So Greek names get spelled differently, Anglicized, etc. The goal with these pronunciation choices is to keep things as clear and poetic as possible for the audience’s ears. So sometimes stuff gets fudged so it sounds prettier or more familiar. I will usually leave a note in the listing when that happens so if you want to, you can say it the “smart” way and impress people in discussion.
The reality is that classicists argue over how to pronounce Ancient Greek names to this day. Very few pronunciations have been canonized. (Just ask a classicist for zir opinion on Achilles vs. Akhilleus, you’ll see what I mean real fast.) Many thanks to pocket sized Hercules, travel sized dramaturg Anthea Carns for her help with the Greek and the dramaturgy in general.
[Note, some geographical references are explained on the maps page. I will refer you there, if the answer can be found there.]
Our Characters (Some of names are never said in text):
Apollo – A (as in the article)-pah-lo (as in “lo and behold”), a-PAH-lo. Basically say it like the famous theater or the space program and you’re good.
Chorus, Citizens/People of Pherae – Pherae is FEHr-ray (as in the long vowel form of the letter ee). [Note the r is rolled between the two syllables.] You can fudge it a bit and make it sound like “fair-ay,” to create some fun connotative moments. A city that is fair in its dealings.
Alcestis – Al (as in “you can call me Al”)-sess (like mess, but with an s)- tiss (like hiss, but with a t), Al-SESS-tiss. [In Greek it would be Al-kes-tees.]
Admetus – Ad (as in “advertisement”) – mee (as in the pronoun) – tus (as in the pronoun with a “t” at the front of it), Ad-MEE-tus [Note the ‘t’ is elided between the last to syllables. There is no stop. Be careful of a t/d substitution.]
Eumelus (Son of Admetus) – Yoo-mee-lus
Pheres – FEH-reez (Roll the “r” to keep it from sounding like he’s related to Tinkerbell.)
Heracles – Hair-ra-kleeze
Pronunciation/Explanation of Reference by First Appearance (with Line Number)
Zeus – zooos (Line 3), king of the gods, Apollo (and most of the gods’ father) [You can also use a liquid u if you want to “sound trained” which would sound like zjooos.]
Asclepius – Az-KLEE-pee-US (Line 3), Apollo’s son and later to become god of medicine and healing as his cults grew in power
Cyclopes – SIGH-klops (Line 5), think of these guys like the blue collar workers of the mythological world. They were smiths and shepherds of divine importance, protecting gods’ herds and building their weapons (under the supervision of Hephaestus, the crippled god of industry and smithing).
Hades – HAY-deez (Line 26), Lord of the Underworld, Zeus’ brother who either seduced or abducted Persephone to rule with him. Let’s be very clear. He’s not the devil, he’s the middle manager of the land of the dead, which also includes Elysium, the Greco-Roman idea of Heaven. So think of the Disney guy. Except not evil. (But still James Woods. Because he’s James Woods.)
Phoebus – FEE-bus (Line 29) (In Greek it would be Feevus.) Phoebus means “golden” or “shining,” connecting Apollo with the sun. When Death uses it, it’s more like a first name. Read more about Apollo here.
Pelias – Peh-LEE-as (Line 36) Pheres’ older brother, Alcestis’ father, Jason’s uncle and tormentor, killed by Alcestis’ sister as a result of one of Medea’s spells
Eurystheus – Ur-riss-thee-us (roll the r) (Line 66), King of Tiryns, Heracles’ taskmaster, and all around Snidely Whiplash style villain. Read about him here, on the Heracles page.
Thrace – like it looks, “race” with a th at the front (Line 67), a wilder part of Greece in this period, what Admetus would call a thirsty place.
Paean – Pay-AN (Line 90), another (very worshipful) name for Apollo. A paean (pronounced PEE-an) to a god is like a prayer.
Lycia – Lye-see-a (Line 114), a part of Anatolia, or modern day southern Turkey. The Lycians are connected to the Hittites and their Empire, and the country was believed to have been settled by the brother of Crete’s King Minos
Ammon – AH-moon (Line 116) The Land called of Ammon is Egypt. Ammon is a different spelling of Amun, the Egyptian god of wind and secrets.
The Spirit in the Hearth – This refers to Hestia, virginal goddess of the hearth and home (Line 162) It is interesting that Alcestis does not pray to Hera, the guardian of marriage and of kings. She is praying for the protection of her household.
Iolcus – Eee-ole-kus (Line 249) The most powerful city in Thessaly, recently ruled by Pelias. Check out the map page to see its location.
