Beyond Justice’s Realm

Euripides, Andromache 744-746

“I just let your words roll off of me:
You’re just a walking shadow who has a voice,
Incapable of doing anything other than speaking alone.”

τοὺς σοὺς δὲ μύθους ῥᾳδίως ἐγὼ φέρω·
σκιὰ γὰρ ἀντίστοιχος ὣς φωνὴν ἔχεις,
ἀδύνατος οὐδὲν ἄλλο πλὴν λέγειν μόνον.


“It is better to win without earning a bad reputation
Than to overturn justice with envy and force.
Mortals may find victory sweet at first,
But it grows dry over time
And pulls down insults on our homes.
That’s why I praise and I honor a life
Which has no power at home or in the state
Outside the realm of justice.”

κρεῖσσον δὲ νίκαν μὴ κακόδοξον ἔχειν
ἢ ξὺν φθόνῳ σφάλλειν δυνάμει τε δίκαν.
ἡδὺ μὲν γὰρ αὐτίκα τοῦτο βροτοῖσιν,
ἐν δὲ χρόνῳ τελέθει
ξηρὸν καὶ ὀνείδεσιν ἔγκειται δόμων.
ταύταν ᾔνεσα ταύταν καὶ σέβομαι βιοτάν,
μηδὲν δίκας ἔξω κράτος ἐν θαλάμοις
καὶ πόλει δύνασθαι.

Hektor and Andromache, Antonio Zucchi 1773


Reading Greek Tragedies Online: Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis

Iphigenia at Aulis, 494

“What does your daughter have to do with Helen?”

…τί δ’ ῾Ελένης παρθένωι τῆι σῆι μέτα;

Over the past few weeks we have presented readings of Euripides’ Helen and Sophocles’ Philoktetes, Euripides’ Herakles, and Bacchae (in partnership with the Center for Hellenic Studies and the Kosmos Society and Out of Chaos Theatre). Our basic approach is to have actors in isolation read parts with each other online, interspersed with commentary and discussion from ‘experts’ and the actors.

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This week we turn to Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis, a story of the sacrifice of a daughter so armies can go to war to fight for the return of Helen. Euripides asks us to consider what is like to be Agamemnon. What pressures eventuate in the sacrifice of his daughter? This play questions of who is in charge in a crisis and ends with a dim view of the Achaean army, which is compared to a mob screaming for the sacrifice of Iphigenia and threatening to stone Achilles if he gets in the way. Irrational mobs? Agitation to sacrifice one to preserve freedom of action for the many? There’s nothing here to resonate with current events at all.


“People have different natures;
They have different ways. But acting rightly
Always stands out.
The preparation of education
points the way to virtue.
For it is a mark of wisdom to feel shame
and it brings the transformative grace
of seeing through its judgment
what is right; it is reputation that grants
an ageless glory to your life.”

διάφοροι δὲ φύσεις βροτῶν,
διάφοροι δὲ τρόποι· τὸ δ’ ὀρ-
θῶς ἐσθλὸν σαφὲς αἰεί·
τροφαί θ’ αἱ παιδευόμεναι
μέγα φέρουσ’ ἐς τὰν ἀρετάν·
τό τε γὰρ αἰδεῖσθαι σοφία,
†τάν τ’ ἐξαλλάσσουσαν ἔχει
χάριν ὑπὸ γνώμας ἐσορᾶν†
τὸ δέον, ἔνθα δόξα φέρει

Abduction of Iphigenia by Artemis
We will be discussing the play with special guests Adam Barnard and Mat Carbon and our actors:


Iphigenia – Evvy Miller
Clytemnestra – Eunice Roberts
Agamemnon – Michael Lumsden
Menelaus – Paul O’Mahony
Achilles – Tim Delap
Chorus – Tamieka Chavis
Messenger – Richard Neale

317-334 – Agamemnon and Menelaus

413-542 – Agamemnon, Menelaus, messenger, chorus

598-750 – chorus, Clytemnestra, Iphigenia, Agamemnon

801-855 – Clytemnestra, Achilles

1211-1275 – Clytemnestra, Agamemnon, Iphigenia, chorus

1338-1510 – Iphigenia, Clytemnestra, Chorus, Achilles

1613-1627 – Chorus, Clytemnestra, Agamemnon

Eur. Iph. Aul. 1250-1252

“It is light that is sweetest for humans to see
And the world below is nothing. Whoever prays for death
Is mad. Living badly is better than dying well.”

