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Medea and Other Plays: Medea / Hecabe / Electra / Heracles

por Euripides

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Euripides was a brilliant and powerful innovator within the traditional framework of Attic drama.
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53. Medea & Other Plays: Medea, Hecabe, Electra, Heracles by Euripides, translated by Philip Vellacott
translation 1963
format: 200 page Penguin Classics paperback, 1968 reprint
acquired: 2006, from my neighbor
read: Aug 20-25
rating: 3 stars

Reading all these Greek tragedies, in a sort of sum affect, makes the Greek mythological stories seem ridiculous. I think this especially true with Euripides. There is this sort of un-serious element, a sense of mockery. Each of the three tragic Greek playwrights finds the most extreme, hardest to fathom elements of the mythology, and foregrounds it in their plays. And, it just seems that in same way Hollywood today mocks our religious and moral background, undermining in sum, even if not in intention, Greek drama undermines Ancient Greek beliefs and moral standards.

Well, that was a bit convoluted. I'm trying to compensate, because this book didn't offer much to me. Medea was a re-read. Hecabe was forgettable, Heracles is over-dramatic and Electra has it's own issues. Not my favorite plays.

Medea 431 bce

This is really a great and disturbing play and re-reading it does add a bit, but doesn't make it any more pleasant. Reviewed on my thread here

Hecabe (aka Hecuba) 424 bce

Hecabe is Hector's mother. So, she loses everything in the Trojan war and lives a bit to suffer through it. That's the setting here. She has to experience watching her last daughter, Polyxena, condemned to be a human sacrifice to Achilles. Then, immediately after, she learns of the murder of her one remaining son, Polydorus, who had been sent off to another kingdom for protection. He was murdered by his protector, King Polymestor of Thrace. Lots of inadequate dramatic words. All is not lost, as Hecabe gets a chance to get revenge on Polymestor. Her fellow Trojan woman slaves will set a trap, blind Polymestor and kill his sons. So, at least it's a happy ending...

Electra 420 bce

The Sophocles play of this same name is powerful, and complex and interesting. With that in mind, I found this play bewildering in its plainness. At one point Euripides makes fun of a scene in Aeschylus's play with Electra, The Libations Bearers. It's legitimately funny and it's all told straight, with only sarcastic humor. After that scene, I tried to read sarcasm into the entire remaining play...and it all made perfect sense. I guess a lesson is one should be careful not to take these too seriously.

Heracles 416 bce

Heracles probably deserves some more reflection, but it was so over-dramatic, like a constant high pitched scream, that the thought-provoking affect was lost one me.

With Heracles away, we watch his wife, Megara, human father, Amphitryon, and his children deal with being condemned to pubic execution. They go back and forth between hope and acceptance. At the last moment Heracles arrives and saves them. But, then, immediately, the Goddess Iris has the goddess Madness drive Heracles into an insane episode where he kills his wife and children. An accountant might point out that he came out one family member ahead, Amphitryon lives.

In the emotional fall out, Heracles goes through emotional episodes that include an expression of doubt of all the gods, since gods can only do good. He is doubting what is essential to his own existence, as his real father is Zeus. (I should point out that the actors seem a bit uncertain on this).

There is a lot going on in the play. Notable is, first, how the family responds to being condemned to die, and, second, the doubt in the belief in the gods expressed by Heracles. Euripides is supposedly reflecting his times and the tangled debate going on in and around 5th-century bce Athens about what to believe. This is interesting, and maybe I will get something out of it on a re-read, but right now I need a play with less melodrama.

https://www.librarything.com/topic/226898#5707016 ( )
  dchaikin | Aug 28, 2016 |
If you are looking to read Euripides in English then I recommend this edition, or any edition of Philip Vellacott's translations. ( )
  Lukerik | Nov 26, 2015 |
She’s killed two people to protect the man she loves. She’s followed him into exile in a foreign land. But now her hero husband has dumped her for a younger model (who happens to be the King’s daughter) so she determines to take her revenge. First she poisons the new bride and the bride’s father and then slays her own sons.

It sounds like the plot of a TV drama or even a Polanski film. With its theme of gender relations and female oppression in a patriarchal society, it sounds very twentieth century. But it’s actually a play that’s more than 2,000 years old.

Diana Rigg’s portrayal of Medea in 1993 was described as ‘the performance of her life’
Medea, written in 431BC by the Greek dramatist Euripedes, is based on the legendary story of Jason (the leader of the Argonauts’s quest to gain the Golden Fleece) and his vengeful wife Medea. It was performed in a competition as part of a religious festival to the god Dionysus held in Athens.

Although the play reflects the stylistic elements of traditional Greek tragedy that the original audience would have expected ( such as the Chorus who reflect on and amplify the events they witness, and the hymn of praise to Athens) , it was not well received. Euripedes actually came last in the competition. One theory is that the theme was considered too radical, blurring the boundaries of conventional gender and social roles and undermining Jason’s role as heroic figure. For instead of a Jason who is the honourable and brave Greek hero, the accusations levelled against him by Medea show us a figure who is disloyal and self interested. He’s conveniently forgotten that she saved his life and in doing so was forced to leave her homeland.

For modern audiences, her desire to see Jason suffer would be understandable though the means she uses wouldn’t be generally acceptable. But less easy to comprehend is her act of infanticide against two children who have little part to play in her marriage breakdown. The only reason she gives for such a shocking act is that she is saving them from a greater fate they would experience if she were to flee the country and leave them behind. Presumably she thinks they would be killed in revenge for her own actions – so it would be bettter for her to be their killer than anyone else. Other characters suggest she is deranged and mad yet she shows little sign of this when she has her big shown down with Jason, arguing very coherently why she sees his marriage as a supreme act of betrayal. The play thus raises an important question – are there some circumstances under which it would be justifiable – or acceptable – for a mother to kill her children? Equally important is the question of whether such individuals should be punished for their action – Medea escapes from any form of justice since the play ends with her riding away in a chariot to start a new life in Athens.

