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Queen's University

Synopses of the Surviving Tragedies (29 plays)

(Note: in the following synopses dramatis personae exclude extras.)

  1. Aeschylus = Aesch. (circa 525-456 B.C.)
    • Persians (Persae) of 472
      This is the only surviving tragedy on a historic, as opposed to mythic, theme, treating the naval battle of Salamis of 480 in which Aeschylus presumably fought. The setting is the royal court of Persia at Susa. The chorus of Persian elders frets over the lack of news from their invasion-force in Greece. Xerxes' mother Atossa enters to report an ominous dream that she has had, then a messenger comes from the army to narrate the Persian defeat at Salamis. The ghost of Xerxes' father Darius, summoned from the tomb, decries his son's folly in invading Greece. The defeated Xerxes enters in torn robes, and with the chorus laments his defeat.
      • Dramatis personae: Atossa, Darius (a ghost), Xerxes, messenger
      • Chorus: Persian elders
      • Edited with commentary by: H. D. Broadhead (Cambridge 1960)


    • Seven Against Thebes (Septem contra Thebas) of 467
      Third play in a trilogy on the Oedipus-story. The background is that Oedipus, King of Thebes is dead and his two sons have agreed to share power in alternate years, Eteocles having first turn and his brother Polynices going into exile in Argos. At year's end Polynices has returned to take up the throne and been rebuffed by Eteocles. As the play opens, Polynices has brought an army of Argives led by six others and himself to take the city by force. The chorus of Theban women bewail the danger facing Thebes. A messenger describes each leader attacking each of the city's seven gates. Against each attacker Eteocles names a Theban defender. Last attacker named is Polynices, and Eteocles says that he himself will face his brother. After a brief choral-song, a messenger enters to say that both brothers have been killed, and the city saved. In an ending possibly spurious, the fallen king's sisters, Antigone and Ismene discuss the burial of the corpses.
      • Dramatis personae: Eteocles, Antigone, Ismene, messenger
      • Chorus: Theban women
      • Edited with commentary by G. O. Hutchinson (Oxford 1985)


    • Suppliant Women (Supplices) of circa 463
      First play of the Danaid trilogy. The chorus representing the fifty daughters of Danaus have fled to Argos from Egypt to escape a forced marriage to their cousins, the fifty sons of Aegyptus. They appeal to Pelasgus, king of Argos for protection: if he accepts, Egypt will attack Argos; if he refuses, he will anger Zeus of Suppliants. He puts the matter to a democratic vote of his citizens, who choose to protect the suppliants. Pelasgus rebuffs the rude herald of Aegyptus and the daughters, safe for the moment, exit praising Artemis and Aphrodite.
      • Dramatis personae: Danaus, Pelasgus, servant of Aegyptus (Herald)
      • Chorus: daughters of Danaus
      • Edited with commentary by H. Friis Johansen and E. W. Whittle (Copenhagen 1980)


    • Oresteia of 458, consisting of:
      1. Agamemnon
        The setting is the royal palace of Argos toward the end of the Trojan war. A watchman, posted on the roof to watch for the beacon-flare that will mark the fall of Troy, sees the long-awaited signal. The chorus enter and sing of king Agamemnon's sacrifice of his daughter, Iphigeneia at the start of the war ten years before. A messenger enters to describe the fall of Troy and the war-crimes that the Greeks committed in the final days. Agamemnon himself returns accompanied by his trophy-woman, Trojan princess Cassandra. Clytaemnestra persuades Agamemnon against his better judgement to walk upon a red carpet as he enters the palace. Cassandra, left alone, utters dire but incomprehensible prophecies before entering the palace. Three cries from within announce that Clytaemnestra has murdered Agamemnon and Cassandra. Clytaemnestra, flanked by her lover Aegisthus, appears to take responsibility for the crime.
        • Dramatis personae: Clytaemnestra, Agamemnon, Cassandra, Aegisthus, servant of Clytaemnestra (Watchman), messenger
        • Chorus: Argive elders
        • Edited with commentary by E. Fraenkel (Oxford 1950) and J. D. Denniston and D. L. Page (Oxford 1957)


