Euripides and Insanity

Status: published

Next up is the fourth volume\"\" of Euripides, including:Herakles, Phoenician Women, and Bacchae. Yeah, onlythree in this volume so I would say it is the shortest volume of Euripides butthe physical book is actually like an inch taller than the others. This made menotice that there are a lot of little discrepancies between the various volumesin the set. They look a little weird lined up on a shelf. What the hell, OxfordUniversity Press? But if I just wanted something that looked pretty on theshelf, I probably would have bought the real Great Books series.

Herakles is a pretty strange play. Especially since I did notrealize that the wife and kids in this play are separate from the wife and kidsfound in other Hercules plays until after I finished reading it. Which is alittle awkward since the two other plays I'm thinking of involve the death ofHercules at the hands of his wife and the survival of his children after hisdeath while this play is all about how Hera makes Hercules go crazy and murderhis entire family. After he recovers his wits, he decides he wants to killhimself. But good old Theseus, freshly rescued from Hades, is there to talk himout of it. I guess he gets over it because all these dead people aren't reallymentioned in those other two plays which are later chronologically. He alsotakes a third wife after he dies and becomes a god. Incidentally, once he dies,he is in both Hades and Olympus due to his half-mortal/half-divine nature. Histen labors are also commonly explained to have become twelve because two of theoriginals "didn't count". His sidekick is also quite variable. I'm skepticalthat Hercules' story was ever as cohesive and monolithic as these playwrightsportray. I suspect they, or their literary predecessors, just crunched a bunchof oral tales into a somewhat cohesive whole. In any case, Hercules' reactionat the end is very moving. And Madness herself basically calling Hera bitch forwhat she was doing is pretty awesome.

Phoenician Women is possibly my favorite play so far. It haselements from all of the Oedipus plays, Seven Against Thebes,Iphigenia at Aulis, nearly any play with slave women, and so manymore. It's like an action-packed summary of half of Greek Tragedy. I reallywant to see this play staged someday. It takes place shortly after Oedipusgouges out his eyes but is still before he has left the city and continuesuntil Antigone tries to bury her slain brothers. The Phoenician women of thetitle actually have very little relevance to the overall play. I would say thisis a definite must read, with the caveat that it may not really have the samethrill for someone who hasn't read most of all the other tragedies. It is apretty sweet payoff for all that work though.

Bacchae is one of Euripides' more famous plays. So I kind of wentinto this one with high expectations. In short, Bacchus shows up to Thebes,place of his birth, and tries to force them into worshiping as the god that heis, his father being Zeus. His scheme, successful in the end, mostly revolvesaround stealing all the women and getting them to dance drunkenly in themountains. It's a little silly. It is probably a lot more entertaining staged,what with all the drunken dancing women. As a read, I didn't much enjoy it. Butultimately Euripides' track record is still pretty solid with me, so I don'treally mind.

One more volume of Greek Tragedy to go, folks!