Charon – Kair-ron [Roll the r betwen the two syllables.] (Line 253) The ferrymen who takes the deceased across the Styx and Acheron rivers. (They join, kind of like in Pittsburgh or Ohio.)
Thessaly – Thes-a-lee (Line 285) See the map page.
Orpheus – Or-fee-us (Line 357) The famous musician who went down to the Underworld and claimed his wife Eurydice using his music, but lost her when he looked back to see if she was following him out of the darkness. Orpheus saved Eurydice using his divine talent for making music so beautiful it made the stones cry. Admetus is basically saying, if I was a hero, if I was extraordinary, I could save you.
Daughter of Demeter – Duh-mee-ter (Line 358). Demeter is the goddess of the seasons and agriculture. She is the mother of Persephone, Hades’ wife.
Hound of Pluto – Ploo-toe (Line 360) Cerberus, the three headed watchdog of the gates to Hades’ house
Thessalians – Thes-uh-lee-uns (Line 425) People of Thessaly
Tarn of Acheron – tarn (like yarn, but with a t) and Ack-er-ron (Line 443-444) the widest part of the river Acheron in the Underworld, or the “river of pain.” (The river Styx is the “river of hate or wrath,” which is why the gods often swore on it.)
Seven-Strung Mountain Lyre-shell – lye-er (like “liar,” but said more lyrically). Now this one is cool. Lyre’s are like ancient guitars and mountain lyres were made from tortoise shells. Here’s a very old one:
Sparta – Spar-tuh (Line 447) the war-like city-state that was Athens’ main rival in the Peloponnesian war. In a few generations would be home to Menelaus and Helen (who would become Helen of Troy.)
Month Carneian – Car-nay-in (Line 447) a male rite of passage held in August/September in Sparta and its surrounding cities. It was a festival dedicated to Apollo, glorifying and purifying warriors. In Sparta, a king was not allowed to go to war during this period.
Athens – Ath-ins (Line 450) Euripides’ fair city, at this point in the Bronze Age home to King Aegeus, father of Theseus, who would save and marry Medea after the deaths of her children and the dissolution of her marriage to Jason.
Tiryns – Tir (like tear as in what drops when you cry)-ins, tir-ins (Line 482) A city-state in the southern Peloponnesian peninsula. The kingdom Heracles was supposed to inherit.
Diomedes’ chariot – Dye-o-mee-deez chariot (Line 483) Not to be confused with the Trojan War hero, Diomedes was one of the war god Ares’ sons. His chariot had to be drawn by four man-eating horses. Read more about this task on the Heracles page.
Bistones – BEE-sto-nehs (Line 485) The Thracian tribe Diomedes ruled. They were known as bloodthirsty. (In the Greek it would be VEE-sto-nehs.)
Ares – AIR-ez (Line 498) The god of warfare and bloodlust (Athena is the god of battle tactics and bravery in battle), son of Zeus and Hera, lover of Aphrodite.
Lycaon – Like-on, or if you’ve seen the Underworld movie, Lycan (Line 502). This one’s a little dicey. Lycaon was a king who fed Zeus a child and then tried to kill Zeus, so Zeus turned him into a wolf and caused a Great Flood. Or this could be king Lykastos of Arcadia who was accidentally killed in a brawl. (There is no mention of Heracles in either story.) Lycaon is where we get lycanthropy, i.e. werewolves. So maybe Heracles killed the first werewolf? I can’t find any substantiation for that so I think Euripides might have been thinking how awesome it would be if Heracles killed a werewolf. Good enough for me.
Cycnus – Kick-noos (Line 503) a son of Ares who challenged Heracles when we went to get the golden apples for Eurystheus. Zeus threw a thunderbolt between them to keep them from killing each other or a son of Ares who challenged Heracles to single combat when he was sailing with the Argo and Heracles killed him. Either way he’s a son of Ares that Heracles fought.
Alcmene – Alk-may-nay or Alk-mee-nee. (Line 505) This one is regional. Queen (Mother) of Argos and daughter of the king of Mycenae. Alcmene is nothing if not hardcore. The granddaughter of Perseus, she refused to marry her husband until he avenged the deaths of her brothers by conquering an island kingdom ruled by an immortal man. And she was in labor with Heracles for seven days because Hera was trying to prevent him from being born. (Hera does this a lot, she did it to Leto too.) Alcmene was also described as being really tall, beautiful, and imposing. Think supermodel. You can read about more of Alcmene’s awesomeness here.
