My edition has four plays: Ion, The Women of Troy, Helen, and The Bacchae.
Ion — The orphan Ion tries to discover his origins. The play begins with a prologue by Hermes, the messenger god, who arrives at the temple of Apollo at Delphi. He recounts the tale of how Creusa, the mother of Ion, was raped by Apollo and secretly gave birth to a son. She abandoned him and Apollo sent Hermes to bring the boy to Delphi. I thought this was not as interesting as the other three plays.
|Irene Papas in The Trojan Women, 1971 (Wikimedia)|
The Women of Troy — The fates of Hecuba, Andromache, Cassandra and the other women of Troy after their city has been sacked, their husbands killed, and their remaining families about to be taken away as slaves. It takes place near the same time as Hecuba, which is not in this volume. I have read this one before in a newer translation. It is stunning.
Helen — The play uses a variant of Helen’s story that differs from the one in The Iliad: Helen of Sparta was in Egypt during the Trojan War while a phantom look-alike created by Hera and Hermes was carried off to Troy. (Herodotus, among others, had suggested that this is what really happened in his Histories.) Euripides has Helen taken to Egypt by the gods, and by the time the play opens, the real Helen has been living in Egypt for seventeen years. The Egyptian king Proteus, who had protected Helen, has died. His son Theoclymenus, intends to marry Helen, who after all these years remains loyal to her husband Menelaus.
|Pentheus torn apart by Ino and Agave, ca. 450-450 BC, Louvre. Wikimedia|
The Bacchae — One of the most disturbing Greek plays. This is probably my favorite play by Euripides. This is Euripides’s last surviving tragedy. It premiered posthumously at the Theatre of Dionysus in 405 BC. The play begins with the god Dionysus, the son of Zeus and Semele, announcing that he has arrived in Thebes to disprove the slander, spread by his mother’s family, that Zeus is not his real father and that he is not a god. As the play opens, Dionysus has driven the women of Thebes into an ecstatic frenzy, and they have gathered on Mount Cithaeron to dance.