The 100 Books Project: Greek Tragedies, Vol. 3

Another book was finished this morning! I buckled down and swept through the last few pages to get to the final pages of the following:

“Greek Tragedies: Volume 3” edited by David Grene and Richmond Lattimore featuring ‘The Eumenides” by Aechylus, “Philoctetes” and “Oedipus at Colonus” by Sophocles, and “The Bacchae” and “Alcestis” by Euripides

Clearly, this book is a hold-over from my university days, but it was good to read through some of the stories again, because, while I remember doing a report on “The Bacchae” (and doing terribly on it), I actually didn’t remember anything about The Bacchae itself (which is probably why I did terrible on it). For me, personally, there are a lot of hits and misses in this particular volume. “The Eumenides” and “Oedipus at Colonus” bored me to tears; I could not find it interesting or care too particularly about the tragedies at hand. I feel, in Oedipus’ case, you really can’t beat what happened to him in his first play… “The Bacchae” and “Philoctetes,” on the other hand, I adored. What’s not to love about a god who gets revenge through crazy orgies and killing your son thinking he’s a wild animal? And I could envision Philoctetes being very entertaining on stage or screen. Neoptolemus was a great hero figure, for me, displaying a great depth of character. I may take it upon myself to write a version of the tale myself.

This just leaves “Alcestis” undiscussed, and, since it is the last story, it’s probably the freshest in my mind, and the one I’m the most conflicted about. It had the potential to be a gloriously messy tragedy, but wound up pulling out a Heracles-ex-machina to have a happy ending. I wanted Admetus to suffer more in fearing that perhaps he had done wrong by letting his wife die in his stead, I wanted it to address that if he had died as planned, how difficult it would have been for Alcestis as a widow, and to have a weighing of those two consequences, but there wasn’t much of that; there wasn’t nearly as much musing on the level of cowardice involved in Admetus’ choice to let Alcestis die for him. And what choice did Alcestis have, anyway, once she was offered the choice? If she’d have refused, she’d have been trounced as a terrible wife, a shameful woman, and yet her choice to die raises her up to a pedestal. The lack of recognition of her dilemma except as a perfect martyr was unsatisfying (although perhaps the tale from her perspective may definitely be an idea).

To be honest, I would rather read a vignette on the days after the end of the play. Heracles mentions that Alcestis cannot speak until after three days, after the shadow of the underworld has passed. Where’s that story? (This is where someone points out to me that it does exist and I can feel shameful of my complete forgetfulness of the Greek classics).

Either way, I feel a little more intelligent and academic again for having reread one of these volumes.

Books read: 2 out of 100

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