So, my new UPS driver has decided that he only likes delivering one package at a time. So if I have, say, three packages coming in a day, things get a little complicated. UPS always flags these delays as "external factors". But it's totally just the UPS driver not searching for my packages in the truck properly. I work from my home office pretty much all the time so I can usually just harass him into grabbing my other packages when he arrives now that I know what is going on.

What does any of that have to do with the great books of Western civilization? Well, long story short, my next few books arrived out of order. Rather than waiting around to get the first volume of Euripides, I just started on the second volume.

This volume starts with Euripides own version of Electra. In general, the story is basically the same as ever. Electra is unhappy with being a women and wants to get all stabby until Orestes shows up. Then Orestes saves the day. The only major difference in this version is that Electra has been married off by Aigisthos, her mother's lover and co-conspirator in Agamemnon's father. He married her to a farmer. His reasoning was that it would keep her from finding some noble lover who could help her get revenge. The poor farmer, fearing that Orestes would kill him when he gets back, never touches Electra in any remotely sexual fashion. When Orestes shows up, he thinks that the farmer's behavior bespeaks a hidden nobility that sometimes crops up among those of baser birth. It's good news for us filthy peasants that that is even possible. But Orestes still marries Electra off to his best friend. Oh well.

Then there's Iphigenia in Tauris. So, if you'll recall, the alleged reason Agamemnon's wife killed him in the first place was because he had sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia because some prophet told him the gods demanded it if they were to get the winds needed to make it to Troy. As it turns out, she was actually swapped at the last second by the goddess Artemis for either an animal or the god Pan in animal form. She was then sent off to be a priestess in some barbarian land. Through a wacky series of bizarre demands from the gods, Orestes ends up unintentionally stumbling upon his long lost sister and rescues her. All that trouble and the girl had been safe the whole time. The end.

Euripides Orestes fills in the gaps between the murder of Clytemnestra by Orestes and his eventual exile during which he is chased relentlessly by the Furies. During these few days, Orestes is mostly catatonic from grief. But he recovers shortly after the opening of the play. Now, other plays tell us seemingly conflictingly that Orestes is either exiled or chased off by Furies after the murder of his mother. As it turns out, both are true. And the reason for his exile isn't just that he killed his mother. No, there's more. Shortly after Orestes' recovery, Agamemnon's brother Menelaos and his wife Helen show up to morn the death of Clytemnestra who is Helen's sister and thus Menelaos' sister-in-law twice over. Orestes begs for Menealos' help in dealing with the people's anger over the murder of Clyemenestra. He says there's no suppressing a whole city of angry people. So Orestes is forced to flee. But before he does, he gets some revenge for Menealos' refusal. He kills Helen, just sort of on his way out the door. It's pretty intense and sudden. I like it.

Finally there's Iphigenia at Aulis. This play is pretty amazing. The dialogue is intense. The plot has a rapid succession of interesting developments. The story is basically that of Iphigenia's "sacrifice" as a child to please the gods. It opens with Agamemnon having second thoughts about the whole plan. Before the start of the play, he had written a letter to Clytemnestra. The letter states that Iphigenia is to be married to Achilles and that she should be sent to Agamemnon's army immediately. He has composed a second letter which tells her to ignore the first. He sends his slave off with the letter. Menealos intercepts the slave and flips out on Agamemnon. After much arguing, Menelaos eventually sees that killing a child just to get Helen back in pretty monstrous. But the two of them come to the conclusion that if they don't do it, Odysseus will use their inaction as a means to seize control of the army. This is a pretty impressive change in character for a fellow who had to be tricked into joining the campaign. As with Sophocles' Odysseus, I can't say I much hold with this notion of Odysseus as some kind of Machiavellian monster. It just does not fit with the Homeric stuff at all. The Greeks are just grasping for their Loki. So they decide to go through with it. Then Iphigenia shows up, along with Clytemnestra, which Agamemnon stupidly did not expect. Before long, Achilles bumps into Clytemnestra and she begins fawning over her son-in-law to be. Except Achilles has no idea what the hell is going on. When they figure it out, Achilles is angered that his name has been used in treachery and that someone wants to kill an innocent girl. So he vows to defend the girl with his life. But soon the camp learns of the plan and the gods' wishes. They openly revolt against Achilles, even his own Myrmidons. The situation is defuse when Iphigenia decides that she wants to be sacrificed. Through a very heart-wrenching speech, she explains that if she lets herself be sacrificed, she can basically take credit for the destruction of Troy. Everyone is persuaded, even Achilles. Achilles goes as far to insist that he never wants to marry any woman who isn't just like Iphigenia. The sacrifice goes forward. Iphigenia is swapped for what appears to be a deer. And everyone sees this. Even Clytemnestra knows the truth. This play kind of undermines the whole "I killed my husband because he killed our daughter" bit, leaving her as just basically evil. Oops.

Overall, I find Euripides a much better read than Sophocles and worlds better than Aeschylus. Euripides has really toned down the chorus such that his plays resemble modern plays a great deal and thus are much more accessible in written form. It's worth giving Euripides a shot even if you've read other Greek tragedies and couldn't stand them.

And to end, here's a classic Euripides joke that some of you may never have encountered: Euripides goes to the tailor looking to buy a new toga. He tries on one that is far too small and rips it in the process. The tailor says, "Euripides, you-buya-dees."