|January 26, 2014||Filled under Kosmos Society Resource, Texts||
Below are the downloadable source texts. This list will develop over time, so please check back periodically. Enjoy!
At the end of the page you can find links to texts available from the Center for Hellenic Studies Online Publications.
You can click on the links in this list to jump to the relevant part of the page, or you can scroll down:
- Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite
- Helen, Euripides
- Herakles, Euripides
- Medea, Euripides
- Trojan Women, Euripides
- Seven Against Thebes, Aeschylus
- Agamemnon, Aeschylus
- Libation Bearers, Aeschylus
- Eumenides, Aeschylus
- Antigone, Sophocles
- Oedipus at Colonus, Sophocles
- The Best of the Achaeans, Gregory Nagy
- The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours Sourcebook, General Editor, Gregory Nagy
- Available from CHS Online Publications
Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite
The greater of the two Homeric Hymns celebrating Aphrodite is a beautiful hymn for its subject matter and style, and an important poetic text in the history of Greek religion and world literature. It begins as a hymn celebrating the aretai and tīmai ‘honors’ of the goddess Aphrodite, distinguishing her jurisdiction and influence from three other goddesses into whom she does not strike erotic desire and passion—Athena, Hera, and Hestia—and celebrating her beauty, virtues, and legends in a narrative tantamount to small epic (epyllion). The focus of the narrative is the story of Aphrodite’s herself being struck with passion, instigated by Zeus, for a Trojan hero Anchises, son of Dardanos, appearing in human disguise to Anchises as he was herding cattle on the lonely slopes of Mount Ida, becoming the mother of Aineias (or as the Romans would spell the name, Aeneas), and parting with instructions to Anchises not to tell anyone of the affair. Wrapped in the narrative are a wealth of exquisitely composed epic scene painting (particularly outstanding the description of the wild animals whose breasts Aphrodite fills with desire) and the Aphrodite’s Ganymede and Tithonos (exemplum) micronarratives.
The poem is a great read and study in itself, and as part of the greater Homeric hymn song culture. Students of Virgil who have read and understood this hymn understand Aeneas’ birth and upbringing, as well as other important aspects of Aeneas’ background that will enrich understanding of the Aeneid. Visiting scholar Leonard Muellner’s video posted on the Kosmos Society website explains the significance of Aphrodite’s evidently unheeded warning to avoid the mēnis ‘cosmic anger’ of Zeus, as well as other deep aspects of the narrative and connections with relevant Greek thought about their gods and relationships between gods and mortals. Coming after Professor Muellner’s and Professor Nagy’s discussions of mēnis in HeroesX, this hymn and Professor Muellner’s video build on the content of HeroesX, but for students and scholars who have not participated in HeroesX, they may serve as a good introduction to Professor Muellner’s cosmic mēnis hermeneutics and provide content that may be helpful to readers of the Iliad. The Homeric Hymns, including the Hymn to Aphrodite, are an important body of poetic work surviving from early Greek epic song culture, much admired by the Hellenistic scholar-poet Callimachus, who pays homage to them by imitating them, and by the great Latin poet Lucretius, whose great ode to alma Venus owes much to the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite.
(by Jack Vaughan)
Helen of Troy—a misnomer according to Euripides. As Helen herself tells us in her monologue that opens Euripides’ Helen, Helen of Sparta never went to Troy with Paris, but a lookalike phantom [eidōlon | εἴδωλον] given by Hera to Paris made it seem so. The Trojan War was fought not over her, but over an illusion. When the fake likeness of Helen went to Troy; Hermes removed the real Helen to the palace and protection of the kings of Egypt, the deceased Proteus and now, since Proteus’ death, his son and successor Theoklymenos. Helen informs the audience that she has remained faithful to her Achaean husband Menelaos, although her reputation has been damaged to the point that she is hated throughout the Greek world. Now that Theoklymenos is on the throne, she no longer enjoys the protection of her chastity that Proteus had provided. Theoklymenos even wants to bed and wed her. The ensuing drama, like other Euripidean tragedies proceeds swiftly through a series of charged dramatic scenes with speech and song of the heroes and supporting characters, including a chorus of Greek women, that come together to deliver a two-part cliffhanger, of which both parts are stages of the protagonist Helen’s and her husband’s salvation, and both hinge on themes of purposeful disconnects and interplay between appearances and reality. The first grand illusion was a creation of the gods. The second is the eponymous hero’s (heroine’s) plan. Together they make complementary statements about deceptive appearances’ great destructive potential in some cases and elements of improbable rescue in others. Helen is a fine drama, a succession of scenes packed with irresistible suspense and dramatic irony punctuated by some of Euripides’ most beautiful choral odes. It features a strong protagonist, Helen, and a cast of heroic and other supporting characters, all parts brilliantly scripted for their characters and roles in the drama. Although, like Sophocles’ tragedy Philoktetes and other Ancient Greek, including Euripidean tragedies, the drama ends happily for the major characters, it is a serious tragedy that grapples with serious issues of the human condition—love, war, and the limits of human knowledge and understanding. (by Jack Vaughan)
A Sampling of Comments on Euripides’ Herakles
by Gregory Nagy is now available at Classical Inquiries 2018.04.20
In H24H Professor Nagy points out that “Hēraklēs means ‘he who has the kleos of Hērā’” so he has kleos built into his name. That is, there is ‘glory, fame (especially as conferred by poetry or song); that which is heard’ (Core Vocab) and he is established as a model hero, one about whom songs would be sung.
