Euripides, wrote Aristotle, ‘is the most intensely tragic of all the poets’. In his questioning attitude to traditional pieties, disconcerting shifts of sympathy, disturbingly eloquent evil characters and acute insight into destructive passion, he is also the most strikingly modern of ancient authors.
Written in the period from 426 to 415 BC, during the fierce struggle for supremacy between Athens and Sparta, these five plays are haunted by the horrors of war – and its particular impact on women. Only the Suppliants, with its extended debate on democracy and monarchy, can be seen as a patriotic piece. The Trojan Women is perhaps the greatest of all anti-war dramas; Andromache shows the ferocious clash between the wife and concubine of Achilles’ son Neoptolemos; while Hecabe reveals how hatred can drive a victim to an appalling act of cruelty. Electra develops (and parodies) Aeschylus’ treatment of the same story, in which the heroine and her brother Orestes commit matricide to avenge their father Agamemnon. As always, Euripides presents the heroic figures of mythology as recognizable, often very fallible, human beings. Some of his greatest achievements appear in this volume.