      2. Libation Bearers (Choephori)
        Dramatic date some eighteen years after Agamemnon; like it, set in Argos. Orestes, having been spirited into exile in Phocis by sympathetic friends while still an infant, now returns with his friend Pylades to avenge his father's murder. As the play opens, he cuts off two locks of hair and places them on his father's tomb. His mother has dreamed that she suckled a snake and, terrified by the omen, has sent her daughter Electra with the chorus of Trojan slave-women to bring a propitiatory libation (i.e. drink-offering) to the tomb. Seeing the locks of hair, Electra suspects that Orestes has returned and expresses great joy. He steps forward and, after much discussion, involving comparison of their footsteps and hair, as well as the scrutiny of a piece of weaving that Electra did for Orestes before he left, Orestes convinces her that he really is her long-lost brother. Having resolved to avenge their father's death, they dance upon his grave, inciting his ghost to fill them with supernatural power. Orestes and Pylades bring a false tale that Orestes is dead, prompting a moving lamentation by his aged nurse, Cilissa. Thereby catching him off-guard, they murder Aegisthus and confront Clytaemnestra, who calls in vain for a man-slaying axe. In a desperate final act of supplication, Clytaemnestra bares her breast and Pylades speaks his only words in the play to steel Orestes' courage to the deed. After the murder, Orestes leaves for Delphi on a quest to purify himself from pollution.
        • Dramatis personae: Orestes, Pylades, Electra, Clytaemnestra, Aegisthus, servant of Clytaemnestra (Cilissa the nurse)
        • Chorus: Trojan slave women
        • Edited with commentary by A. F. Garvie (Oxford 1986)


      3. Eumenides
        Set at Apollo's shrine in Delphi, where his priestess the Pythia works. Orestes is discovered surrounded by the chorus of sleeping Furies. The ghost of Clytaemnestra comes and wakes them to their task of vengeance. The scene shifts to Athens where the Furies sing a song to bind Orestes. Athena empanels a jury of citizens in the homicide-court of Mars Hill (the Areopagus) and the Furies present the case for the prosecution while Apollo speaks for the defense. With the jury deadlocked, Athena casts a vote for acquittal. She then offers the Furies their own shrine on the slopes of the acropolis if they agree to become Kindly Ones (Eumenides). The Furies agree and don ceremonial red robes (the Athenian equivalent of a "green card") that marks them as resident aliens. Exeunt omnes singing hymns of thanksgiving.
        • Dramatis personae: Pythia, Apollo, Hermes, Clytaemnestra (a ghost), Orestes, Athena
        • Chorus: Furies/Eumenides
        • Edited with commentary by A. H. Sommerstein (Cambridge 1989)


    • Prometheus Bound (Prometheus Vinctus) of unknown date and authorship
      Setting: a rocky crag in the Caucasus. Might and Violence force the reluctant Hephaestus to nail the Titan Prometheus to a rock to punish him for withholding from Zeus the name of the goddess who is destined to bear a son greater than his father (Zeus needs this knowledge so that he can avoid sleeping with her). Ocean, with his fifty daughters who form the chorus, flies in on a winged chariot and tries in vain to persuade Prometheus to cooperate with Zeus. Io, another of Zeus's victims, and a distant ancestor of Heracles, who will one day free Prometheus enters partially transformed into a cow. Prometheus tells her fortune. Hermes comes in uttering threats that Prometheus does not heed, and a violent earthquake drives him into the depths of Hell.
      • Dramatis personae: Hephaestus, Prometheus, Ocean, Io, Hermes, servants of Zeus (Might and Violence)
      • Chorus: daughters of Ocean
      • Edited with commentary by M. Griffith (Cambridge 1983)