τὸ φῶς τόδ᾽ ἀνθρώποισιν ἥδιστον βλέπειν,
τὰ νέρθε δ᾽ οὐδέν: μαίνεται δ᾽ ὃς εὔχεται
θανεῖν. κακῶς ζῆν κρεῖσσον ἢ καλῶς θανεῖν.

Videos of Earlier Sessions
Euripides’ Helen, March 25th
Sophocles Philoktetes, April 1st
Euripides’ Herakles, April 8th 
Euripides’ Bacchae, April 15th
Upcoming Readings


Sophocles, Women of Trachis, April 29th

Euripides, Orestes, May 6th

Aeschylus, The Persians May 13th

Euripides, Trojan Women, May 20th

Sophocles, Ajax, May 29th

Euripides, Andromache, June 3rd

Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannos, June 10th

Euripides, Ion, June 17th

Euripides, Hecuba, June 24th

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound, July 1st



Untroubled as Day Passes to Night?

Euripides, Herakles Mainomenos 502-507

“I guess it is necessary that we die.
Old men—the matters of life are brief,
So complete this course as sweetly as you can,
Going untroubled as the days pass to night.

Time has no idea how to keep hope alive;
No, it hurries on for itself and flits away.

Just look at me: I was once something special to look at,
Famous for my deeds, but luck stole me away
In a single day, just like a feather on the wind.”

θανεῖν γάρ, ὡς ἔοικ’, ἀναγκαίως ἔχει.
ἀλλ’, ὦ γέροντες, σμικρὰ μὲν τὰ τοῦ βίου,
τοῦτον δ’ ὅπως ἥδιστα διαπεράσατε
ἐξ ἡμέρας ἐς νύκτα μὴ λυπούμενοι.
ὡς ἐλπίδας μὲν ὁ χρόνος οὐκ ἐπίσταται
σώιζειν, τὸ δ’ αὑτοῦ σπουδάσας διέπτατο.
ὁρᾶτ’ ἔμ’ ὅσπερ ἦ περίβλεπτος βροτοῖς
ὀνομαστὰ πράσσων, καί μ’ ἀφείλεθ’ ἡ τύχη
ὥσπερ πτερὸν πρὸς αἰθέρ’ ἡμέραι μιᾶι.

Hercules and the Hesperides, by G. A. Pellegrini

Euripides, Fr. 462 (Cretan Women): Only Death is Friend to the Poor

With the US presidential primary right around the corner, it might do some good to start up a debate about poverty–which will likely be mentioned far more here than by the candidates….

“I both know and have experienced the hard way
that all people are the friends of men who have.
No one slinks about where there is no food,
But they go where there is wealth and a gathering.
To be ‘well-born’ is also the property of the rich;
But the poor man does well if he dies.”

᾿Επίσταμαι δὲ καὶ πεπείραμαι λίαν,
ὡς τῶν ἐχόντων πάντες ἄνθρωποι φίλοι.
οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἕρπει πρὸς τὸ μὴ τροφὴν ἔχον,
ἀλλ᾿ εἰς τὸ πλοῦτον καὶ συνουσίαν ἔχον.
καὶ τῶν ἐχόντων ηὑγένεια κρίνεται.
ἀνὴρ δ᾿ ἀχρήμων εἰ θάνοι πράσσει καλῶς.

Euripides, obviously, might disagree with Tibullus (1.1-6):

“Let someone else pile up gleaming gold
And hold as many lots of well-plowed land,
Let constant labor frighten him when an enemy’s near
As war’s clarion blasts send his sleep to flight.
But may my poverty guide me through a settled life
as long as my hearth shines with a tireless light.”

Divitias alius fulvo sibi congerat auro
Et teneat culti iugera multa soli,
Quem labor adsiduus vicino terreat hoste,
Martia cui somnos classica pulsa fugent:
Me mea paupertas vita traducat inerti, 5
Dum meus adsiduo luceat igne focus.