The Pythian Himself – PITH-ee-un (Line 570) Pythia is the location of Apollo’s most important oracle, Delphi. An in-depth explanation can be found on the maps page.
Othrys – OH-thris (Line 580) A mountain near Pherae. An in-depth explanation can be found on the maps page.
Lake Boebias – Bee-bee-us (Line 590) [Can be elided to make two syllables “BEE-byus“.] An in-depth explanation can be found on the maps page.
Molossians – Mo-lo-SEE-uhns (Line 594) The Molossians were “barbarians” who lived near the Thessalians. An in-depth explanation can be found on the maps page.
Pelian – PEE-lee-un or PEE-lyan [Can be elided] (Line 596) Referring to either the land ruled by King Pelias or Mount Pelion, more likely Pelias, was named after the mountain, so probably Mount Pelion. An in-depth explanation can be found on the maps page.
Aegaean main – eh-JEE-un (Line 596) The Aegean Sea, the body of water east of the Greek peninsula. An in-depth explanation can be found on the maps page.
Lydian – Lid-EE-un (Line 676) A person from the kingdom of Lydia, which is north of the kingdom of Lycia I mentioned before. Well done, Anatolia, confuse everyone why don’t you? Seriously though, the Lydians were a kingdom in modern day northwestern Turkey, home to the mythological King Tantalus and Queen Niobe. So basically when Pheres asks Admetus if he thinks his father is a Lydian slave he’s asking if he thinks his dad’s stupid enough to try to feed people to the gods and upset Apollo and Artemis by insulting their mom.
Phrygian – Fri-JEE-un (Line 676) Someone from Phrygia, an Anatolian kingdom east of Lydia that may have included the city of Troy. In general, Pheres really doesn’t respect the Turks and Hittites.
Acastus – AH-kah-stus (Line 732) Acastus was Pelias’ son, Alcestis’ brother and Jason and Admetus’ cousin. He sailed with the Argonauts, and after Pelias’ death he drove Jason and Medea from Iolcus, where he is now King. He was hot-headed and sometimes deceitful, and eventually lost the throne in a civil war that left Jason’s son to take Iolcus over.
Hermes of the world below – Her-meez (Line 743) Messenger god with winged feet and patron of travelers, including those who travel through the Underworld. He guides them home.
The Cyprian – Sip-REE-uhn (Line 791) Aphrodite, the goddess of sexual love, is sometimes called Cypris or Cypress, in reference to both the island that is believed to be nearest to her birthplace and in reference to how she was born –foam off the sea.
Electryon – Eh-lekt-REE-on (Line 839) Heracles’ grandfather and son of Perseus and Andromeda. A great war chieftain and king of Mycenae.
Thracian books set down in verse by the school of Orpheus– THRAY (as in “ray” of sun) -shun, THRAY-shun (Lines 968-969) Thrace was the center of a lot of Orphic cult activity. Schools of Orpheus could refer very simply to all artists (musicians, bards, poets, etc.) or to the Orphists, which were one of the earliest religions in “the West” to develop sacred texts. Either way, our Chorus is saying that there is no escape from compulsion in art or philosophy.
Not in all the remedies Phoebus has given the heirs of Asclepius to fight the many afflictions of man – (Lines 970-971) There is also no safety from Compulsion through the care of the mortal body, through the care of healers like Asclepius, the greatest physician the world had ever seen.
Steel of the Chalybes – HAH-lee-bes [That’s a phlegm-y “H.” It’s like “wallabies” with a Hebrew “Ch” at the front.] (Line 980) The Chalybes were yet another Anatolian tribe famous for their metalworking. Their steel was supposed to be unbreakable.
I feel like Perseus killing the Gorgon. – PUR-see-us, GORE-gun (Line 1118) Perseus, Heracles’ great-grandfather, killed Medusa, a gorgon using the reflective inside of his metal shield because Medusa’s gaze turned people to stone.
Lordly son of Sthenelus – Sthen-e-lus (Line 1150) Sthenelus was Heracles’ great uncle, the brother of he grandfather Electryon. He barred Heracles’ mortal step-father Amphitryon and Heracles himself from ruling Mycenae and Tiryns because Amphitryon accidentally killed Electryon in a cattle accident. Sthen-e-lus’ son, Eurystheus, was in charge of giving Heracles labors to do penance. Read all about that whole mess on the Heracles page.
Think I missed something? Still confused? Comment below or email me!