Hērā was jealous because Zeus had fathered Herakles of Alkmene so arranged for Eurystheus to be born first and become king according to the oath Zeus had sworn (blaming Atē). Eurystheus sets Herakles a series of tasks.
In this drama, Euripides presents the aftermath of the task in which: “Hēraklēs descends to Hādēs and brings up Cerberus the Hound of Hādēs from the zone of darkness to the zone of light and life.” (H24H 1§43) Meanwhile his wife, Megara, and their three sons are under threat by Lykos, ruler of Thebes, and are taking refuge at the altar of Zeus.
When Jason came to Colchis in search of the Golden Fleece, he succeeded with the aid of Medea, who accompanied him back to Corinth. As the play opens she is experiencing grief and fury at his betrayal of her as he prepares to marry the ruler’s daughter. Far from her native land, and threatened with exile, Medea seeks revenge on Jason’s bride, on the bride’s father, and finally on Jason himself. By contrast when she seeks help from Aegeus he promises a place of safety in return for her help.
Euripides presents this part of the myth as more than a portrait of a woman scorned: her terrible acts of vengeance are also shown as consequences of the acts of those around her who break sacred oaths and act with hubris.
Image: By François TR, [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
Trojan Women, Euripides
Introduction to the play (PDF) by Jack Vaughan:
The Trojan Women portrays the sad lot of the surviving women and children of Troy after the taking of their beloved city by the Greeks. The Chorus represents and speaks for the Trojan women as a group. The drama presents through the sequence of scenes, as dramatic centerpieces, individual Trojan noblewomen: devastated widowed queen and mother Hecuba, raving grief-striken assault-victim Kassandra, widowed mother Andromache, hapless young Polyxena—whose fate, being sacrificed at the tomb of Achilles, fulfilled offstage, is presented through reports, to the audience in Poseidon’s opening monologue, to the women onstage later by Talthybios—and Paris’ (Alexandros’) widow, Spartan runaway Helen, held captive along with the Trojan women. All of the individually presented women, and the child whose fate is decided by the Greeks in the action portrayed in the drama (Hector’s and Andromache’s hapless son Astyanax), are associated with the royal family. The women who appear onstage through actors—Hecuba, Kassandra, Andromache, and Helen—each have different viable claims to being much greater figures of Ancient Greek Myth and World Literature than the great nameless crowd, here represented by the Chorus, of captive Trojan women facing concubinage or enslavement in Greece. As in Homer and other poets before Euripides, Helen has a dual Greco-Trojan identity. Before leaving Sparta with Paris to be his wife in Troy, Helen was a female Ancient Greek hero in her own right. Hecuba, Kassandra, and Andromache are noble women forced to endure extreme injustice and inhumanity. Their different responses to the situations unfolding in the tragedy elicit audience sympathy and pity appropriately accorded to tragic heroines. Helen, universally blamed as the cause of the ten-years war, faces threats of a similarly ruinous fate, but—after tense confrontation by Menelaos and a three-way debate joined by Hecuba with the Chorus chiming in on her side, advancing that Menelaos punish and kill the faithless traitor woman—the Menelaos-Helen Episode ends with Menelaos and Helen leaving the stage to sail back to Greece together. The native Trojan, Phrygian, or Anatolian women who survive the Greek invasion, occupation, and killings, face at the end of the drama transport to Greece, bereft of city, home, family, and hopes of freedom and happy lives.
