Book Review | The recent translation of Euripides brings the rugged figures of ancient mythology to our level – women and servants will also have a say

Contrary to what Friedrich Nietzsche thought, everyday life makes the tragedies of Euripide interesting and touching.


Euripides: Alkestis, Phoenician Women, Safety Standers, Hekabe, Andromakhe, Rhesos. Finnish Liisa Kaski, Tua Korhonen and Vesa Vahtikari. Ed. Vesa Vahtikari. Work. 684 s.

Euripides (c. 480-406 BC) is one of the classics raised to the canon of Greek tragedy, Aiskhylos and Sophocle alongside. The six tragedies that have now been published in Finnish are moving on different levels. They can be interpreted against the politics of Athens during the Euripides; on the other hand, the events take place somewhere in mythical antiquity. In the end, the themes are timeless and universal.

Friedrich Nietzsche rebuked In the path of tragedy (1872) Euripides’ plays on bourgeois mediocrity. They presented everything familiar and mundane, and Euripides destroyed the tragedy.

How wrong Nietzsche was. It is everyday life that makes the tragedies of Euripide interesting and touching. Slaves, servants, home teachers, and women get the floor.

The rugged figures of mythology have descended to our level. Everyone is able to identify as different generations take on each other, like a father and a son Alkestisin the play. In Euripide’s plays, women are powerful despite their suffering.

Alkestis is a play from death. The gods have ordained Admetos to death, but his wife Alkestis is sacrificed to death on behalf of her husband. Alkestis takes it all out of his sacrificial mind: “you can be proud of your wife for the best – and you children / that you were born of the best of mothers”.

Sacrifice raises Admetos’ anger at his own parents when neither parent wants to die for his son: “You were not my real father, / and he who says he gave birth to me, / the one who is called my mother, could not bear me.”

The underlying assumption is that the old man can already go. Such weights have been heard even today during a corona pandemic.

The father replies, “You rejoice in life, Do you think your father can no longer rejoice in it? … My life, on the other hand, lasts only a short time – but it still tastes good. ”

The final solution of the play is the intervention of the superhero Hercules. Just like in Marvel comics and movies, death can be reversed or postponed. Somewhere outside the stage, Hercules wrestles with Death and restores Alkestis back to earth.

Phoenician women and Safety nets tell of the lineage of Oedipus, on whom the curse of the generations was placed: “Your whole family is wading in the blood”.

The sons of Oedipus, Polydeikes and Eteocles, fight for power in Theeba. Eteocles is clutched and expelled, but he returns with the allies he received from Argos and attacks Theeba. Both brothers feel right and threaten in big words.

For Polyneike the truth is simple and justice does not “need varied explanations” – for Eteocle it is more complicated: “If wisdom and good meant the same to everyone, / no debate would drive people into contention”.

The Athenian public was familiar with these arguments and the warlike moods. At the time of the play’s premiere (c. 410 BC), Athens had been at war with Sparta for twenty years.

In Phoenician women the fraternal war ends with the death of both: “Side by side their teeth bark at the mold, / the fallen is both. And without sharing power ”. And Athens didn’t get any better in the Peloponnesian War.

Safety restraints continue from where to Phoenician women ends. The Argosians who attacked Theeba lie un Buried. Relatives of the warriors have come as safety net to ask for help from King Theseus of Athens.

The king of Argos is the only survivor. After his defeat, the former war madman has become a pacifist: “Woe to the poor mortals, why / do you grab a spear and baptize your hands in each other’s blood? / Stop it! Give up the chores, guard the kingdoms / and live in peace with one another! / The miracle of life is short. ”

Theseus is a self-righteous young man who does not initially sympathize with the safety goers, but who eventually agrees to help the strangers and seeks the military corpses to be buried honorably. Theseus is evolving, or can be cynically interpreted, that he sees in the Cooperation and Assistance Agreement opportunities to expand Athens ’influence.

As the police of the Greek world, Athens makes sure that “the law of man does not come to a standstill. / You respect the law / you share less with the wrongdoers / unhappy you always protect everything. ” In an argument with Theeba’s messenger, Theseus emphasizes that Athens is a free state ruled by the people.

On the other hand, he states that the people decide things according to his wishes, but it is more comfortable for the citizens to let them have their say. The messenger raises the problem of democracy: after all, no one “has time to focus on common issues”.

Hekabe, Andromakhe and Rhesos based on familiar myths about the Trojan War. The Trojans have been lost to the Greeks, and the survivors have either been killed or taken into slavery by the Greeks.

Hezabe, the former queen of Troy, has been enslaved, and much of her children and grandchildren have been killed. During the play, she learns that her youngest child has died as a victim of fraud. Hekabe breaks down permanently, but he still has the strength to take revenge on the former enduring friend who made that betrayal.

The suffering of the Trojans even makes the Greek messenger ponder the eternal question of why the gods allow evil to happen, “if the lineage of the gods now even exists”.

Similarly, Andromakhe, the royal of Troy, has ended up as a slave to the Greeks, the concubine of Neoptolemus. Andromakhe states of the unpredictability of life: “Never say any mortal is happy / before the end – you have to see how he went through his last / day and went to mana.”

Rhesos is not written by Euripide, but it has been included in this collection of translations, because the play has been in the name of Euripide for a long time.

Ancient Athens In connection with the Dionysia Festival, annual play competitions were held, in which the performance ensemble was awarded. In his lifetime, Euripides won four times – so he wasn’t particularly successful. Sophocle is known to have won 18, 20 or up to 24 times according to various sources. Aiskhylos got 13 wins.

His plays, however, has survived more than other tragedy-writers, and they have been perennial favorites for two and a half thousand years.

The author is a docent of Latin and Roman literature at the University of Helsinki.

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