Meghan's Reviews > Euripides V: Electra / The Phoenician Women / The Bacchae

Euripides V by Euripides
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's review
Nov 08, 2010

really liked it
Read from November 08 to December 01, 2010

This play fills in the back story behind the ‘Seven Against Thebes’ war between the two sons of Oedipus. We learn that one son, Eteocles, is in the wrong because he will not relinquish the throne to his brother (they agreed to take turns ruling every other year). The other son, Polyneices, is also in the wrong because he brought a foreign army to forcibly take Thebes. These two wrongs constitute the downfall and ruin of the family of Oedipus. Which crime is worse: to love power, ambition and tyranny or to betray your country? This is the argument between the two brothers and neither will relent.

Historically, this play has been ‘tampered’ with and is not purely Euripides. There are problems with storyline. Oedipus has not yet been ejected from Thebes. Antigone is betrothed to Haemon, but still has her long journey with Oedipus before she defies the state in burying her brother Polyneices. “the Creon-Odeipus-Antigone scene we have is certainly not the one Euripides wrote. Note, for one thing, that Antigone is apparently planning both to go into exile, at once, with Oedipus and, in defiance of Creon, to bury Polyneices. This is impossible, but the author is simply assimilating his figure to both Sophoclean Antigones.” (Euripides V, Edited by David Grene and Richmond Lattimore, pg. 68-69)

In every play of the three tragedians, there is a chorus. The chorus unfailingly uses allusion to refer to past events and draw similarities to present events. As I have been reading mythology I have increasingly understood these allusions. For example, the words “unmothered Pallas’”(see below) refers to Athena, sometimes called Pallas, who sprang from the forehead of Zeus. Zeus is her only parent and so she has no mother.

The following lines tell the tale of Cadmus sowing the dragon’s teeth. “By the instructions of Athena, he sowed the dragon's teeth in the ground, from which there sprang a race of fierce armed men, called the Spartoí ("sown"). By throwing a stone among them, Cadmus caused them to fall upon one another until only five survived, who assisted him to build the Cadmeia or citadel of Thebes, and became the founders of the noblest families of that city.” (Wikipedia) The allusion is beautifully written and I am always amazed how much information these tragedians can convey with so few words.

CHORUS: “sowing its teeth in the furrows deep, at unmothered Pallas’ bidding.
Then earth sent up armed terror over its surface.
Iron-hearted slaughter sent them back again,
And their blood bedewed the land which had briefly showed them to the shining winds of heaven.”

THE BACCHAE – See my review in ‘Euripides: Ten Plays’
ELECTRA - See my review in ‘Electra and Other Plays’

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