The Greek Plays

Sixteen Plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides

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A landmark anthology of the masterpieces of Greek drama, featuring all-new, highly accessible translations of some of the world’s most beloved plays, including Agamemnon, Prometheus Bound, Bacchae, Electra, Medea, Antigone, and Oedipus the King

The great plays of Ancient Greece are among the most enduring and important legacies of the Western world. Not only is the influence of Greek drama palpable in everything from Shakespeare to modern television, the insights contained in Greek tragedy have shaped our perceptions of the nature of human life. Poets, philosophers, and politicians have long borrowed and adapted the ideas and language of Greek drama to help them make sense of their own times.

This exciting curated anthology features a cross section of the most popular—and most widely taught—plays in the Greek canon. Fresh translations into contemporary English breathe new life into the texts while capturing, as faithfully as possible, their original meaning.

This outstanding collection also offers short biographies of the playwrights, enlightening and clarifying introductions to the plays, and helpful annotations at the bottom of each page. Appendices by prominent classicists on such topics as “Greek Drama and Politics,” “The Theater of Dionysus,” and “Plato and Aristotle on Tragedy” give the reader a rich contextual background. A detailed time line of the dramas, as well as a list of adaptations of Greek drama to literature, stage, and film from the time of Seneca to the present, helps chart the history of Greek tragedy and illustrate its influence on our culture from the Roman Empire to the present day.

With a veritable who’s who of today’s most renowned and distinguished classical translators, The Greek Plays is certain to be the definitive text for students, scholars, theatrical professionals, and general readers alike for years to come.

Praise for The Greek Plays

“Mary Lefkowitz and James Romm deftly have gathered strong new translations from Frank Nisetich, Sarah Ruden, Rachel Kitzinger, Emily Wilson, as well as from Mary Lefkowitz and James Romm themselves. There is a freshness and pungency in these new translations that should last a long time.
I admire also the introductions to the plays and the biographies and annotations provided. Closing essays by five distinguished classicists: the brilliant Daniel Mendelsohn and the equally skilled David Rosenbloom, Joshua Billings, Mary-Kay Gamel, and Gregory Hays all enlightened me. This seems to me a helpful light into our gathering darkness.”—Harold Bloom

“The reception of Ancient Greek theater is as lively as it’s ever been in its 2,500-year history, both on the stage and on the page. Thanks to these sixteen brilliant new renditions by five leading scholar-translators, the three great Athenian masters of tragic drama, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, speak to us once again in powerfully contemporary accents on such fundamental issues as gender, religion, and democratic politics.”—Paul Cartledge, author Democracy: A Life

The Greek Plays is destined to become a perennial collection, essential reading for students, scholars, and lovers of Greek tragedy alike. This engaging compilation imbues all the ancient plays within its pages with new life by offering rich, informative historical, literary, and cultural context and fresh, accessible translations by some of the most talented classicists working in the field today.”—Bryan Doerries, author of The Theater of War: What Ancient Greek Tragedies Can Teach Us Today
Sophocles, the Greek tragic dramatist, was born at Colonus near Athens about 496 B.C. Although hopelessness and misfortune plague the characters in his great plays, Sophocles's own life was a long, prosperous one. He was from a good family, well educated, handsome, wealthy, healthy, and highly respected by his fellow Athenians. His first dramatic production, in 468, won the prize over Aeschylus's. He wrote two dozen more plays before 450, by which date he had made important changes in the form of tragedy by adding a third speaking actor to the traditional two, by reducing the importance of the chorus, and by improving the stage scenery. Sophocles wrote over 120 plays; seven complete plays survive (plus half a light satyr play, some fragments, and ninety titles). Aristotle, in his Poetics, praised Sophocles above other tragedians and regarded his masterpiece, OEDIPUS THE KING, as a model for Greek tragedy. Sophocles's plays won more victories than the plays of either his older contemporary Aeschylus or the younger Euripides. The circumstances of his life, as well as his plays, suggest that Sophocles was conservative, and opposed to innovation in religion and politics. At eighty-three he was still active in the Athenian government. He died in 406 B.C. in Athens at the age of ninety.

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Aeschylus was born of a noble family near Athens in 525 BC. He took part in the Persian Wars and his epitaph, said to have been written by himself, represents him as fighting at Marathon. At some time in his life he appears to have been prosecuted for divulging the Eleusinian mysteries, but he apparently proved himself innocent. Aeschylus wrote more than seventy plays, of which seven have survived: The Suppliants, The Persians, Seven Against Thebes, Prometheus Bound, Agamemnon, The Choephori, and The Eumenides. (All are translated for Penguin Classics.) He visited Syracuse more than once at the invitation of Hieron I and he died at Gela in Sicily in 456 BC. Aeschylus was recognized as a classic writer soon after his death, and special privileges were decreed for his plays.

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Little is known of the life of Euripides. He was born about 485 B.C. on the island of Salamis and may have begun a career as a painter before writing in the drama competitions in 455 B.C. During his lifetime his plays were often produced, but he won the Athenian drama prize only four times. He died in 406 B.C.

Euripides was a prolific writer, the author of some eighty-eight or more plays, of which nineteen have survived under his name. He was criticized by the conservatives of his time for introducing shabby heroes and immoral women into his plays, a practice that they considered degrading to the noble form of tragedy. However, audiences to whom his predecessors were cold and remote found Euripides direct and appealing.

Euripides became immensely popular after he died and his influence altered drama forever. Considered by George Bernard Shaw to be the greatest of the Greek dramatists, Euripides is now regarded by many as the originator of the dramatic sensibility that developed into what we call "modern" European drama.

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The Greek Plays

Sixteen Plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides

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The Greek Plays

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