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4 Plays: Bacchae / Helen / Ion / Trojan…

4 Plays: Bacchae / Helen / Ion / Trojan Women

by Euripides

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,023813,306 (3.94)17
The plays of Euripides have stimulated audiences since the fifth century BC. This volume, containing Phoenician Women, Bacchae, Iphigenia at Aulis, Orestes, and Rhesuscompletes the new editions of Euripides in Penguin Classics.



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49. The Bacchae and Other Plays : Ion, The Women of Troy, Helen, The Bacchae by Euripides
Translated by Philip Vellacott, 1954, revised 1973
format: 249 page Penguin Classics paperback
acquired: from my library
read: Aug 7-11
rating: 4 stars

Ion 414 bce
The Women of Troy 415 bce
Helen 412 bce
The Bacchae 405 bce (posthumous)

These are all late plays from Euripides. They show a lot of developed complexity compared to the collection of earlier plays I read previously. His understated satire is still prominent, but has become much more sophisticated and not entirely negative. His play structure no longer feels like a selection of long dull monologues that only affect in sum, and that are entirely disturbing. They are more dynamic, they keep the reader/viewer entertained, and still, there is so much going on behind the words that is completely counter to what is overtly being said. In sum, these are complex and interesting works that deserve multiple readings...but I have only read them once so far. They are also largely anti-war statements, a reflection of his times.

Euripides lived from c. 480 – c. 406 bce. This meant he lived through Athens 50 years of Greek dominance that lasted from roughly the battle of Salamis in 480 to the beginning of the Peloponnesian war in 431. Athenian citizens would struggle during the long wars with Sparta, especially during the last tens years, and Athens eventually lost in 404 bce. Euripides left Athens late in life, retiring in Macedonia.

Ion 414 bce
I can't recall how I know the story of Ion, but it must be somewhat common knowledge. Fathered by Apollo, his mother, Creusa, abandons him, then later becomes wife of the ruler of Athens, and barren. Ion is raised in Delphi by Apollo worshipers and becomes and attendant at the temple. Years later Creusa comes to Delphi to ask Apollo about her son. In the ritual process, her husband, Xuthus, is told that Ion is his own son and Creusa and Xuthus take him home to Athens to be their heir.

The play has many comic elements, such as when Ion and Creusa first meet and, not knowing who each other are, tell their parallel stories. Creusa's are told as if they are the tragic story of her close friend. But the heart of this story seems to an exploration of truth and how to deal with its uncertainty. Ion is quite a lovely character, but the more he learns the less he can be certain of. Even Athena's appearance does not really help. We sense, along with Ion, a great deal of uncomfortable doubt as the play closes.

The Women of Troy 415 bce
A really sad play set in Troy just after its fall. The Trojan women have lost their luxury, their sons and husbands and any hope for the future. They are to become slaves. Hecabe, queen of Troy, morning the loss of her husband and most of her children, including Hector, is the focus as she looks ahead to her future life of slavery. She is assigned to Odysseus. Cassandra, not yet raped, and knowing all that will come ahead, makes an appears, as does Andromache, who still has her and Hector's son. Then Helen appears. Her situation is in notable contrast to the hopeless defeated lives around her. Helen still has a future. Her speech is striking for its lack of guilt. But her words can be read in contrasting ways, making her the most interesting part of the play.

The Women of Troy was written in the shadow of the Battle of Melos in 415 bce. Melos had tried to stay neutral between Athens and Sparta. Athens attacked and had every man who could bear arms executed and enslaved the women and children.

Helen 412 bce
A surreal plot, has Helen sits in Egypt, trapped. She never was taken by Paris to Troy, but instead a ghost made of air was taken. The play is about her getting reunited with her husband, Menelaus, and their comic escape from Egypt. But, the unstated point is that Trojan war and all it's consequences were for nothing but a puff of air. It's a very strong antiwar play, told in a way to get past the Athenian censors.

The Bacchae 405 bce (posthumous)
Written in exile, and free of Athenian wartime censorship, Euripides put his whole life of play-writing into the The Bacchae. On the surface it's the story of how Dionysus, still a young unproven god, takes revenge on his family, rulers in Thebes. His cousin, Pentheus, bull-headed ruler of Thebes, has fiercely banned worship of Dionysos and this Bacchanal frenzy. But, worship continues. Dionysus uses the frenzy as his tool. He sets up Pentheus to be torn apart alive by his own mother and his aunts.

It's, first, a curious look into (the mythology of?) Bacchic worship and its rituals. Worshipers are viewed as promiscuous and insane, but are actually quite modest in their actions. A contrast is explored between the controlled cities and their view on what they see as civilization (think war-time, repressive Athens) and humanity's animal natures. It's the most interesting play of Euripides that I've read. ( )
1 vote dchaikin | Aug 13, 2016 |
I can't believe this was written so long ago.

Different millennium, same blame game for rape victims. ( )
  Stebahnree | Mar 13, 2016 |
I can't believe this was written so long ago.

Different millennium, same blame game for rape victims. ( )
  Stebahnree | Mar 13, 2016 |
If you are looking to read Euripides in English then I recommend this edition, or any edition, as long as the translator is Philip Vellacott. ( )
  Lukerik | Nov 17, 2015 |
- I have seen the holy Bacchae, who like a flight of spears
Went streaming bare-limbed, frantic, out of the city gate.

- What, woman? What was that you said? Do you exult
When such a cruel fate has overtaken the king?
- I am no Greek.
I sing my joy in a foreign tune.

- When bull led man to the ritual slaughter-ring.

He'd have been my god, were I Greek (or one of these foreign women). Even without him, I believe that his forces or his spheres, unacknowledged, are dangerous; whether religous or psychological, this play always talked to me. Perhaps the part where Agave triumphs ignorantly with her son's head, is drawn-out, over-milked, but that's theatre for you. The effeminate foreigner who is Dionysus in disguise -- who celebrates that 'rare goddess', Peace; who cross-dresses the king to make a laughingstock of him; whose worshippers abandon the loom to tear wild beasts limb from limb... what's not to love and fascinate? So much, too, is uncannily familiar.

My personal no. 1 ancient Greek play. ( )
1 vote Jakujin | Mar 7, 2015 |
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Euripidesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Vellacott, PhilipTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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