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text 2020-03-05 22:18
New Project: Ides of March...and all of April
Classics: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) - Mary Beard,John Henderson
Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations - Mary Beard
SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome - Mary Beard
Frogs and Other Plays - Aristophanes,David B. Barrett,Shomit Dutta
The Persians and Other Plays - Alan Sommerstein,Alan H. Sommerstein,Aeschylus
Medea and Other Plays - John Davie,Euripides,Richard Rutherford
The Oresteia: Agamemnon / The Libation Bearers / The Eumenides - William Bedell Stanford,Aeschylus,Robert Fagles

Having finished three underwhelming books in a row, I need something good.


While I will also pick up Woolf's A Room of One's Own (in celebration of having my flat back after the window-fitting has finished) and have high hopes for that one, I'm also hankering for some reads about Ancient Greece and Rome.


I'll leave it to your opinion whether this was inspired by starting to read Mary Beard's Confronting the Classics, but let's say that I've had a lot of fun spending time in Ancient Greece last August and have been wanting to embark on a similar project for some time. 


So, while I'm getting an introduction to the Classics provided by Mary Beard, I'll kick off the project on the Ides of March with a read of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar followed by as many of the listed titles I can get to all the way through April. 

And as many of these are also on my physical shelves, this should tie in nicely with my 2020 Mt. TBR Project.

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review 2016-03-13 11:00
Athens and the Children of Heracles
Orestes and Other Plays (Penguin Classics) - Euripides,Philip Vellacott

The only reason I got this volume was because it contained the one Euripidean play that I did not have: the Heraklidae (or, the Children of Heracles). Herakles, otherwise known in Latin as Hercules (which is the term we generally use) was an ancient Greek hero and demigod. He is most famous for the twelve labours, but he appears elsewhere, notably as one of the Argonauts who sailed with Jason to search for the golden fleece (though he is left behind halfway there and goes his own way). Heracles is also well known for his strength, and in Greek Mythology he does seem to come out as a 'strong man' in the same sense that Samson of the Bible does. To me he is simply a hero in the same sense as Achilles.


Heracles is also known for having over 700 children, and as such creating a race who eventually invaded and conquered the Peloponesian peninsula. The play is set before their rise to power (though it needs be remembered that there was an awful lot of them). Heracles' offspring come to blows with the King of Mycenae and flee to Athens for protection. While there the king raises an army, but the Athenians warn him that the Heraclidae are under his protection. However an oracle says that unless a woman is sacrificed then they will lose the war. One Athenian (no doubt in love with one of the Heraclidae) offers herself up, and thus they go to war and win, and capture the King of Mycenae alive. They are reluctant to execute him, but he prophesies that if they kill him then his spirit will become a defender of Athens.


Euripides wrote this play during the Peloponesian war, and while we have a lot of his plays, he was always second best to his contemporary Sophocles. Initially only seven of his plays were to survive (in the same sense that we have seven each of the other two great tragedians), however an entire volume of plays also managed to survive and as such he have a much larger collection than normal. The Heraclidae would be one of those plays.


This play, obviously written during the war, is designed as a patriotic piece to inspire the Athenians during a dark period of their history. As mentioned, the Heraclidae became the Peloponesians, of which Sparta is one of the many cities. Thus the audience is reminded of a time when they were the protectors of those who are now enemies, and is a way to justify their current actions. Further, the sacrifice of the former enemy of the Heraclidae is a reminder of a promise that Athens will be protected.


Greek myth is very fluid and tends to change depending on the location and the events. Perseus is considered to be the father of the Persians and Media is the mother of the Medes. Both characters where betrayed by Greek kings, which is why their respective countries became enemies. Of course it is highly unlikely that either of these characters were to ancestors of these races, but in a Greco-centric world, one does not accept that there is any explanation beyond your own borders (which is very true of what is happening today).

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/187693555
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review 2016-03-01 18:11
Eurpides' The Bacchae
The Bacchae of Euripides - Euripides

I really loved this play.  I have read three plays by Eruipides so far and this is my favorite.  It's also my second favorite Greek play of the dozen or more that I have read.  It concerns the cult of Dionysus coming to ancient Greece.  The main character in it is the God himself who is disguised as a man for most of the play.  The Chorus, who are the Bacchae of the title are fully integrated into the action.

It is as much a horror story as a drama.  The violence in it is graphically described and horrific.  The religious skeptic's fate more horrendous than anyone in the entire Oedipal saga.  The language is powerful and strong and it is better plotted than Euripides other works.

It is about the cruelty of the Gods, and their untrammeled and often unfair power.  It is also about the triumph of passion over reason.  Those are both Euripidean themes.  Its depictions of madness prefigure Lovecraft.  The whole thing is very powerful.

At its center is the character of Dionysus who is to my mind as a depiction of a divine or quasi-divine figure only exceeded by Milton's Satan.  He is a compelling character, both worthy of worship and unworthy at the same time.  He feels divine, but also recognizably has a human psychology.  It's very good, very powerful, better than Medea and actually underrated in my opinion.

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review 2016-02-25 15:32
Euripides' Medea
Medea - Euripides,Rex Warner

Famous as the greatest of Euripidea plays (I have read three and I don't think it is), its certainly a striking masterpiece.  The story is set after Jason has returned with the Golden Fleece and with Medea as his bride.  He abandons her and her children to make a new marriage, and the story concerns Medea's revenge.

The phrase "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" was made for this play.  Albeit that Medea is revealed as more God than woman at the end of the play and we can never forget that she is a witch ( a supernatural being).  The language is bombastic and effective.  There have apparently been feminist interpretations of this play, but I do not know where this comes from.  Apparently, Euripides was thought of as a bit of a misogynist by the ancient Greeks, which definitely means that he was a misogynist, but I would not really see the book as a comment primarily about women or anything like that.  It is a fascinating look at evil.  Jason comes off as a bit of a putz which is a surprising characterization.  Medea herself is the fascinating part of the play.  She is clearly wronged.  She sucks many of the other characters and the audience into sympathizing with her as well as the audience.  Most fascinatingly she even sucks in the chorus and makes them sort of defacto guilty through inaction.  That is really interesting.  In its moral aspects it is a play about manipulation where a character manipulates others into sympathizing with them while doing horrendous things which are described very graphically.  In fact, it is some of the best description of graphic violence that I have read.  It is also a condemnation of unfettered revenge, which to the Greeks was not a platitude, as they could be very much about that, both in their art, their lives and most of all their politics.

Its also an interesting take on the important Greek theme of reason versus the passions.  These are contrasted in the usual Greek way, and while reason is seen as superior ethically, passion is seen as more powerful and effective.

It is also, as in the other two Euripides plays I have read a critique of the Gods.  It would be tempting to see it as Atheism, but I'm not sure that it is.  Instead, I think it is more an essay on the fact that the Gods are not pure goodness, but can do evil things as well.  From a philosophical point of view it rejects the idea that the universe is fundamentally just.

Its a very good work.  Well worth reading.  Challenging and complex, but despite all that I like The Phoenician Women and the Bacchae better.

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review 2015-11-18 00:00
Electra and Other Plays (Penguin Classics)
Electra and Other Plays (Penguin Classics) - Euripides General Introduction & Notes
Note on the Text & Further Reading
Chronological Table
Translator's Note

Preface to Andromache

Preface to Hecabe

Preface to Suppliant Women
--Suppliant Women

Preface to Electra

Preface to Trojan Women
--Trojan Women

Glossary of Mythological and Geographical Names
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