(by Jack Vaughan)
Seven Against Thebes, Aeschylus
Community-generated Introduction to Seven Against Thebes (PDF) Introduction to Aeschylus Seven Against Thebes
From its first performance at the City Dionysia in 367 BCE, this drama has been widely recognized as an exceptional tragedy. A strong point of Aeschylus’ dramatic poetry, like Homer’s epics, is that allies and enemies are portrayed as lifelike or equally larger than life, evenhandedly critical, not patently reductive of a whole cast of characters on the other side. It delivers the scenes of battle at the seven gates by great narrative delivered by the scout “messenger” who focuses on key aspects of the scenes at the gates, not least the shields of the leaders of the attacking armies, and the scout’s candid reports of what he has seen and heard during stage time and his characterizations of the adversaries. The play continued to be popular in the post-classical period and in later Antiquity. One reason may have been that, like tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides included in corresponding Byzantine triads, it tells so much of the subject of the in Antiquity prized Theban epic Thebais. Today it is a great read (very moving in live reading in parts) both for the drama, including the characterizations of the heroes on both sides and the role-reversing character development of Eteokles and the Chorus of Theban maidens onstage, and for Aeschylus’ bold heroic poetry.
Image: Ευπάτωρ Etruscan architectural plaque from the column of the temple A at Pyrgi. Scene from the Theban Cycle, the Seven against Thebes, c470–460 BCE, GFDL 1.2, from Wikimedia Commons
Agamemnon is the first of the Oresteia trilogy of tragedies, the best-known works of Aeschylus, first produced in 458 BCE as part of the Athenian City Dionysia. In Athenian society at this period, tragedies were performed as part of ritual dramatic festivals and formed part of the education of young citizens. The dramas focused on the sufferings of the hero and through their reactions the audience shared in these ordeals as they were reenacted.
As is typical of the plays of Aeschylus, Agamemnon centers on a hero who was familiar from the epic cycle. The drama focuses on his homecoming, in which he finally has to face the consequences of his actions.
Agamemnon had led a fleet of Achaeans to Troy, in a quest to reclaim Helen, the wife of his brother Menelaos, and the drama opens with the news that, after ten years, Troy has finally fallen, and that Agamemnon is returning in triumph. But with lament of the Chorus, it becomes clear what terrible price Agamemnon had paid to ensure the fleet sailed in the first place. Clytemnestra’s apparent welcome hides her dark intention for vengeance. Another victim is the seer Kassandra, whom Agamemnon has brought home from Troy as part of his spoils. The city of Argos is left in the hands of Clytemnestra’s lover, Agamemnon’s cousin Aegisthus, but with the prospect of a continuation of the cycle of killing and revenge that has already been part of the family history for two generations.
Libation Bearers, Aeschylus
In the second play in the Oresteia trilogy, the action continues with Agamemnon’s daughter Electra seeking to conduct the appropriate libation rites to honor her father. When she encounters her brother, Orestes, who has returned from exile at the behest of Apollo’s oracle, their reunion at their father’s grave reinforces their desire to avenge his murder.
Having gained admittance to the palace, Orestes successfully kills Aegisthus, and, despite her attempts to win back his sympathy for her as his mother, he also kills Clytemnestra.
But now a new wave of vengeance seems likely to begin, with Orestes being haunted by a vision of the Erinyes, or Furies, hounding him in his turn, leaving him no option but to flee into exile once more.
Image: Orestes and Electra, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license
In the final instalment of the trilogy, Orestes has taken refuge at the temple of Apollo. Following the advice of the god, Orestes sets out to seek release at the temple of Athena in Athens. But the dreadful ghost of Clytemnestra still calls for vengeance and the Erinyes pursue him relentlessly, throwing curses in his wake.
In Athens, Orestes supplicates Athena, and the goddess hears his story. She sets in motion a tribunal, appointing judges from the citizens, and both Orestes and the Erinyes state their case, with Apollo speaking on Orestes’ behalf. Athena herself makes the final judgement, and establishes a new order in which the cycle of vengeance is replaced: she offers to the Erinyes a place where they can be worshipped and honored as the Eumenides and bring abundance to the land.
