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Medea and Other Plays : Medea; Hecabe;…
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Medea and Other Plays : Medea; Hecabe; Electra; Heracles (Penguin… (edition 2002)

by Euripides, Philip Vellacott (Introduction), Philip Vellacott (Translator)

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Member:Mercury57
Title:Medea and Other Plays : Medea; Hecabe; Electra; Heracles (Penguin Classics)
Authors:Euripides
Other authors:Philip Vellacott (Introduction), Philip Vellacott (Translator)
Info:Penguin (2002), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 205 pages
Collections:Your library, Currently reading
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Tags:Greek drama, Classics

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4 Plays: Electra / Hecuba / Heracles / Medea by Euripides

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She’s killed two people to protect the man she loves. She’s followed him into exile in a foreign land. But now her hero husband has dumped her for a younger model (who happens to be the King’s daughter) so she determines to take her revenge. First she poisons the new bride and the bride’s father and then slays her own sons.

It sounds like the plot of a TV drama or even a Polanski film. With its theme of gender relations and female oppression in a patriarchal society, it sounds very twentieth century. But it’s actually a play that’s more than 2,000 years old.

Diana Rigg’s portrayal of Medea in 1993 was described as ‘the performance of her life’
Medea, written in 431BC by the Greek dramatist Euripedes, is based on the legendary story of Jason (the leader of the Argonauts’s quest to gain the Golden Fleece) and his vengeful wife Medea. It was performed in a competition as part of a religious festival to the god Dionysus held in Athens.

Although the play reflects the stylistic elements of traditional Greek tragedy that the original audience would have expected ( such as the Chorus who reflect on and amplify the events they witness, and the hymn of praise to Athens) , it was not well received. Euripedes actually came last in the competition. One theory is that the theme was considered too radical, blurring the boundaries of conventional gender and social roles and undermining Jason’s role as heroic figure. For instead of a Jason who is the honourable and brave Greek hero, the accusations levelled against him by Medea show us a figure who is disloyal and self interested. He’s conveniently forgotten that she saved his life and in doing so was forced to leave her homeland.

For modern audiences, her desire to see Jason suffer would be understandable though the means she uses wouldn’t be generally acceptable. But less easy to comprehend is her act of infanticide against two children who have little part to play in her marriage breakdown. The only reason she gives for such a shocking act is that she is saving them from a greater fate they would experience if she were to flee the country and leave them behind. Presumably she thinks they would be killed in revenge for her own actions – so it would be bettter for her to be their killer than anyone else. Other characters suggest she is deranged and mad yet she shows little sign of this when she has her big shown down with Jason, arguing very coherently why she sees his marriage as a supreme act of betrayal. The play thus raises an important question – are there some circumstances under which it would be justifiable – or acceptable – for a mother to kill her children? Equally important is the question of whether such individuals should be punished for their action – Medea escapes from any form of justice since the play ends with her riding away in a chariot to start a new life in Athens.

There isn’t much subtlety in this play; it’s a full on study of a woman who is hell bent on revenge and systematically sets about achieving it. As to be expected, it’s full of references to Gods and prevailing beliefs that are no longer relevant for today’s society – but the themes and questions it raises are still pertinent.

Electra:

Patricide, matricide, a brother and his sister reunited after decades but then forced to part: the story of Electra and her brother Orestes features in plays by three of the leading Greek dramatists. The only version I’ve read is by Euripides so I can’t comment on how it compares to the plays by Sophocles or Aeschylus.

The framework of the story is straightforward: on his return from Troy, Agammemnon, King of Argos was killed by Aegisthus who then married the widow Clytemnestra. Her son Orestes was secretly sent abroad to keep him out of harm; her daughter Electra was married off to a peasant. After 11 years or so in exile, Orestes returns determined for revenge and tracks down his sister. The two kill King and Queen but instead of being rewarded for their actions, retribution awaits them in the shape of Zeus’ twin sons. Orestes is despatched to Athens to stand trial and his sister is married off to his best friend and told the leave Argos.

There are a few puzzling elements of Euripedes’ play however which seem to exist just to move the plot along but tell us nothing much about the characters. One of them happens when Orestes and Electra meet again but don’t initially recognise each other. Eventually the penny drops but it seems to take them a fair time and then suddenly, they hatch this plot. It’s all wrapped out without much ceremony or a great deal of debate. A kind of “hello brother, good to see you after all these years. You’ve come to kill the King? Off you go then and I’ll get Clytemnestra to my house so I can kill her.”

