tragedies, 1942, and in Complete Greek Tragedies, 1955; Rex Warner, 1949, and in Three Great Plays, 1958; Philip Vellacott, in Three Plays, 1953, revised edition, 1974; E.P. Coleridge, in Three Great Greek Plays, 1960; Donald Sutherland, in Hippolytus in Drama and Myth, 1960; Kenneth Cavander, 1962; Robert Bragg, 1974; Gilbert and Sarah Lawall, 1986; Michael R. Halleran, 1995.

Andromache (produced c. 426-25 BC). Edited by Philip Theodore Stevens, 1971; also edited by Antonio Garzya, 1978; as Andromache, translated by Hugh Meredith, in Four Dramas, 1937; also translated by L.R. Lind, 1957; John Frederick Nims, in Complete Greek Tragedies, 1958; Philip Vellacott, in Orestes and Other Plays, 1972; Michael Lloyd, 1994; Susan Stewart and Wesley D. Smith, 2001.

Hecuba (produced c. 424 BC). Edited by Michael Tierney, 1946; also edited by Stephen G. Daitz, 1973, and C. Collard, 1991; as Hecuba, translated by Hugh Meredith, in Four Dramas, 1937; also translated by William Arrowsmith, in Complete Greek Tragedies, 1958; Peter D. Arnott, 1969; Janet Lembke and Kenneth J. Reckford, 1991; as Hecabe, translated by Philip Vellacott, in Medea and Other Plays, 1963; as Eupriides Hekabe: Freely Translated from the Greek by Robert Emmet Meagher, 1995.

Supplices (produced c. 423-22 BC). Edited by Christopher Collard, 2 vols., 1975; as The Suppliants, translated by L.R. Lind, 1957; as The Suppliant Women, translated by Frank Jones, in Complete Greek Tragedies, 1958; also translated by Philip Vellacott, in Orestes and Other Plays, 1972; as Suppliant Women, translated by Rosanna Warren and Stephen Scully, 1995.

Electra (produced c. 422-16 bc). Edited by C.H. Keene, 1893; also edited by J.D. Denniston, 1939; edited and translated by Arthur S. Way, 1919: Martin J. Cropp, 1988; as Electra, translated by Gilbert Murray, 1905; also translated by Moses Hadas, 1950; D.W. Lucas, 1951; Emily Townsend Vermeule, in Complete Greek Tragedies, 1959; Philip Vellacott, in Medea and Other Plays, 1963; David Thompson, 1964; Janet Lembke and Kenneth J. Reckford, 1994.

Ion (produced c. 421-13 bc). Edited by A.S. Owen, 1939; also edited by Werner Biehl, 1979, and K.H. Lee, 1992; as Ion, translated by Ronald Frederick Willetts, in Complete Greek Tragedies, 1958; also translated by HD, 1937; D.W. Lucas, 1950; Philip Vellacott, in The Bacchae and Other Plays, 1954; A.P. Burnett, 1970; David Lan, 1994; Peter Burian, 1996.

Heracles (produced c. 417-15 bc). Edited by Godfrey W. Bond, 1981; as Heracles, translated by Robert Browning, in Aristophanes’ Apology, 1875; also translated by Hugh Meredith, in Four Dramas, 1937; William Arrowsmith, in Complete Greek Tragedies, 1956; Philip Vellacott, in Medea and Other Plays, 1963; Michael R. Halleran, 1988; Shirley A. Barlow, 1996; Tom Sleigh, 2001; as The Madness of Heracles, translated by Peter D. Arnott, 1969.

Troades (produced 415 bc). Edited by F.A. Paley, 1881; also edited by Robert Yelverton Tyrrell, 1882, revised edition, 1897, Werner Biehl, 1970, and K.H. Lee, 1976; as The Trojan Women, translated by Gilbert Murray, 1905; also translated by Edith Hamilton, in Three Greek Plays, 1937; Richmond Lattimore, in Greek Plays in Modern Translation, 1944, and in Complete Greek Tragedies, 1958; Nell Curry, 1946; Shirley A. Barlow, 1986; as The Women of Troy, translated by Philip Vellacott, in The Bacchae and Other Plays, 1954; also translated by Don Taylor, in The War Plays, 1990; translated by Brendan Kennelly, 1993; Nicholas Rudall, 1999.

