Now in paperback. Euripides, the last of the three great tragedians of ancient Athens, reached the height of his renown during the disastrous Peloponnesian War, when democratic Athens was brought down by its own outsized ambitions. "Euripides," the classicist Bernard Knox has written, "was born never to live in peace with himself and to prevent ...
Now in paperback. Euripides, the last of the three great tragedians of ancient Athens, reached the height of his renown during the disastrous Peloponnesian War, when democratic Athens was brought down by its own outsized ambitions. "Euripides," the classicist Bernard Knox has written, "was born never to live in peace with himself and to prevent the rest of mankind from doing so." His plays were shockers: he unmasked heroes, revealing them as foolish and savage, and he wrote about the powerless-women and children, slaves and barbarians-for whom tragedy was not so much exceptional as unending. Euripides' plays rarely won first prize in the great democratic competitions of ancient Athens, but their combustible mixture of realism and extremism fascinated audiences throughout the Greek world. In the last days of the Peloponnesian War, Athenian prisoners held captive in far-off Sicily were said to have won their freedom by reciting snatches of Euripides' latest tragedies. Four of those tragedies are presented here in new translations by the contemporary poet and classicist Anne Carson. They are "Herakles," in which the hero swaggers home to destroy his own family; "Hekabe," set after the Trojan War, in which Hektor's widow takes vengeance on her Greek captors; "Hippolytos," about love and the horror of love; and the strange tragic-comedy fable "Alkestis," which tells of a husband who arranges for his wife to die in his place. The volume also contains brief introductions by Carson to each of the plays along with two remarkable framing essays: "Tragedy: A Curious Art Form" and "Why I Wrote Two Plays About Phaidra."
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Publishers Weekly, 2006-06-12 Writing with a pitch and heat that gets to the heart of the unforgiving classical world, Carson, a poet (The Autobiography of Red) and classicist (Economy of the Unlost), translates four of the 18 surviving plays by Euripides (485-406 B.C.): Alkestis, Herakles, Hekabe and Hippolytos. All feature characters trading single lines that somehow contain the essence of human tragedy. Alkestis blunderingly trades his wife's life for his own, then gets her back-but has to live with the embarrassment of having given her up. Herakles returns triumphant from the underworld, only to perform a fate-induced infanticide on his own children. Hekabe, a former queen now slave to the wily Odysseus, is reduced to a vengeful form of will to power. Hippolytos's uncomprehending state as the object of stepmother Phaidra's desire unravels all concerned. Carson is nothing less than brilliant-unfalteringly sharp in diction, audacious and judicious in taking liberties. In four separate prefaces, she introduces the plays succinctly, picking apart their structures and showing where flaws may be intentional. Worth the price of admission alone is Carson's blistering essay-afterword, written in Euripides's voice, which asks questions like "Is all anger sexual?" This amazing book gets very close to the playwright's enigmatic answers. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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