This approach means it’s hard to relate to either character. Euripides could have posed an interesting question – what makes a person kill, not out of sudden burst of anger, but out of a desire for revenge harboured over many years. But we don’t get to see that question played out or much real debate between the two offspring about the reasons for their murderous intent. Electra seems just as determined as her brother to exact revenge yet, the play shows that at the final moment she drops the sword and it’s Orestes who steps in to kill Clytemnestra having already seen off Aegisthus. Why Electra fails at the exact moment when she supposedly is about to fulfil her desire, is never explained.

This was the second play by Euripides I’ve now read as part of my Classics Club list. After the passion and drama of Medea, my expectations were high for another explosive drama but all I encountered was the literary equivalent of a damp squib.
1 vote Mercury57 | Nov 3, 2012 |
Better than Aeschylus, outclassed by Sophocles. Medea, Electra, Hecabe and Heracles all wallow in pathos, with wailing and weeping trending toward the shrill at times. Euripides' characters show occasional subtlety when they expound on human nature, especially in a couple of cases when women's psyches are described in almost non-misogynistic ways. Revenge and the culpability of the gods' judgment are pervasive themes. ( )
  lyzadanger | Oct 17, 2008 |
This book contains four Greek tragedies that each concern a central character who was once powerful and has been brought down by betrayal, jealousy, guilt and the gods.

Medea (431BC) - Medea kills Creon (the King of Corinth), Glauce (his daughter) and her two sons by Jason. This is to cause Jason pain for leaving her for a second wife (Glauce). As a woman if her husband takes a second wife she is supposed to lump it and although killing her children is completely wicked and dispicable, she is sort of a feminist sticking up for herself and not wanting her husband to leave her. This was probably my favourite of the plays and is the most well known.

Hecabe (425BC) - Hecabe (the wife of Priam who was the King of Troy) blinds Polymestor and kills his two sons after he murdered her last living son Polydorus for his gold who he was supposed to be looking after. I can understand why she did this as she has already lost her husband, her other sons and all of her daughters except for Cassandra.

Electra (415BD) - Electra and her Brother Orestes kill their mother Clytemnestra aqnd her husbad Aegisthus because the two of them killed their father Agamemnon when he returns from winning the war at Troy. The sad thing is that they realise that they need each other but in the end they have to go their seperate ways and will never see each other again. Orestes is pursued by the Furies for murdering his kin and Electra marries his best friend Pylades.

Heracles (420BC) - Heracles returns from completing his Twelve Labours and kills Lycus. Lycus was about to kill Heracles' father, wife and three sons so acts in self defense. However now he has completed his labours, Hera is allowed to interfer and send her messenger Iris and Maddness ( who doesn't want to do this to Heracles) who afflict Heracles and in his maddness he kills his wife Megara and his sons. His father Amphitryon just escapes and they manage to confine Heracles until the maddness passes. Heracles did a horrible thing, but to be fair it wasn't really his fault. I did enjoy this the least though, it took a long time to tell when it was essentially a very short tale.

Overall ***1/2 out of 5. ( )
  Rhinoa | Mar 12, 2007 |
Medea itself I studied for my Open University course, but the others I had not come across before. The editor has done well to group these four plays together - they share so much in common. Not only do all of them concern the death of children or parents, but stylistically they are very similar: the action all takes place off stage, and from a single location, and then the horrors are reported back to the audience by way of a messenger and the Chorus. An excellent introduction to Greek plays. ( )
  soylentgreen23 | Jan 29, 2007 |
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Euripidesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Vellacott, PhilipTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Of the four plays in this volume, three have in common a point of special interest for their first audience. (Introduction)
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This work combines Medea with Hecabe, Electra, and Herakles. Please do not combine with works containing a differing selection of plays.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140441298, Paperback)

Euripides was a brilliant and powerful innovator within the traditional framework of Attic drama.

The last of the three great Athenian dramatists, and during his lifetime perhaps the most controversial, Euripides was the first playwright to use the chorus as a commentator; the first to put contemporary language into the mouths of heroes; and the first to interpret human suffering without reference to the wisdom of gods.

The four plays in this volume all show Euripides to have been a man defiant of established beliefs, and preoccupied with the dichotomy between instinctive and civilized behaviour. And his daring interpretations of ancient myths are enhanced by his brilliance as a lyricist, for Euripides' choral odes are among the most beautiful ever written. Reading plays such as these, it is not difficult to appreciate Aristotle's admiration of him as the most 'tragic' of the Greek poets.


@GoldenFarce Good, the gals stand outside my house all the time. The constant chanting is creepy, but all agree: Jason crossing the line!

When he gets home we’ll talk. I’m sure we can work it out. But what’s the best way to approach this? Any advice, anyone? #wackrelationships

From Twitterature: The World's Greatest Books in Twenty Tweets or Less

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:19:29 -0400)

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Translated with an introduction by Philip Vellacott.

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Penguin Australia

Two editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140441298, 0140449299

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