Iphigeneia Taurica (produced c. 414-13 bc). Edited by E.B. England, 1926; also edited by C.B. Watts, 1930, Maurice Platnauer, 1938, and David Sansone, 1981; as Iphigenia in Tauris, translated by Gilbert Murray, 1910; also translated by Witter Bynner, 1915, and in Complete Greek Tragedies, 1956; Philip Vellacott, in Three Plays, 1953, revised edition, 1974; Richmond Lattimore, 1974; as Iphigeneia in Taurica [Loeb Edition], translated by Arthur S. Way, 1912; as Iphigenia Among the Taurians, translated by Nicholas Rudall, 1997; M.J. Cropp, 2000.

Helena (produced 412 bc). Edited by A.Y. Campbell, 1950; also edited by Amy Marjorie Dale, 1967, and Richard Kannicht, 1969; as Helen, translated by J.T. Sheppard, 1925; also translated by Rex Warner, 1951, and in Three Great Plays, 1958; Philip Vellacott, in The Bacchae and Other Plays, 1954; Richmond Lattimore, in Complete Greek Tragedies, 1956; Neil Curry, 1981; James Michie and Colin Leach, 1981; R.E. Meagher, 1986; Don Taylor, in The War Plays, 1990.

Phoenissae (produced c. 412-08 bc). Edited by Donald J. Mastronarde (with commentary), 1994; as The Phoenician Women, translated by Elizabeth Wychoff, in Complete Greek Tragedies, 1959; also translated by Philip Vellacott, in Orestes and Other Plays, 1972; Peter Burian and Brian Swann, 1981; Elizabeth M. Craik, 1988; David Thompson, in Plays One, 1988.

Orestes (produced 408 bc). Edited by C.W. Willink, 1986; edited and translated by M.L. West, 1987; as Orestes, translated by Hugh Meredith, in Four Dramas, 1937; also translated by William Arrowsmith, in Complete Greek Tragedies, 1958; Philip Vellacott, in Orestes and Other Plays, 1972; John Peck and Frank Nisetich, 1995.

Bacchae (produced c. 405 bc). Edited by J.E. Sandys, 1880; also edited by E.R. Dodds, 1960, and E. Christian Kopff, 1982; as The Bacchae, translated by Henry Hart Milman, 1865; also translated by Margaret Kinmont Tennant, 1926; D.W. Lucas, 1930; Philip Vellacott, in The Bacchae and Other Plays, 1954; Henry Birkhead, 1957; William Arrowsmith, in Complete Greek Tragedies, 1959; G.S. Kirk, 1970; Neil Curry, 1981; M. Cacoyannis, 1983; J. Michael Walton, in Plays One, 1988; John Buller, 1992; Robert Emmet Meagher, 1995; Richard Seaford, 1996; Nicholas Rudall, 1996; Paul Woodruff, 1998; Herbert Golder, 2001; Reginald Gibbons, 2001.

Iphigeneia Aulidensis, completed by another writer (produced c. 405 bc). Edited by E.S. Headlam, 1939; as Iphigenia in Aulis, translated by F.M. Stawell, 1929; Charles R. Walker, in Complete Greek Tragedies, 1958; Philip Vellacott, in Orestes and Other Plays, 1972; Kenneth Cavander, 1973; W.S. Merwin and George E. Dimock, Jr., 1978; as Iphigenia at Aulis, translated by Don Taylor, in The War Plays, 1990; Nicholas Rudall, 1997.

Cyclops, edited by Jacqueline Duchemin. 1945; also edited by R.G. Ussher, 1978, and Richard Seaford, 1984; as Cyclops, translated by J.T. Sheppard, 1923; also translated by William Arrowsmith, in Complete Greek Tragedies, 1956; Roger Lancelyn Green, in Two Satyr Plays, 1957; Peter D. Arnott, in Three Greek Plays, 1964; Heather McHugh, 2001.

Hypsipyle (fragmentary play), edited by G.W. Bond. 1963; also edited by W.E.H. Cockle, 1987.

Phaethon (fragmentary play), edited by James Diggle. 1970.


Rhesus (probably not by Euripides), edited by James Diggle, in Fabulae, vol. 3. 1994; as Rhesus, translated by Richmond Lattimore, in Complete Greek Tragedies, 1958; also translated by Richard Emil Braun, 1978.

Four Dramas (includes Andromache; Hecuba; Heracles; Orestes),translated by Hugh Meredith. 1937.

Three Plays (includes Hippolytus; Iphigeneia in Taurica; Alcestis),translated by Philip Vellacott. 1953; revised edition, 1974.

The Bacchae and Other Plays (includes Ion; The Women of Troy;Helen), translated by Philip Vellacott. 1954.

Three Great Plays (includes Helen; Hippolytus; Medea), translated by Rex Warner. 1958.