  2. Sophocles = Soph. (497-406 B.C.), all plays are edited with commentary by R. C. Jebb (Cambridge 1889-1914) and J. C. Kamerbeek (Leiden 1953-1959)
    • Ajax prior to 442
      Setting: Ajax's tent before the walls of Troy. Achilles is dead and, though he has bequeathed his magic Hephaestus-forged armour to his friend Ajax, Odysseus has persuaded the Greeks, led by Agamemnon and Menelaus, to give the arms to him instead. Ajax, enraged, resolves to avenge himself by torturing and murdering them. As the play opens, Athena, ever Odysseus' friend, enters to say that she has driven Ajax mad and it is sheep, not Greeks, that he has spent the long night slaughtering. Ajax enters having recovered his wits and realizing what he has done. He tells his spear-won bride Tecmessa that he is going out to bury his sword and a messenger enters to say that if Tecmessa can confine Ajax to his tent for just this day, he will be forever safe. A worried search-party arrives too late as Ajax buries the sword in his own chest, the only instance in extant tragedy in which a death-blow is delivered on stage. Athena invites Odysseus to gloat over Ajax's corpse, which he refuses to do. Agamemnon and Menelaus enter to deny Ajax burial, but his brother, Teucer, with Odysseus' support, demands that he be buried. He then sends the Greek leaders away so that the funeral may begin.
      • Dramatis personae: Athena, Odysseus, Ajax, Tecmessa, Teucer, Menelaus, Agamemnon, messenger
      • Chorus: sailors


    • Antigone of circa 442
      The dramatic date is the day after the attack of the seven against Thebes (dramatic date of Aeschylus' play of that name). Creon, uncle of the dead king, has decreed that the defender Eteocles be buried with full honour while the attacker Polynices be left unburied. His niece, their sister, Antigone, in obedience to the unwritten laws of the gods, resolves to break this edict and bury her brother. Her sister, Ismene tries in vain to dissuade her. A guard placed over the body enters to say that it has been ritually buried and that he has exposed it again. Creon scolds him and sends him back to his post. Shortly afterward, the guard reappears with Antigone to say that, after a mysterious whirlwind in which the very gods seem to have participated in the act of burial, he found Antigone beside the corpse. Creon offers Antigone a way out, suggesting that she may no have heard the edict, but she says defiantly that she, like all the city, knew it. Creon ignores the pleas of his son, Antigone's fiancé Haemon, and though shrinking from actually ordering her execution, has her walled up in a tomb. The blind seer Teiresias admonishes Creon, who at length sees the error of his ways. Here too, though, he makes a mistake and buries Polynices before freeing Antigone. In the mean time she has hung herself in her crypt. Haemon curses his father and falls on his sword. At this news Eurydice, his wife, also commits suicide.
      • Dramatis personae: Antigone, Ismene, Creon, Haemon, Teiresias, Eurydice, servant of Creon (a guard), messenger
      • Chorus: Theban elders
      • Edited with commentary by M. Griffith (Cambridge 1999)


    • Women of Trachis (Trachiniae) of unknown date
      Deianira is worried about the long absence of her husband, Heracles. His herald, Lichas, enters to bid her prepare a room for Iole, Heracles' mistress whom he is bringing back with him after having sacked her city and killed its male inhabitants. Deianira remembers that many years ago as he lay dying from a wound by Heracles' arrow, the centaur Nessus had told her that his blood would serve as a love-charm should Heracles ever fall out of love with her. She now daubs a shirt with this blood that she has kept these many years and sends it via messenger to Heracles. Once the messenger is out of sight Deianira discovers that the blood has reacted to the sunlight and started a fire in her room. She is filled with foreboding. The messenger returns to say that when Heracles donned the shirt it burst into flames and he is now dying. In despair she kills herself with a sword (the only female suicide in extant tragedy not done by hanging). Slaves bear on the dying Heracles, who persuades his son, Hyllus, to cremate him, still living, upon nearby Mount Oeta.
      • Dramatis personae: Deianira, Hyllus, Old Man, Heracles, servant of Deianira (nurse), servant of Heracles (herald)
      • Chorus: women of Trachis
      • Edited with commentary by P. E. Easterling (Cambridge 1982) and M. Davies (Oxford 1991)


