The Phoenician Women by Euripides.

Eteokles und Polyneikes 
by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1725 - 1730).
The Phoenician Women (Φοίνισσαι) is a tragedy by Euripides composed somewhere between 411 - 408 B.C., and it is based on the Oedipus Myth, one of my favourites! So far I've read several variants: Sophocles' Theban Plays (Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone) and Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes. The story, in its absolute basic form, is that Oedipus discovers his wife Jocasta is actually his mother and that he had killed his father Laius, not knowing that Laius was his father (all of this was foretold by the seer Tiresias). He is so horrified he blinds himself and goes on to live as a beggar leaving his kingdom of Thebes, whilst Jocasta hangs herself and his sons Eteocles and Polynices eventually kill each other in battle as they fight for the crown. 

In Euripides' Phoenician Women however Jocasta has not yet killed herself, and the play begins with her delivering the prologue, telling the audience of how Oedipus blinded himself and, before he left Thebes, cursed Eteocles and Polynices, telling them neither would rule without killing the other. To avoid this fate they agreed to rule alternate years however Eteocles forced Polynices into exile and so he went to Argos where he married Argea, the daughter of Adrastus, king of the Argives (Argea is unnamed in my translation) and he persuades Adrastus to help him reclaim Thebes.

Jocasta, however, attempts to reconcile the two sons, both of whom are determined to rule Thebes. Eteocles tells her he will stop at nothing, whilst Polynices has already launched an attack on the city he holds dear. There is no meeting half-way and she is unable to stop the inevitable war between the two. Eteocles joins forces with Creon (who has been portrayed in Sophocles' play Antigone as immoral, though not unlawful) and they plan to guard each of the Seven gates of Thebes, knowing these gates are to be under attack from Polynices forces. They consult the seer Tiresias (who had foretold Oedipus' fate) and he tells Creon his son Menoeceus must be sacrificed. Creon is unable to do this and encourages his son to flee, however Menoeceus sacrifices himself.

Jocasta is heartbroken at these turn of events, and she sends her daughter Antigone to stop the duel between Eteocles and Polynices but Antigone is too late. Both sons are dead, and Jocasta in her grief kills herself. Creon, now the king of Thebes, orders that Eteocles is to be buried honourably but not Polynices, and when Antigone refuses therefore to marry his son Haemon he banishes Antigone and Oedipus and the two leave with heavy hearts for Athens.

It is a great contribution to the Oedipus myth and like other plays of Euripides what makes it stand out is that it is told from the perspective of women. I think for atmosphere Aeschylus may have the edge on Euripides, and perhaps Sophocles Theban plays are that little bit more gripping, but I did still love reading this play very much: though flawed, it is still a great work of literature. From what I can gather this is viewed more as one of Euripides' minor works, but, despite what I said, I do think it's undeserving of this silver status.


The Plays of Euripides

Ion | Helen | Phoenician Women | Orestes | Cyclops | Bacchae 


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