Ten Plays, translated by Moses Hadas and John McLean. 1960.

Medea and Other Plays (includes Medea; Hecabe; Electra; Heracles),translated by Philip Vellacott. 1963.

Orestes and Other Plays (includes The Children of Heracles; Andromache; The Suppliant Women; The Phoenician Women; Orestes; Iphigenia in Aulis), translated by Philip Vellacott. 1972.

Plays One (includes Medea; The Phoenician Women; Bacchae), translated by Jeremy Brooks, David Thompson, and J. Michael Walton. 1988.

The War Plays: Iphigenia at Aulis; The Women of Troy; Helen,translated by Don Taylor. 1990. Plays Two (includes Hecuba; The Women of Troy; Iphigenia at Aulis; Cyclops), translated by Don Taylor, Peter D. Arnott, and J. Michael Walton. 1991.

Critical Studies:

Chronology of the Extant Plays of Euripides by Grace Harriet Macurdy, 1911; Euripides and His Age by Gilbert Murray, 1913, revised edition, 1946; Euripides and His Influence by F.L. Lucas, 1924; The Drama of Euripides by G.M.A. Grube, 1941; Essays on Euripidean Drama by Gilbert Norwood, 1954; The Political Plays of Euripides, 1955, revised edition, 1963, and An Inquiry into the Transmission of the Plays of Euripides, 1966, both by Gunther Zuntz; Euripides by W.N. Bates, 1961; Notes on Euripides’ Medea and Electra by Robert J. Milch, 1965; Euripides and the Judgement of Paris by T.C.W. Stinton, 1965; Euripidean Drama: Myth, Theme, and Structure by Desmond J. Conacher, 1967; The Tragedies of Euripides by T.B.L. Webster, 1967; Euripides: A Collection of Critical Essays edited by Erich Segal, 1968; The Imagery of Euripides: A Study in the Dramatic Use of Pictorial Language by Shirley A. Barlow, 1970; Catastrophe Survived: Euripides’ Plays of Mixed Reversal by Anne P. Burnett, 1971; The New Oxyrhynchus Papyrus: Hypothesis of Euripides’ ”Alexandros” by R.A. Coles, 1974; Euripides and the Full Circle of Myth by Cedric H. Whitman, 1974; Ironic Drama: A Study of Euripides: Method and Meaning by Philip Vellacott, 1975; Colloquial Expressions in Euripides by P.T. Stevens, 1976; ”God, or not God, or Between the Two?" Euripides’ Helen by George E. Dimock, 1977; Existentialism and Euripides: Sickness, Tragedy and Divinity in The Medea, The Hippolytus and The Bacchae by William Sale, 1977; On the Concept of Slavery in Euripides by Katerina Syodinou, 1977; Terms for Happiness in Euripides by Marianne McDonald, 1978; The Violence of Pity in Euripides’ Medea by Pietro Pucci, 1980; The Trojan Trilogy of Euripides by Ruth Scodel, 1980; Euripides by Christopher Collard, 1981; Studies on the Text of Euripides: Supplices, Electra, Heracles, Troades, Iphigenia in Tauris, Ion, 1981, The Textual Tradition of