    • Oedipus the King (Oedipus Tyrannus or Oedipus Rex) of unknown date
      A plague grips Thebes. The priest of Zeus and many children come as suppliants to the royal palace. Oedipus assures them that he has already sent his brother-in-law, Creon, to Delphi to learn what can be done to rescue Thebes from the plague. Creon enters to say that Apollo commands the Thebans to drive out the murderer of the previous king, Laius. Oedipus, therefore, sets up an inquest into the murder. The blind seer, Teiresias, enters to say that Oedipus is himself the murderer. Oedipus replies in fury by saying that Teiresias and Creon conspired together to commit the crime. Creon enters to defend himself against this charge and he and Oedipus quarrel. Jocasta, wife of Oedipus, sister of Creon, and widow of the slain Laius, enters to placate them. Oedipus reveals that Apollo has predicted that he would murder his father and sleep with his mother. Jocasta tries to comfort him by saying that Apollo's prophesies are useless, since he prophesied to Laius that he would be murdered by his son, whereas in fact he was murdered by unknown assailants, having long since exposed his only sone in infancy. Details of Laius' murder recall a murder Oedipus himself once committed and with growing apprehension, Oedipus sends for the lone witness to Laius' murder. Before he can arrive, a Stranger comes from Corinth to say that Oedipus' father, the king of Corinth is dead and Oedipus is now the king. Oedipus refuses to return to Corinth while his mother yet lives for fear that he will sleep with her. To allay this fear the stranger tells him that the king and queen of Corinth were not his real parents since he himself had brought Oedipus to Corinth while yet a baby from Thebes, having received him from the hands of the very man who just now appears as the sole witness to Laius' murder. Jocasta, having begged Oedipus in vain to halt his inquest, goes within to hang herself, as the witness, under threat of torture, reveals that the baby whom he gave to the Corinthian so long ago was the son of Laius and Jocasta. Oedipus blinds himself and begs Creon to exile him.
      • Dramatis personae: Oedipus, Jocasta, Creon, Teiresias, Priest of Zeus, Corinthian stranger, servant of Jocasta (herdsman), messenger
      • Chorus: Theban elders
      • Edited with commentary by R. D. Dawe (Cambridge 1982)


    • Electra (of unknown date)
      A reworking of Aeschylus' Libation Bearers from the point of view of Electra. Orestes returns to Argos with his old tutor. Electra shows herself outdoors, and with Orestes eavesdropping, reveals herself bent on revenge; her sister Chrysothemis warns her to return within the house. Following Orestes' instructions the tutor goes to the royal palace accompanied by Orestes (unrecognised because now full-grown) and tells Clytaemnestra and Electra that Orestes has died in an accident during the chariot-race at Olympia, which he describes in great detail. He has come, he says, to bring home his ashes (he is holding an urn). Clytaemnestra mourns the death of her son when Orestes himself appears and drives her into the house to murder her. He is then reunited with Electra who helps him to murder Aegisthus, who, having been out of town sacrificing to the gods, is ignorant of events, by sending word to him that Orestes is dead and strangers have returned his body for burial. Aegisthus enters rejoicing that his prayers have been answered and is met with a body on a bier. He draws back the winding sheet and sees, not Orestes' corpse but Clytaemnestra's, and realizes that he has been caught. Orestes and Electra lead him into the house to his death.
      • Dramatis personae: Orestes, Electra, Chrysothemis, Clytaemnestra, Aegisthus, servant of Orestes (tutor [paedagogus])
      • Chorus: women of Mycenae
      • Edited with commentary by J. H. Kells (Cambridge 1973)


