Alcestis and Other Plays

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Penguin Books, 1996 - Drama - 193 pages
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Euripides' tragedies proved highly controversial even in his own lifetime, presenting his audience with unexpected twists of plot and violently extreme emotions; for many of today's readers and spectators, he seems almost uncannily modern in his insights. Euripides was the key figure in transforming the familiar figures of Greek mythology from awe-inspiring but remote heroes into recognizable, fallible human beings. His characters, all superbly eloquent, draw on fierce contemporary debates about the nature of justice, politics and religion. His women are perhaps the most sympathetically and powerfully presented in ancient literature. Alcestis, the dramatist's first surviving work, is less harrowing than the others, almost a tragicomedy. The Children of Heracles examines the conflict between might and right, while Hippolytus and Medea, two of his greatest plays, reveal his profound understanding of destructive passion. This new translation into dignified English prose makes one of the greatest of Greek writers accessible once again to a wide public.

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Contents

Preface to Medea
43
Preface to Hippolytus
125
Explanatory Notes
167
Copyright

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About the author (1996)

Euripides, the youngest of the three great Athenian playwrights, was born around 485 BC of a family of good standing. He first competed in the dramatic festivals in 455 BC, coming only third; his record of success in the tragic competitions is lower than that of either Aeschylus or Sophocles. There is a tradition that he was unpopular, even a recluse; we are told that he composed poetry in a cave by the sea, near Salamis. What is clear from contemporary evidence, however, is that audiences were fascinated by his innovative and often disturbing dramas. His work was controversial already in his lifetime, and he himself was regarded as a 'clever' poet, associated with philosophers and other intellectuals. Towards the end of his life he went to live at the court of Archelaus, king of Macedon. It was during his time there that he wrote what many consider his greates work, the Bacchae. When news of his death reached Athens in early 406 BC, Sophocles appeared publicly in mourning for him. Euripides is thought to have written about ninety-two plays, of which seventeen tragedies and one satyr-play known to be his survive; the other play which is attributed to him, the Rhesus, may in fact be by a later hand.

John Davie is head of classics at St. Paul's School in London.


Richard Rutherford is tutor in Greek and Latin literature at Christ Church, Oxford.


Richard Rutherford is tutor in Greek and Latin literature at Christ Church, Oxford.


Richard Rutherford is tutor in Greek and Latin literature at Christ Church, Oxford.

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