Next up is the fourth volume of Euripides, including: Herakles, Phoenician Women, and Bacchae. Yeah, only three in this volume so I would say it is the shortest volume of Euripides but the physical book is actually like an inch taller than the others. This made me notice that there are a lot of little discrepancies between the various volumes in the set. They look a little weird lined up on a shelf. What the hell, Oxford University Press? But if I just wanted something that looked pretty on the shelf, I probably would have bought the real Great Books series.

Herakles is a pretty strange play. Especially since I did not realize that the wife and kids in this play are separate from the wife and kids found in other Hercules plays until after I finished reading it. Which is a little awkward since the two other plays I'm thinking of involve the death of Hercules at the hands of his wife and the survival of his children after his death while this play is all about how Hera makes Hercules go crazy and murder his entire family. After he recovers his wits, he decides he wants to kill himself. But good old Theseus, freshly rescued from Hades, is there to talk him out of it. I guess he gets over it because all these dead people aren't really mentioned in those other two plays which are later chronologically. He also takes a third wife after he dies and becomes a god. Incidentally, once he dies, he is in both Hades and Olympus due to his half-mortal/half-divine nature. His ten labors are also commonly explained to have become twelve because two of the originals "didn't count". His sidekick is also quite variable. I'm skeptical that Hercules' story was ever as cohesive and monolithic as these playwrights portray. I suspect they, or their literary predecessors, just crunched a bunch of oral tales into a somewhat cohesive whole. In any case, Hercules' reaction at the end is very moving. And Madness herself basically calling Hera bitch for what she was doing is pretty awesome.

Phoenician Women is possibly my favorite play so far. It has elements from all of the Oedipus plays, Seven Against Thebes, Iphigenia at Aulis, nearly any play with slave women, and so many more. It's like an action-packed summary of half of Greek Tragedy. I really want to see this play staged someday. It takes place shortly after Oedipus gouges out his eyes but is still before he has left the city and continues until Antigone tries to bury her slain brothers. The Phoenician women of the title actually have very little relevance to the overall play. I would say this is a definite must read, with the caveat that it may not really have the same thrill for someone who hasn't read most of all the other tragedies. It is a pretty sweet payoff for all that work though.

Bacchae is one of Euripides' more famous plays. So I kind of went into this one with high expectations. In short, Bacchus shows up to Thebes, place of his birth, and tries to force them into worshiping as the god that he is, his father being Zeus. His scheme, successful in the end, mostly revolves around stealing all the women and getting them to dance drunkenly in the mountains. It's a little silly. It is probably a lot more entertaining staged, what with all the drunken dancing women. As a read, I didn't much enjoy it. But ultimately Euripides' track record is still pretty solid with me, so I don't really mind.

One more volume of Greek Tragedy to go, folks!