(Charlotte Higgins’s article appeared in the Guardian, 11/10.)
Think of Greek tragedy and we tend to think of sad stories of the death of kings. Or, if not their deaths, then at least their comeuppances: Agamemnon killed in his bath by his wife; Ajax made mad and murderous by the gods; Oedipus blinded by his own hand; Jason destroyed after his wife, Medea, kills their children.
But only 32 complete plays survive, by just three playwrights – out of hundreds, or perhaps as many as 1,000 texts by around 80 authors. And, according to Matthew Wright, professor of Greek at the University of Exeter, the works we have by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides are neither necessarily the best plays of their time, nor especially representative. Some of these lost works, he believes, were likely to have been masterpieces: “There is no evidence that quality played a part in the transmission of the surviving texts.”