Synopses & Reviews
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 powerlesswomen and children, slaves and barbariansfor 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 here presented 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 Hektors 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.”
For much of Euripides life, the world was at war. The anguish and rage that resulted from a world given over to violence provoked the poet and playwright to create stunning tragedies, whose grief reverberates as accurately today as it did when democratic Athens succumbed to the Peloponnesian Wars.
Following an acclaimed translation of Sappho's poems and fragments, If Not, Winter, the acclaimed poet and classicist Anne Carson now turns to the plays of Euripides, chronologically the latest and certainly the most troubled of the major Greek tragedians. One of the most versatile, accomplished, fertile, and plain astonishing writers of our day, Carson is a poet with the acumen of an essayist; and essayist with the lyric gift of a poet; a scholar who is as daring as she is erudite. Euripides, Carson says, is the most unpleasant of the tragedians, which is to say the most tragic, and her bold new translation of his chronicles of superstition and despair offers a new view of his discordant and unsparing art.
The four plays included here are Alkestits, Hekabe, Herakles, and Hippolytos. The book includes a general introduction by Carson, along with introductions to each of the plays, and a final Address to Euripides.
About the Author
Euripides, the youngest of the three great Athenian playwrights, is thought to have written about ninety-two plays, of which seventeen tragedies and one satyr-play have survived.
Anne Carson was twice a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; was honored with the 1996 Lannan Award and the 1997 Pushcart Prize, both for poetry; and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2000. In 2001 she received the T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry the first woman to do so; the Griffin Poetry Prize; and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. She currently teaches at the University of Michigan.