Euripides’ Orestes, 1990, and Euripides: Collected Essays, 1994, all by James Diggle; The Textual Tradition of Euripides’ Phoinissai by Donald J. Mastronarde, 1982; Dionysiac Poetics and Euripides’ Bacchae by Charles Segal, 1982; Euripides’ Bacchae: The Play and Its Audience by Hans Oranje, 1984; New Directions in Euripidean Criticism: A Collection of Essays edited by Peter Burian, 1985; Ritual Irony: Poetry and Sacrifice in Euripides by Helene P. Foley, 1985; Stagecraft in Euripides by Michael R. Halleran, 1985; Euripides’ Medea and Electra: A Companion to the Penguin Translation of Philip Vellacott by John Ferguson, 1987; The Heroic Muse: Studies in the Hippolytus and the Hecuba of Euripides by David Kovacs, 1987; Euripides and the Tragic Tradition by Ann Norris Michelini, 1987; Aspects of Human Sacrifice in the Tragedies of Euripides by E.A.M.E. O’Connor-Visser, 1987; Two Lost Plays of Euripides by Dana F. Sutton, 1987; The God of Ecstasy: Sex-Roles and the Madness of Dionysos by Arthur Evans, 1988; Time Holds the Mirror: A Study of Knowledge in Euripides’ Hippolytus by C.A.E. Luschnig, 1988; A New Creed: Fundamental Religious Beliefs in the Athenian Polis and Euripidean Drama by Harvey Yunis, 1988; Euripides’ Medea: The Incarnation of Disorder by Emily A. McDermott, 1989; The Noose of Words: Readings of Desire, Violence and Language in Euripides’ Hippolytus by Barbara E. Goff, 1990; Euripides, Women and Sexuality by Anton Powell, 1990; Euripides and the Instruction of the Athenians by Justina Gregory, 1991; Ambiguity and Self-Deception: The Apollo and Artemis Plays of Euripides by Karelisa V. Hartigan, 1991; Narrative in Drama: The Art of the Euripidean Messenger-Speech by I.J.F. de Jong, 1991; The Agon in Euripides by Michael Lloyd, 1992; Anxiety Veiled: Euripides and the Traffic in Women by Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz, 1994; Euripidean Polemic: The Trojan Women and the Function of Tragedy by N.T. Croally, 1994; Euripidea: Collected Essays by James Diggle, 1994; Euripidea by David Kovacs, 1994; Wild Justice: A Study of Euripides’ Hecuba by Judith Mossman, 1995; The City of Dionysos: A Study of Euripides’ Bakchai by Vladis Leinieks, 1996; Tragedy’s End: Closure and Innovation in Euripidean Drama by Francis M. Dunn, 1996; Theseus, Tragedy, and the Athenian Empire by Sophie Mills, 1997; Euripides and Alcestis: Speculations, Simulations, and Stories of Love in the Athenian Culture by Kiki Gounaridou, 1998; Euripides and the Sophists: Some Dramatic Treatments of Philosophical Ideas by Desmond J. Conacher, 1998; Eurykleia and Her Successors: Female Figures of Authority in Greek Poetics by Helen Pournara Karydas, 1998; Intimate Commerce: Exchange, Gender, and Subjectivity in Greek Tragedy by Victoria Wohl, 1998; Nothing Is As it Seems: The Tragedy of the Implicit in Euripides’ Hippolytus by Hanna M. Roisman, 1999; The Andromache and Euripidean Tragedy by William Allen, 2000; Euripides’ Use of Psychological Terminology by Shirley Darcus Sullivan, 2000.

Euripides was the youngest of the famous tragedians of 5th-century Athens; he is regarded by some as responsible for a breakdown in the lofty spirit of Greek tragedy from which it never recovered; by others as introducing a new and enduring humanism, a sense of the pathos of the human condition, which expressed more powerfully than that of his predecessors the tragic realities of life.

To some degree, perhaps, the impression of contrast which the Euripidean corpus of plays provides with that of Aeschylus and Sophocles may be due to the fact that we possess a greater number of his plays (18 or 19 as compared with seven of each of the other two) and so a wider variety of Euripidean themes. However, this explanation of ”the difference” is, at best, a very partial one, for all of Euripides’ plays betray, to a greater or lesser degree, a distinctly new tragic style and approach to traditional myth.

These ”new directions” of Euripidean tragedy are in part traceable to two major influences, those of the sophistic movement and of the Peloponnesian War, both of which appear to have affected Euripides more than they did his elder contemporary Sophocles. The sophists (the first professional teachers in Greece) imbued Euripides with their rationalistic way of looking at traditional beliefs and values and strongly influenced his dramatic style by the rhetorical emphasis of their teaching. In a very different way, Euripides’ tragic outlook was also affected by certain dire events of the Peloponnesian War and their effects on Athenian morale and policy.

As implied above, Euripides was something of an iconoclast, a ”reducer” of the ancient mythological tradition on which the plot material of Greek tragedy was, by convention, based. Thus he tended to reinterpret and reformulate the tales of arbitrary, often vengeful anthropomorphic gods and of heroes from a remote and glorious past in ways which related them more closely to recognizable human experience. In a few plays, such as Hippolytus and Bacchae (which I shall call ”the mythological tragedies”) these anthropomorphic gods still play a major role, but even here, though they are presented physically as dramatically real personages in the tragedies, they clearly symbolize mysterious forces governing the emotional and irrational areas of human experience. Thus, in Hippolytus, Aphrodite, goddess of sexual passion, declares that she will take vengeance on the hero for his refusal to do her honour. However, the actual action of the play (once the intentions of the goddess have been expressed in the Prologue) is worked out in essentially human terms: the catastrophe comes about from the conflict between the woman-hating Hippolytus and his stepmother Phaedra, the unwilling victim of guilty love for him. Here the poet makes it clear that it is the excess of Hippolytus’ scorn for sex and his failure to understand the power of sexual passion that leads to his destruction. So, too, in Bacchae King Pentheus, the puritanical rationalist, suffers for suppressing in his state the mystical ecstasy and emotional release brought by the communal singing, drinking, and dancing of Dionysian worship.