Image: Orestes Fleeing From the Furies, by Herman Wilhelm Bissen, public domain, Wikimedia Commons
For ancient Greeks engaging with such a living mytho-poetic system, Antigone would need no introduction. First-time modern readers, however, may at find it helpful to know just the basic facts about Sophocles’ use of this myth before beginning. In this tragedy, Antigone is the daughter of Oedipus the former king of Thebes who brought about his own destruction by unknowingly killing his father and marrying his mother Jocasta. After Oedipus’ self-blinding, exile, and death, his two sons (and Antigone’s two brothers), Eteokles and Polyneikes, end up quarreling for control over Thebes. War ensues when Polyneikes and six other heroes attack the seven gates of the city (the mythical “Seven Against Thebes”). In a final military confrontation, the brothers kill each other. Antigone’s uncle Creon takes control of the city and decrees that Eteokles should be given the funeral of a hero, while Polyneikes must be left unmourned and unburied. Anyone who defies this edict faces death. This is where the tragedy begins.
Image: By Wonderlane (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Oedipus at Colonus, Sophocles
Oedipus is presented as a blind old man in a life of wandering, led by his daughter Antigone, when he arrives at a sacred place some distance from the city of Athens—Colonus [Kolōnos]. The region is controlled by Athens, and its leader Theseus promises help to Oedipus.
But he and his family come under threat when Creon and Polyneikes, each representing opposing factions in Thebes, wish Oedipus to return to lend support to their cause.
Ultimately, with the help of Theseus, Oedipus is able to meet his mystical, wondrous end in this sacred landscape.
Image: Head of an old man in a coverlet, . Marble. Mid-1st century B.C. Rome, Vatican Museums, Wikimedia Commons
The Best of the Achaeans
The Best of the Achaeans [epub]
The Best of the Achaeans is intended for both non-specialists and specialists in Homer and in other forms of archaic Greek poetry. More generally, it is for non-Classicists as well as Classicists (that is, those who study Greek and Roman antiquity). All quotations from the ancient texts are translated, and all cited words are defined in context.
This book is about how to read Homer—both the Iliad and the Odyssey—and various related forms of Greek poetry in the archaic period, most notably the Hesiodic Theogony and Works and Days and the Homeric Hymns, especially the Apollo, the Demeter, and the Aphrodite. Other related poetic forms include the praise poetry of Pindar and the blame poetry of Archilochus. The readings are infused with references to non-canonical traditions as well, especially women’s laments and the earliest attested versions of Aesop’s fables.
The object of all the readings is to understand simultaneously the form as well as the content of a wide variety of traditional media conveying various basic concepts of the ancient Greek hero. The most basic of all these concepts is a single all-pervasive historical fact of the archaic period and beyond: the cult of heroes. Heroes were not only the subjects of narrative and dramatic media but also the objects of worship. This book integrates heroic song, poetry, and prose with the ancestral practices of a wide variety of hero-cults. More generally, it explores the heroic tradition within the cultural context of pan-Hellenism, to be defined as an early form of Hellenism that eventually became the nucleus of Classicism.
The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours Sourcebook
General Editor, Gregory Nagy
The Sourcebook of Original Greek Texts Translated into English contains accessible and enhanced translations of all the primary texts discussed in Nagy’s The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours, making it the perfect companion volume for those working through H24H or other HeroesX content. Yet the Sourcebook also stands on its own as a unique, open-source publication. Edited with the help of Nagy’s fellow teachers and researchers, these translations are enhanced with transliterated Greek tags that to allow readers to track the use of key terms and concepts.
Here’s how Nagy describes the Sourcebook in H24H. “The process of editing this Sourcebook is an ongoing project that I hope will outlast my own lifetime. All the translations in this online Sourcebook are free from copyright restrictions. That is because the translations belong either to me or to other authors who have waived copyright or to authors who died in a time that precedes any further application of copyright. The texts of these translations in the Sourcebook are periodically reviewed and modified, and the modifications are indicated by way of special formatting designed to show the differences between the original translator’s version and the modified version.”
The texts provided include: the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey; Hesiod’s Theogony and Works and Days, Homeric Hymns, a selection of lyric poetry by Alcman, Sappho, and Pindar; Agamemnon, Libation Bearers, and the Eumenides by Aeschylus; Oedipus at Colonus and Oedipus Tyrannus by Sophocles; the Hippolytus and Bacchae of Euripides; selections from Aristotle, Herodotus, and Pausanius; and Plato’s Apology and Phaedo.