Although, in a different fragment, Euripides notes the corrupting force of wealth:

Euripides, fr. 54 (Alexander): On the Educational Merits of Poverty?

“Wealth and too much luxury
Are the wrong lessons for manly men.
Poverty is wretched but at least it raises up
Children better at working and getting things done.”

κακόν τι παίδευμ’ ἦν ἄρ’ εἰς εὐανδρίαν
ὁ πλοῦτος ἀνθρώποισιν αἵ τ’ ἄγαν τρυφαί·
πενία δὲ δύστηνον μέν, ἀλλ’ ὅμως τρέφει
μοχθεῖν τ’ ἀμείνω τέκνα καὶ δραστήρια.

The fabulously wealthy Seneca might agree:

Seneca, Epistulae ad Lucilium 17.3

“For many, riches have stood in the way of philosophizing; poverty is unimpeded, free from care.”

multis ad philosophandum obstitere divitiae; paupertas expedita est, secura est.

To Live is to Feel Joy and Grief Alike: Euripides, Iphigenia at Aulis, 30-44.

At the beginning of Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis we find Agamemnon awake in turmoil, much the same way as he begins book 10 of the Iliad. An old attendant tries to calm him down. Then he asks for a story.

Agamemnon: “This is it, the noble risk,
And its ambition
It is sweet, but it causes pain when it is closer.
Sometimes divine decrees, incomplete, will
Upturn our life, and then the many implacable beliefs
Of human beings will shatter it.”

Old Man: “I do not like these thoughts from a leader
Atreus did not bear you for only life’s good,
But you must feel joy and grief: For you are a mortal.
Even if you do not want it, these things
Are still willed by the gods.
But you kindled the light of the lamp
And wrote on that tablet which you
Worry in your hand and you pour out
The same words again and then
You seal them only to wipe off the seal
And throw the pine frame to the ground
As you shed flowing tears. You seem at a loss-
You seem like someone who has gone mad.
What pains you? What’s new, king?
Come, share your tale with me.”

Αγ. τοῦτο δέ γ’ ἐστὶν τὸ καλὸν σφαλερόν,
καὶ τὸ πρότιμον
γλυκὺ μέν, λυπεῖ δὲ προσιστάμενον.
τοτὲ μὲν τὰ θεῶν οὐκ ὀρθωθέντ’
ἀνέτρεψε βίον, τοτὲ δ’ ἀνθρώπων
γνῶμαι πολλαὶ
καὶ δυσάρεστοι διέκναισαν.
Πρ. οὐκ ἄγαμαι ταῦτ’ ἀνδρὸς ἀριστέως.
οὐκ ἐπὶ πᾶσίν σ’ ἐφύτευσ’ ἀγαθοῖς,
᾿Αγάμεμνον, ᾿Ατρεύς. δεῖ δέ σε χαίρειν
καὶ λυπεῖσθαι· θνητὸς γὰρ ἔφυς.
κἂν μὴ σὺ θέληις, τὰ θεῶν οὕτω
βουλόμεν’ ἔσται. σὺ δὲ λαμπτῆρος
φάος ἀμπετάσας δέλτον τε γράφεις
τήνδ’ ἣν πρὸ χερῶν ἔτι βαστάζεις,
καὶ ταὐτὰ πάλιν γράμματα συγχεῖς
καὶ σφραγίζεις λύεις τ’ ὀπίσω
ῥίπτεις τε πέδωι πεύκην, θαλερὸν
κατὰ δάκρυ χέων, κἀκ τῶν ἀπόρων
οὐδενὸς ἐνδεῖς μὴ οὐ μαίνεσθαι.
τί πονεῖς; τί νέον παρὰ σοί, βασιλεῦ;
φέρε κοίνωσον μῦθον ἐς ἡμᾶς.

Sophocles Ajax 125-126



“For I see that we who live are nothing more than ghosts and empty darkness”


ὁρῶ γὰρ ἡμᾶς οὐδὲν ὄντας ἄλλο πλὴν

εἴδωλ᾽ ὅσοιπερ ζῶμεν ἢ κούφην σκιάν.


Ajax the son of Telamon was not a happy man.

Ajax took his own life in the face of disappointment and dishonor. Some blame Odysseus.