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Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides - The Complete Greek Tragedies - ( Item 124287 )

Published in London by Folio Society. 2011. First Thus. 5 Fine Hardbacks. No inscriptions or bookplates. Fine slipcase. 5 volumes. Bound in buckram. Blocked with individual designs by Francis Mosley. In a small city-state in southern Greece 2,500 years ago, a singer called Thespis first stood on stage in the guise of a fictional character. The Greeks not only invented drama, specifically tragedy: they also developed it into a form so accomplished and powerful that it remains one of the most important artistic achievements of all time. This Folio Society edition brings together all the surviving Greek tragedies by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, in the acclaimed University of Chicago translations, illustrated with masterpieces of world art and with newly commissioned prefaces. From the beginning, the Greek tragedies showed human beings in conflict with the gods: they also dramatised conflicts between families, men and women, and individuals. It was the first time such events had been shown on stage: a momentous development. Yet there is nothing rudimentary or crude about these plays: they were born, as theatre director Sir Peter Hall puts it, at 'an extraordinary pitch of sophistication and maturity'. They have shaped the entire concept of Western tragedy as well as influencing philosophy and psychology, art, music and literature. They are an essential part of our cultural inheritance. Aeschylus (525456 BC) was the first of the great Athenian tragedians. Little is known of his life except that he fought at the Battle of Marathon, where his brother was killed. His play The Persians is the world's earliest recorded tragedy. Its subject is the defeat of the Persians in the Battle of Salamis, which had taken place less than a decade before and at which Aeschylus probably fought, but there is no triumphalism here. The Greek playwright tells the story from the point of view of the Persians. In its dramatic climax, the ghost of King Darius is told by his wife that his son Xerxes has led the Persian army to defeat and the audience is invited to share his grief and disappointment. With this play, and with works like the magnificent Oresteia, Aeschylus became the foremost playwright of Athens. According to Plutarch, in 468 BC Aeschylus was beaten to first place in the Dionysia tragedy competition by a newcomer, Sophocles (c.496?406 BC), previously a soldier, politician and associate of the famous orator and statesman Pericles. Sophocles used myths that were familiar to his audiences, such as the stories of Electra and Antigone. This allowed him to introduce tragic irony, a dramatic effect in which the spectators are aware of the truth while the characters are not as seen in Oedipus the King, considered by Aristotle to be the ideal tragedy. Notwithstanding Sophocles' reputation for purity and perfection of form, he was also a great experimenter. His greatest hero, Ajax, dies halfway through the eponymous play; in The Women of Trachis, the hero and heroine never meet on stage; and Philoctetes, set on a desert island, is the only Greek play to feature no female characters at all. Only seven of each of Aeschylus' and Sophocles' plays survive. Euripides (485406 BC), however, has left behind a total of nineteen. His plays encompass a broader range of society than those of Sophocles and Aeschylus: his characters are as likely to be peasants as kings or warriors. Madness is a powerful theme that runs through his plays: both the madness that comes from sexual passion or anger, as in the Medea, or that induced by the gods, as in The Bacchae. When the queen Agave emerges from her Bacchic frenzy, holding the head of her son whom she has just murdered, her words 'But who killed him? Why am I holding him?' exemplify tragic irony, and the painful moment when a character stands on the brink of realisation. Though we no longer inhabit a world that, in the words of Ruth Padel, 'crackles with gods', Euripides' plays, like all the Greek tragedies, still speak powerfully to us all. When two great classicists decided to translate the canon of Greek tragedy, their aim was to avoid the flowery and overly picturesque style of previous verse translations, and use direct, simple language. These translations, edited by David Grene and Richmond Lattimore for the University of Chicago, have become the standard texts, not only for study but on the stage, where the power and drama of the original can still be felt today.

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