Trojan Women

Trojan Women

Trojan Women

Trojan Women

Synopsis

Among surviving Greek tragedies only Euripides' Trojan Women shows us the extinction of a whole city, an entire people. Despite its grim theme, or more likely because of the centrality of that theme to the deepest fears of our own age, this is one of the relatively few Greek tragedies thatregularly finds its way to the stage. Here the power of Euripides' theatrical and moral imagination speaks clearly across the twenty-five centuries that separate our world from his. The theme is really a double one: the suffering of the victims of war, exemplified by the woman who survive the fallof Troy, and the degradation of the victors, shown by the Greeks' reckless and ultimately self-destructive behavior. It offers an enduring picture of human fortitude in the midst of despair. Trojan Women gains special relevance, of course, in times of war. It presents a particularly intenseaccount of human suffering and uncertainty, but one that is also rooted in considerations of power and policy, morality and expedience. Furthermore, the seductions of power and the dangers both of its exercise and of resistance to it as portrayed in Trojan Women are not simply philosophical orrhetorical gambits but part of the lived experience of Euripides' day. And their analogues in our own day lie all too close at hand. This new powerful translation of Trojan Women includes an illuminating introduction, explanatory notes, a glossary, and suggestions for further reading.

Excerpt

TROJAN WOMEN IN CONTEXT

Tragedy, as everyone knows, tells ‘‘sad stories of the death of kings,’’ but among surviving Greek tragedies only Euripides’ Trojan Women shows us the extinction of a whole city, an entire people. Despite its grim theme, or more likely because of the way that theme resonates with the deepest fears of our own age, this is one of the relatively few Greek tragedies that regularly finds its way to the stage. The power of Euripides’ theatrical and moral imagination speaks clearly across the twenty-five centuries that separate our world from his. The theme is really a double one: the suffering of the victims of war, exemplified by the women who survive the fall of Troy, and the degradation of the victors, shown by the Greeks’ reckless and ultimately self-destructive behavior. Trojan Women gains special relevance, of course, in times of war. Today, we seem to need this play more than ever.

Let us begin, however, by considering this extraordinary document of human suffering and resilience in the context of its own times. We know that Euripides competed at the City Dionysia of 415 with a trilogy of Trojan tragedies and won second prize—almost tantamount to losing, because only three playwrights competed in the tragic competition. This information comes down to us in a bemused comment from Aelian, a writer of the early third century of our own era:

Xenocles, whoever he was, won first prize with Oedipus, Lykaon, Bac
chae, and the satyr play Athamas; Euripides came second with Alexan
der, Palamedes, Trojan Women, and the satyr play Sisyphus. Is it not
ridiculous that Xenocles should win and Euripides be defeated with
plays such as these? (Varia Historia 2.8)

From Aelian’s astonishment, we learn that in his day, Euripides’ play was held in high regard, although it was not an immediate success. Aelian suggests that the only possible explanations for Euripides’ loss to Xenocles were that those who voted were stupid and ignorant, or that they were . . .

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