    • Philoctetes of 409
      The island of Lemnos in the tenth year of the Trojan war. Enter Odysseus and Neoptolemus, son of the late Achilles. A prophecy has said that Troy will not fall without the bow of Philoctetes, whom the Greeks have callously abandoned on this desert island en route to Troy when he was bitten by a snake. Odysseus convinces Neoptolemus to portray himself as a merchant fleeing Troy bound for Greece after being abused by Odysseus. He is to offer him passage to Greece, but instead take him to Troy. Odysseus withdraws, and Philoctetes enters, screaming in pain from his wound. Neoptolemus plays his role well and Philoctetes entrusts the bow to him. When Neoptolemus tarries too long Odysseus' servant enters disguised as a trader to prod him. Finally Odysseus himself enters to take the bow and sail with it back to Troy, but Neoptolemus, repelled by what he has just done, returns the bow to Philoctetes, and with Heracles looking on as a deus ex machina Odysseus is forced, if he is to have the bow at all, to rescue both Philoctetes and Neoptolemus from the island.
      • Dramatis personae: Odysseus, Neoptolemus, Philoctetes, Heracles, servant of Odysseus (trader)
      • Chorus: sailors


    • Oedipus at Colonus of 406
      Setting: the grove of the Furies in Colonus, a suburb of Athens (the birthplace, incidentally, of Sophocles himself according to his ancient life); dramatic date: many years after Oedipus the King. Enter Oedipus, old, blind, near death and exiled from Thebes, accompanied by his daughter Antigone. Enter in turn his other daughter Ismene in an Easter-bonnet to report news from Thebes, Creon, king of Thebes, who having received an oracle that Oedipus will become a hero protecting the city in which he is buried, wants his bones for Thebes even though Oedipus is not yet quite done with them, and threatens to remove him by force, and Polynices, his son, who wants his blessing in his plan to attack Thebes to regain the throne, but instead earns his curse. Theseus, king of Athens, enters to guarantee Oedipus sanctuary. Oedipus and Theseus together enter the grove and Theseus returns alone to report how Oedipus has mysteriously vanished either into the earth or into the air.
      • Dramatis personae: Oedipus, Antigone, a stranger, Ismene, Theseus, Creon, Polynices, messenger
      • Chorus: elders of Colonus


  3. Euripides = Eur. (circa 485-407 B.C.)
    • Rhesus of unknown date and authorship (circa 455-441)
      The play depicts the slaying of the Thracian prince Rhesus, son of the river-god Strymon and the Muse Terpsichore, by Odysseus and Diomedes in their reconnaissance of the Trojan camp described in Iliad 10.
      • Dramatis personae: Hector, Aeneas, Dolon, shepherd, Rhesus, Odysseus, Diomedes, Athena, Alexander, charioteer, Muse
      • Chorus: Trojan guards


    • Medea of 431
      used to link to didask3.htm - file no longer exists The scene is laid at Corinth. Jason has here deserted Medea, the witch-princess of Colchis, who for love of him had worked by her spells his salvation when he came to her father's distant land in search of the golden fleece, had fled away with him, had born him two sons - in vain, for he has abandoned her for the daughter of the Corinthian king, who orders her to leave the land. Having obtained a respite of one day, she lays her plans of revenge. She sends her children to offer to the bride a poisoned robe; on their return, as soon as she learns that the gift has worked its deadly end, she slays them and carries off their bodies on her winged dragon-car through the air to Athens, whose king Aegeus has promised her a safe asylum.
      • Dramatis personae: Medea, Jason, Creon, Aegeus, Medea's servants (nurse and tutor), messenger
      • Chorus: women of Corinth
      • Edited with commentary by D. L. Page (Oxford 1938)


    • Children of Heracles (Heracleidae) of 430
      Pursued after their father's death by his old enemy Eurystheus, the children of Heracles seek refuge in Athens under the ward of the king Demophon, who prepares to meet the former in battle, but discovers that the gods demand as a condition of his victory the sacrifice of a noble maid. Macaria, a daughter of Heracles, voluntarily submits to this doom. Aided by Hyllus, the newly arrived eldest son of Heracles, Demophon wins a great victory; Eurysthus is captured and put to death.
      • Dramatis personae: Iolaus, Demophon, Macaria, Alcmene, Eurystheus, servant of Eurystheus (Copreus the herald), servant of Alcmene
      • Chorus: old men of Marathon
      • Edited with commentary by J. Wilkins (Oxford 1993)