In other, quite different plays of Euripides, such as Medea and Electra, the catastrophe occurs as a result of the destructive power of hate and vengeance within the soul of the individual tragic figure. Here the mythological dimension is notably less marked, since no divine figure is needed to represent the actively destructive power now embodied in the tragic personality itself. Medea is perhaps the most powerful example of this kind of Euripidean tragedy, which presents in psychologically ”realistic” terms the destructive power of passion. Medea, who loves her children, slays them in order to be avenged on her faithless husband Jason. ”My passion is stronger than my reason!” she exclaims at the climax of her struggle between mother-love and vengeful fury: a very Euripidean expression of what this poet felt to be one of the mainsprings of human tragedies. Other plays which I would describe (despite certain supernatural overtones) as psychologically ”realistic” human tragedies are Electra and Hecuba (in which the same power of vengeful hatred, in very different circumstances, corrupts and destroys noble tragic figures) and (apart from its melodramatic finale) Orestes, which studies the effects of guilt and social rejection on the condemned matricide Orestes.

”Tragedies of War and of Politics [in the broadest sense]” might be selected as the label (with all the inadequacies which such labelling entails) for a third group of Euripidean tragedies. Here the issues are almost exclusively human and social, and the tragic situations arise, not from any divine vengeance (however ”symbolically” understood) or from individual human passions, but from man’s more impersonal inhumanity to his fellow men. In Supplices (The Suppliant Women) and Heracleidae (Children of Heracles), ”just wars” are fought by legendary Athenian kings on behalf of just such victims of human cruelty, but in each case the plays end with an ironic undermining of the noble purpose of the war or else of the just pretensions of the suppliants themselves. In Troades (The Trojan Women) and Hecuba (which belongs as well in this group as in the preceding one), we witness the destructive results of war’s cruelties on the helpless survivors of the defeated: in the one case, collectively, on the women and children of the slain Trojan heroes, in the other, individually, on the tragic (and initially noble) figure of the Trojan Queen. Again the setting is in the mythological past, but the themes are universal and, mutatis mutandis, apply in some respects all too tellingly to certain historical circumstances and events of Euripides’ own day.

Another group of Euripidean plays, very different from the sombre ”war plays,” comprises such plays as Ion, Helena (Helen), and Iphigeneia Taurica (Iphigenia in Tauris), which have been variously described by modern critics as ”tragicomedy,” ”romantic tragedy,” and (here some would include Orestes) ”melodrama.” Of these, Helen is, perhaps, at the furthest remove from traditional Greek tragedy. Euripides bases this play on a variant version of the Trojan War myth according to which Helen spent the Trojan War secretly hidden away in Egypt while the goddess Hera caused a wraith of Helen to be substituted (and mistaken) for the real Helen of Troy. The plot includes a highly comic ”recognition scene” (in which shipwrecked Menelaus, returning from Troy with the wraith, has great difficulty in recognizing his ”real,” and somewhat indignant, wife) and an ingenious and exciting ”escape” sequence, in which Helen and Menelaus outwit the wicked Egyptian King and escape over the seas to Sparta with the King’s ship and generous provisions of arms and supplies. In this and similar plays the poet seems to be taking traditional myth rather less seriously than in the more properly ”tragic” plays and to adopt a satirical tone (not always absent even in the most ”serious” tragedies) concerning the more improbable and anthropomorphic treatments of the gods. However, even in these less tragic plays, there are sometimes serious overtones: the Trojan War, the Chorus reminds us in Helen, was fought for a wraith: perhaps all wars, including the war currently ruining the poet’s own beloved city, could be avoided if men allowed words and reasoning (logoi) instead of bloody strife (ens) to settle their differences.

This brief account inevitably fails to do justice to the great variety in the Euripidean treatment of human experience and human folly. If the reader has been left with the wrong impression that, in questioning traditional mythology, Euripides rejects the supernatural element in that experience, he should read Bacchae, one of the last, and surely the most terrifying, of Euripides’ extant tragedies. Here he will discover, with King Pentheus, what sort of fate awaits those scorning the timeless and universal powers (”even stronger than a god, if that were possible,” as we are reminded of Aphrodite in Hippolytus) which Euripides recognized as dominating certain crucial areas in the life of man.

Next post:

Previous post: