Electra and Other Plays

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Penguin, 1953 - Drama - 217 pages
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Sophocles' innovative plays transformed Greek myths into dramas with complex human characters, through which he explored profound moral issues. Electra portrays the grief of a young woman for her father Agamemnon, who has been killed by her mother's lover. Aeschylus and Euripides also dramatized this story, but the objectivity and humanity of Sophocles' version provide a new perspective. Depicting the fall of a great hero, Ajax examines the enigma of power and weakness combined in one being, while the Woman of Trachis portrays the tragic love and error of Heracles' deserted wife Deianeira, and Philoctetes deals with the conflict between physical force and moral strength.
E. F. Watling's vivid translation is accompanied by an introduction in which he discusses Sophocles' use of a third actor to create new dramatic situations and compares the different treatments of the Electra myth by the three great tragic poets of classical Athens.
  

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Contents

AJAX
17
ELECTRA
68
WOMEN OF TRACHIS
118
PHILOCTETES
162
NOTES TO AJAX
213
NOTES TO ELECTRA
214
NOTES TO WOMEN OF TRACHIS
216
NOTES TO PHILOCTETES
218
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About the author (1953)

The Greek dramatist Sophocles, born to a wealthy family at Colonus, near Athens, was admired as a boy for his personal beauty and musical skill. He served faithfully as a treasurer and general for Athens when it was expanding its empire and influence. In the dramatic contests, he defeated Aeschylus in 468 b.c. for first prize in tragedy, wrote a poem to Herodotus (see Vol. 3), and led his chorus and actors in mourning for Euripides just a few months before his own death. He wrote approximately 123 plays, of which 7 tragedies are extant, as well as a fragment of his satiric play, Ichneutae (Hunters). His plays were produced in the following order: Ajax (c.450 b.c.), Antigone (441 b.c.), Oedipus Tyrannus (c.430 b.c.), Trachiniae (c.430 b.c.), Electra (between 418 and 410 b.c.), Philoctetes (409 b.c.), and Oedipus at Colonus (posthumously in 401 b.c.). With Sophocles, Greek tragedy reached its most characteristic form. He added a third actor, made each play independent---that is, not dependent on others in a trilogy---increased the numbers of the chorus, introduced the use of scenery, shifted the focus from religious to more philosophical issues, and brought language and characters, though still majestic, nearer to everyday life. His finely delineated characters are responsible for the tragedy that befalls them, and they accept it heroically. Aristotle (see Vols. 3, 4, and 5) states that Sophocles said he portrayed people as they ought to be; Euripides, as they are. His utter command of tragic speech in the simple grandeur of his choral odes, dialogues, and monologues encourages the English reader to compare him to Shakespeare (see Vol. 1).

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