    • Hippolytus of 428
      The subject is the love of Phaedra, the second wife of Theseus, king of Athens, for her husband's son Hippolytus. The scene is in Troezen, where Theseus lives in temporary exile from Athens. The goddess Aphrodite, mad at Hippolytus for his exclusive worship of the virgin huntress Artemis, inspires Phaedra with a passion for him. Long she keeps it suppressed; but at last her nurse, seeing her anorexia, discovers it, and tries to help her. Her advances are rebuffed by Hippolytus, and Phaedra in despair hangs herself. Theseus now arriving finds on her corpse a letter declaring that she has killed herself to escape attempted rape by Hippolytus, and in wild rage banishes his son, laying on him one of the curses that his father, the sea-god Poseidon has promised to fulfil for him. And it is now quickly accomplished. As the innocent youth is riding along the coast into exile, a monster rising from the waves scares his horses, and his chariot colliding with a great stone, he is caught in the reins and fatally wounded. Before he dies he is brought home, and Artemis, revealing the truth to the conscience-stricken father, reconciles him with his dying son
      • Dramatis personae: Theseus, Hippolytus, Phaedra, Aphrodite, Artemis, servant of Hippolytus, servant of Phaedra, messenger
      • Chorus: women of Troezen
      • Edited with commentary by W. S. Barrett (Oxford 1964)


    • Andromache of 427
      Neoptolemus of Epirus, son of Achilles, has as his girlfriend Andromache, formerly wife of Hector of Troy, who has born him a son. His childless wife Hermione, daughter of Menelaus, plots in his absence at Delphi to murder her with her child. She is helped by her father, but the plot is foiled by the appearance of Peleus, father of the dead Achilles. Menelaus slinks away. Hermione, looking forward with terror to the return of Neoptolemus, is suddenly confronted by her cousin Orestes, a son of Agamemnon, an old lover. He carries her off to her home, where she is to wed him, promising her that Neoptolemus shall give no trouble; plans have been laid already for his destruction in Delphi. Almost immediately after their departure a messenger brings the news that Neoptolemus has been murdered in Delphi at the instigation of Orestes. At the end, Thetis, the goddess-mother of Achilles, appearing ex machina, ordains among other things that Andromache shall wed Helenus, the future ruler of Epirus.
      • Dramatis personae: Andromache, Hermione, Menelaus, Peleus, Oresters Thetis, servant of Andromache, servant of Hermione, messenger
      • Chorus: Phthian women
      • Edited with commentary by P. T. Stevens (Oxford 1971)


    • Hecuba of 424
      The subject is the woes of Hecuba, wife of Priam of Troy, after the capture of the city by the Greeks. Her daughter Polyxena is sacrificed as a victim to the angry ghost of Achilles by the conquerors, and her young son Polydorus murdered by the Thracian king Polymestor, to whose care he had been entrusted, but she gains some satisfaction in entrapping the Thracian and blinding him.
      • Dramatis personae: Polydorus (a ghost), Hecuba, Polyxena, Odysseus, Talthybius, Agamemnon, Polymnestor, servant of Hecuba
      • Chorus: Trojan women


    • Suppliant Women (Supplices) of 422
      The subject is the protection given by Athens to the mothers of the Argives who fell before Thebes. Headed by their king Adrastus, they entreat Theseus of Athens to recover and bury their dead. He undertakes the duty, and succeeds. As the corpses are being burned, Euadne, wife of Capaneus, one of the seven, throws herself upon her husband's burning pyre. Then the Argives depart, after making with Athens for all time a compact of offensive and defensive alliance.
      • Dramatis personae: Aethra, Theseus, Adrastus, Herald from Thebes, Euadne, Iphis, Athena, messenger
      • Chorus: mothers of the seven against Thebes


    • Heracles of 418
      While Heracles is away performing his labours in the service of Eurystheus, his earthly father Amphitryon, his wife Megara, and his children fall into the power of Lycus in Thebes, who threatens them with death. Suddenly the hero returns and slays the tyrant. But now Lyssa (Madness) appears and enters the palace, sent by Hera to stir Heracles to a ghastly deed. In sudden frenzy he murders his children and wife. As on his return to consciousness he lies prostrate in an agony of remorse, he is visited by his friend Theseus of Athens, who leads him away on his supporting arm.
      • Dramatis personae: Amphitryon, Megara, Lycus, Heracles, Iris, Lyssa (Madness), Theseus, messenger
      • Chorus: Theban elders
      • Edited with commentary by G. W. Bond (Oxford 1988)


    • Trojan Women (Troades) of 415
      After a prologue in which Poseidon and Athena agree to harry the fleet of the victorious Greeks on their return from Troy, the captive queen Hecuba appears before her fallen city, hearing and seeing the sorrows of Troy and her own kin. Then follows a powerful rhetorical antithesis - Helen pleads in her own defence before Menelaus, appealing to the fatalism of tradition for justification, and Hecuba answers with a rationalistic assault on legend and a circumstantial proof of responsibility, drawing from Menelaus a promise to slay Helen in Argos. The play closes as Troy sinks into flames.
      • Dramatis personae: Poseidon, Athena, Hecuba, Talthybius, Cassandra, Andromache, Menelaus, Helen
      • Chorus: Trojan women


    • Electra of 413
      This is Euripides' version of the tale told by Aeschylus in his Libation Bearers. Electra here is wedded by the tyrants to a poor but worthy farmer. He hospitably receives Orestes and Pylades, who after discovering themselves to Electra lay a plot for the destruction of Aegisthus. They slay him at a sacrifice. Clytaemnestra too falls into their clutches; she is lured into Electra's house by the latter's fiction that she has given birth to a child, and is there murdered. As brother and sister look conscience-stricken upon their deed, the Dioscuri (Castor and Pollux), the divine brothers of Clytaemnestra and Helen, appear. They have no praise for Apollo, who prompted the matricide, but they give some little comfort, ordering that Electra be married to Pylades and that Orestes depart on the wanderings of which the end is described in Aeschylus' Eumenides.
      • Dramatis personae: Farmer, Electra, Orestes, old man, Clytaemnestra, Castor, messenger
      • Chorus: Argive women
      • Edited with commentary by J. D. Denniston (Oxford 1939)


    • Phoenician Women (Phoenissae) of 411
      Set in Thebes. The subject is that of the Seven Against Thebes of Aeschylus, but Jocasta is still living and striving to reconcile her sons, the blinded Oedipus is still dwelling in Thebes and another new features is introduced in the voluntary self-sacrifice of Menoeceus, son of Creon, whose death the prophet Teiresias has declared to be a necessary condition of success for the Theban army. In the end Jocasta slays herself upon the death of her sons, and Creon drives into exile Oedipus and Antigone, who has protested against his denial of burial to Polynices and refused wedlock with his son Haemon.
      • Dramatis personae: Jocasta, Antigone, Polynices, Eteocles, Creon, Teiresias, Menoceus, Oedipus, servant of Jocasta (paedagogue), messenger
      • Chorus: Phoenician slave-women


    • Bacchae of 405
      The god Dionysus, accompanied by swarms of Asiatic Bacchae, has returned to Thebes, the home of his mortal mother Semele, who was consumed in the fiery epiphany of Zeus, which she had foolishly craved to see as reward of her love. The contagion of the new religion spreads among the Theban women; Cadmus, father of Semele, and the blind Teiresias too become converts. The young king Pentheus  -  whose mother Agaue was Semele's sister  -  is horrified at its impropriety and orders its suppression. The god allows himself to be caught and led before Pentheus, his captors not knowing his divinity. Cast into prison, he miraculously releases himself and faces the amazed king, whom he promises to lead alone to view the orgies of his womenfolk on the hillside. Dressed in Bacchic woman's robes, the king departs spellbound with his mysterious guide. When they reach the Bacchic rout, Dionysus inspires the women with fury against Pentheus; they drag down the tree on which he has taken refuge and tear him to pieces, his mother Agaue being foremost in the deed. Now Agaue appears on the scene, in her madness exhibiting her son's head as that of a lion. Her frenzy is gradually dispelled by the words of Cadmus. Then Dionysus appears, this time in manifest divinity, to ordain the sojourn of Cadmus in Illyria and the exile of Agaue.
      • Dramatis personae: Dionysus, Teiresias, Cadmus, Pentheus, Agave, servant of Pentheus, messenger
      • Chorus: Bacchae
      • Edited with commentary by E. R. Dodds (2nd ed; Oxford 1960)


    • Iphigeneia in Aulis of 405
      used to link to didask5.htm - file no longer exists The plot hinges upon the sacrifice by Agamemnon of his daughter Iphigeneia to appease the wrath of Artemis and so secure a fair passage to Troy. He decoys Clytaemnestra and Iphigeneia to Aulis by letters announcing his intention to marry the latter to Achilles. The king's guile is speedily made manifest. But resistance is fruitless, because the sacrifice is prepared. In an ending that appears spurious, the goddess, however, saves the maiden by carrying her away to Tauris, leaving a hind in her place.
      • Dramatis personae: Agamemnon, Menelaus, Clytaemnestra, Iphigeneia, Achilles, Agamemnon's servant, messenger
      • Chorus: women of Chalcis


  4. Seneca = Sen. (circa 1-65 A.D.):
    • Thyestes
      The setting is Argos. Pelops, the son of Tantalus, had banished his sons for the murder of their half-brother, Chrysippus, with a curse upon them, that they and their posterity might perish by each others' hands. Upon the death of Pelops, Atreus returned and took possession of his father's throne. Thyestes also claimed the throne, and sought to gain it by the foulest means. For he seduced his brother's wife, Aërope, and stole by her assistance the magical, gold-fleeced ram from Atreus' flocks, upon the possession of which the right to rule was said to rest. For this act he was banished by the king. But Atreus has long been meditating a more complete revenge upon his brother, and now in pretended friendship has recalled him from banishment, offering him a place beside himself upon the throne, that thus he may have serve Thyestes his own sons in a meal.
      • Dramatis personae: Thyestes, Tantalus (a ghost), Fury, Atreus, Tantalus (son of Thystes, a different person from the ghost), servant of Atreus, messenger
      • Chorus: citizens of Mycenae


    • Octavia, of uncertain date and authorship
      In order to pave the way for marriage to his mistress Poppaea, and in defiance both of the ghost of his mother Agrippina, whom he has had assassinated, and of the philosopher Seneca who appears as a warning-figure, emperor Nero brings a false accusation of adultery against his wife, Octavia and sentences her to death.
      • Dramatis personae: Octavia, Poppaea, Agrippina (a ghost), Nero, Seneca, Prefect, servant of Octavia, servant of Poppaea, messenger
      • Chorus: citizens of Rome

[Other Senecan plays are more or less direct adaptations of surviving Greek originals and may for our purposes be ignored; these are: Trojan Women, reworking of Eur. Trojan Women; Phaedra, reworking of Eur. Hippolytus; Medea, reworking of Eur. Medea; Agamemnon, reworking of Aesch. Agamemnon; Oedipus, reworking of Soph. Oedipus the King; The Madness of Hercules (Hercules Furens), reworking of Eur. Heracles; A Cloak for Hercules (Hercules Oetaeus), reworking of Soph. Women of Trachis; and Phoenician Women (Phoenissae), reworking of Eur. Phoenician Women.]

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