Wednesday, December 8, 2021

The ancient Greek plays, in chronological order - a readalong for next year - cry, cry in triumph, carry on the dancing on and on!

Let’s read the ancient Greek plays next year.  All of them.  There are not so many, and they are generally short.

I’ll read them all, one per week, and put up some kind of post on Friday, where anyone can join in.  Of course anyone can do whatever they want, on their own blog or on Twitter or in quiet communion with nature.  Below, we can see my schedule, but everyone is welcome to dip in as they like.

I have no Greek and no expertise, except that I read through the plays over twenty years ago, and have read several on occasion since.  They are, overall, fundamental texts in my understanding of literature, not just theater.  They are also full of great characters, exciting stories, extraordinary language (even in translation), and conceptual innovations of the greatest importance.

We are lucky to have seven surviving plays by Aeschylus, seven by Sophocles, nineteen by Euripides (one of which is perhaps by someone else), eleven by Aristophanes, and one by Menander, with one more close enough to complete that I am including it.  Forty-six plays in forty-six weeks.

I have made an educational and perhaps foolish attempt to put the plays in chronological order, relying mostly on the Penguin and University of Chicago editions.  My chronology is likely full of errors – please correct – and anyways should be often taken as guesswork.  But once we get into the 420s the mix gets pretty interesting.  405 is a landmark in literature.  All years are BCE.

A

Aeschylus (524-456)

S

Sophocles (496-405)

E

Euripides (480-406)

Ar

Aristophanes (446-386)

M

Menander (341-290)

 

472

A

The Persians

 

470

 

 

first Sophocles play

467

A

Seven Against Thebes

 

463

A

The Suppliants

 

???

A

Prometheus Bound

 

Early?

S

Ajax

 

458

A

Agamemnon

 

 

A

The Libation Bearers

 

 

A

Eumenides

 

441

S

Antigone

 

Before 440?

"E"

Rhesus

 

438

E

Alcestis

Death of Pindar

431

E

The Medea

 

430

 

 

Death of Herodotus

c. 429

E

The Heracleidae

 

428

E

Hippolytus

 

c. 426

S

Oedipus Rex

 

c. 425

E

Andromache

 

425

Ar

The Acharnians

 

c. 424

E

Hecuba

 

424

Ar

The Knights

 

c. 423

E

The Suppliants

 

423

Ar

The Clouds

 

c. 420s

S

The Women of Trachis

 

422

Ar

The Wasps

 

421

Ar

Peace

 

Late - 420-414

S

Elektra

 

c. 416

E

Herakles

 

c. 415

E

The Trojan Women

 

c. 414

E

Iphigenia in Tauris

 

414

Ar

The Birds

 

c. 413

E

Ion

 

c. 413

E

Electra

 

412

E

Helen

 

411

Ar

Lysistrata

 

411

Ar

The Poet and the Women

 

c. 410

E

The Phoenician Women

 

Late ?

E

The Cyclops

 

409

S

Philoctetes

 

408

E

Orestes

 

405

E

The Bacchae

 Death of Sophocles

 

E

Iphigenia in Aulis

 

 

Ar

The Frogs

 

404

S

Oedipus at Colonus

 

400

 

 

Death of Thucydides

399

 

 

Death of Socrates

392

Ar

The Assemblywomen

 

388

Ar

Wealth

 

347

 

 

Death of Plato

323

 

 

Death of Alexander

322

 

 

Death of Aristotle

316

M

Dyskolos

 

c. 315

M

The Girl from Samos

 

 

Just putting the list together got me excited to read the plays along with whoever is interested.  Perhaps half of them are among the greatest works in literature.  But we can chat about that later.


As for translations, I have no advice.  The University of Chicago series has been a standard for a long time.  The Oxford series with the black covers always seemed excellent, and have more notes.  Every Penguin Classics I have tired has been good.  Any of these will have adequate notes for most people.  I am curious about some of the “celebrity” versions – Seamus Heaney’s Antigone, or Wole Soyinka’s Antigone, for example.  H.D.’s Ion is a good one.  But all of that can wait, too.