There isn’t much subtlety in this play; it’s a full on study of a woman who is hell bent on revenge and systematically sets about achieving it. As to be expected, it’s full of references to Gods and prevailing beliefs that are no longer relevant for today’s society – but the themes and questions it raises are still pertinent.


Patricide, matricide, a brother and his sister reunited after decades but then forced to part: the story of Electra and her brother Orestes features in plays by three of the leading Greek dramatists. The only version I’ve read is by Euripides so I can’t comment on how it compares to the plays by Sophocles or Aeschylus.

The framework of the story is straightforward: on his return from Troy, Agammemnon, King of Argos was killed by Aegisthus who then married the widow Clytemnestra. Her son Orestes was secretly sent abroad to keep him out of harm; her daughter Electra was married off to a peasant. After 11 years or so in exile, Orestes returns determined for revenge and tracks down his sister. The two kill King and Queen but instead of being rewarded for their actions, retribution awaits them in the shape of Zeus’ twin sons. Orestes is despatched to Athens to stand trial and his sister is married off to his best friend and told the leave Argos.

There are a few puzzling elements of Euripedes’ play however which seem to exist just to move the plot along but tell us nothing much about the characters. One of them happens when Orestes and Electra meet again but don’t initially recognise each other. Eventually the penny drops but it seems to take them a fair time and then suddenly, they hatch this plot. It’s all wrapped out without much ceremony or a great deal of debate. A kind of “hello brother, good to see you after all these years. You’ve come to kill the King? Off you go then and I’ll get Clytemnestra to my house so I can kill her.”

This approach means it’s hard to relate to either character. Euripides could have posed an interesting question – what makes a person kill, not out of sudden burst of anger, but out of a desire for revenge harboured over many years. But we don’t get to see that question played out or much real debate between the two offspring about the reasons for their murderous intent. Electra seems just as determined as her brother to exact revenge yet, the play shows that at the final moment she drops the sword and it’s Orestes who steps in to kill Clytemnestra having already seen off Aegisthus. Why Electra fails at the exact moment when she supposedly is about to fulfil her desire, is never explained.

This was the second play by Euripides I’ve now read as part of my Classics Club list. After the passion and drama of Medea, my expectations were high for another explosive drama but all I encountered was the literary equivalent of a damp squib.
1 vote Mercury57 | Nov 3, 2012 |
Better than Aeschylus, outclassed by Sophocles. Medea, Electra, Hecabe and Heracles all wallow in pathos, with wailing and weeping trending toward the shrill at times. Euripides' characters show occasional subtlety when they expound on human nature, especially in a couple of cases when women's psyches are described in almost non-misogynistic ways. Revenge and the culpability of the gods' judgment are pervasive themes. ( )
1 vote lyzadanger | Oct 17, 2008 |
This book contains four Greek tragedies that each concern a central character who was once powerful and has been brought down by betrayal, jealousy, guilt and the gods.

Medea (431BC) - Medea kills Creon (the King of Corinth), Glauce (his daughter) and her two sons by Jason. This is to cause Jason pain for leaving her for a second wife (Glauce). As a woman if her husband takes a second wife she is supposed to lump it and although killing her children is completely wicked and dispicable, she is sort of a feminist sticking up for herself and not wanting her husband to leave her. This was probably my favourite of the plays and is the most well known.

Hecabe (425BC) - Hecabe (the wife of Priam who was the King of Troy) blinds Polymestor and kills his two sons after he murdered her last living son Polydorus for his gold who he was supposed to be looking after. I can understand why she did this as she has already lost her husband, her other sons and all of her daughters except for Cassandra.

Electra (415BD) - Electra and her Brother Orestes kill their mother Clytemnestra aqnd her husbad Aegisthus because the two of them killed their father Agamemnon when he returns from winning the war at Troy. The sad thing is that they realise that they need each other but in the end they have to go their seperate ways and will never see each other again. Orestes is pursued by the Furies for murdering his kin and Electra marries his best friend Pylades.

Heracles (420BC) - Heracles returns from completing his Twelve Labours and kills Lycus. Lycus was about to kill Heracles' father, wife and three sons so acts in self defense. However now he has completed his labours, Hera is allowed to interfer and send her messenger Iris and Maddness ( who doesn't want to do this to Heracles) who afflict Heracles and in his maddness he kills his wife Megara and his sons. His father Amphitryon just escapes and they manage to confine Heracles until the maddness passes. Heracles did a horrible thing, but to be fair it wasn't really his fault. I did enjoy this the least though, it took a long time to tell when it was essentially a very short tale.

Overall ***1/2 out of 5. ( )
1 vote Rhinoa | Mar 12, 2007 |
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Euripidesautor principaltodas as ediçõescalculated
Vellacott, PhilipTradutorautor principalalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
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Of the four plays in this volume, three have in common a point of special interest for their first audience.

Introduction (Penguin Classics ed.).
NURSE: If only they had never gone!


POLYDORUS: From sombre caverns of the secret earth, from gates
Of darkness where, far from the company of gods,
Hades governs his colony - from the dead come I.


PEASANT: Argos the ancient! River Inachus!


AMPHITRYTON: Is there a man living who has not heard of me -
Amphitryton of Argos, whose bed welcomed Zeus?


(Penguin Classics ed.).
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This work combines Medea with Hecabe, Electra, and Herakles. Please do not combine with works containing a differing selection of plays.
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