I plan to start in January, with the first post on The Persians up on January 14.

The title of the post uses the last line of The Eumenides as per Robert Fagles.

18 comments:

  1. How did Euripides write his last two plays in 405 if he died in 406?

    ReplyDelete
  2. It is fun. It was fun last time.

    The dates of the plays, when known, are performance dates the year of the debut at the spring Festival of Dionysus.

    In 405, Sophocles died before the competition, so both the Euripides and Sophocles performances were posthumous. I feel sorry for the third playwright - that's some competition. Up against not just Sophocles and Euripides, but dead Sophocles and Euripides. Guaranteed 3rd place finish.

    Some of what I just wrote is then part of the plot of The Frogs. What a festival!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'd been under the impression that the playwrights had to be alive in order to compete, because otherwise there'd be no backstage drama with fights over who gets the best actors and stage times. I guess I also assumed that the writers directed the plays themselves. I'm likely conflating some of what I read about the Greeks with some of what I read about the Viennese music scene in the 18th century.

    2022 will also be an entertaining year, in a small internet way.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yes, that is generally true. These particular plays were a special occasion, likely directed by a son or grandson or nephew.

    Some interenet sources, including Wiki, confidently put the first performance of Oedipus at Colonus in 401, which might well be true. David Grene, on p, 1 of the University of Chicago edition, which I am double-checking now, says 404. Not 405. Oh for pity's sake. OK, there is my first correction.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I have two different University of Chicago editions, with introductions to Colonus by Grene, who says in one that the play was written in 409 or 408, and in the other that it was first performed in 404. I am not going to compare introductions in both editions to all the plays. Especially since I don't have all the volumes of the trade paperback edition (which seems to be the one you're looking at).

    ReplyDelete
  6. Yes, the paperbacks. Performance dates are what I want.

    With luck early next year I will acquire a Cambridge Companion to Greek Tragedy or something similar and overhaul the whole list. Bring the research up to date, so to speak.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I'm 50% through the Plays so I will definitely be joining to finish it off!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Good! I am not much of a completist, but in this case, well. It's worth getting pretty close, anyway.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I'm in, and friends from high school who I've been reading Stoppard with also plan to join in. Looking forward to it!

    PS: I'm new to using this comment platform. Is there a trick to the Preview button? It seems to just redirect to the page of comments.

    ReplyDelete
  10. So great! Welcome. A Stoppard reading group, so much fun.

    The functioning of the comments seems to change almost randomly over time, so I am not much help there. I am at the mercy of Google.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Sounds like fun! Will try to get my wife, who reads Ancient Greek, to join in as well!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Also if you get a chance, check out an obit of Bernard Knox who did the intro to the Fagles translations. What a life.

    ReplyDelete
  13. oh, Knox does the intro to the Fagles Sophocles. I didn't know that.

    It is an open puzzle how much secondary literature I want to investigate. These plays have generated so much great criticism. I have other thing to do!

    That would be wonderful if a Greek-language reader or two could join in. The rest of us are at the mercy of the translators.

    ReplyDelete
  14. What a marvelous idea. After two nearly years of lockdown in Metro Manila this seems such a positive project.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Mel, that is so nice to hear. That is how I think of it, too.

    I know this project presses the guilt button a bit - "I should read those" - yes, one should, some of them, at least - but the more I mess with this idea the more pleasurable it seems.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Wow. Just...wow. I love it.
    Moving, again, so hopefully when you start I'll be able to unpack what's left of my books and join in. By then, I'm supposed to have some free time, but I've heard that promise before. (And I'm my own worst enemy on signing up for things.)
    Aside: I took a course on ancient Mediterranean civilizations this semester and was happy when we went over several of these plays. Sublime satisfaction.

    ReplyDelete