on June 17, 2005
Most English translations of, say, the Greek New Testament are shepherded by a conviction that the original words had divine inspiration and so are best rendered verbatim wherever possible. At the same time, there generally is a concession (for good or ill) to the reality that if what results is not sufficiently lofty and reverential in tone, the faithful are unlikely to accept it. Attempts at classical Greek drama and poetry tend to be guided by rather different considerations: The translator's audience may consist of fellow scholars, reluctant undergraduate students, or an adventurous minority of the general public; and each of these groups will have particular demands. Too often work thus emerges which is precise but lifeless, or loosely interpreted to conform to the structures of 19th-century-style Anglo-American poetry, or so liberally seasoned with present-day colloquialisms as to jar the reader repeatedly out of the proper period and setting.
For the most part, Paul Roche navigates skilfully through these hazards in trying his hand at Sophocles's Oedipus trilogy, and has produced a rendition that is readable, yet preserves classical distinctiveness. Once or twice in the first play a turn of phrase does feel awkwardly modern, but such flashes are rare and soon either disappear or blend into the overall arc of the stories. That Roche is himself a poet clearly enriched the labour, and his reflections, in the Introduction, on the essence of poetry and the challenge of its transmission across lines of language, era, and culture border on the profound. '... Poetry lies somewhere between meaning and music, sense and sound ...,' he writes; and in this region he attempts to set Sophocles's work. He echoes the meter of the original without imitating it exactly, and preserves more of the Greek dramatic structure (complete with `strophes' and `antistrophes') than do many other translations available. Yet Roche remains mindful that this is also a PLAY, and manages the formalized dialogue with an eye (or ear) to the possibility of his version itself turning up on stage. He also provides an afterword outlining principles to guide such performance.
The reader of this translation whose only prior encounter with the Oedipus legend was some now-vaguely-remembered lesson in school, or perhaps Edith Hamilton's summary, may be surprised at how effectively one is drawn in. Roche, like Sophocles before him, succeeds in bringing the remote and legendary close enough to touch, while allowing it to remain sufficiently mysterious to stir the imagination.
on March 7, 2005
Roche has worked very hard at reproducing the feel of the original text by Sophocles, and by all accounts he has succeeded admirably. In his introduction, Roche goes on at length to explain why a strictly literal translation is not always the best course; he has done what he can to capture the essence of the original poetry, sometimes sacrificing a more literal translation.
That being said, this trilogy of tragedy remains inaccessible to the casual reader, with the verse, antiquated phrases, and lengthy unnatural monologues and speeches combining to obscure the beautiful and tragic story from the mind and heart of what might otherwise be an appreciative audience.
So where does this leave us? Did Roche waste his time by coming up with a version of the play that is neither authentic nor accessible? In my opinion, he did not. This book is an invaluable asset for intermediary scholars who are not ready (and may never be ready) to apply themselves to the actual text or a literal translation, and yet are willing to devote themselves to overcoming the obstacles that the non-traditional (by modern standards) format presents.
An english student, or an armchair literary enthusiast, will find this an excellent way to experience the power of Sophocles writing in english. The translation is beautiful, and powerful, and does indeed bring one of the most tragic and deeply resonating of stories to life; you just have to work a little to get there.
on November 1, 1999
I must admit, I have difficulty reading plays done in poetry. (I read "Hamlet" a thousand times and I still don't know the details about Rosencrantz and Guilderstern!) When I picked up this book, I was expecting it to be the same deal. But it wasn't. I couldn't put this book down! "Oedipus at Colonus" is so powerful and dramatic! The other two are equally compelling. I guess I'm giving this such a glowing review because I love Greek mythology, but I can't help loving this! Paul Roche is a wonderful translator. This translation can be performed in front of a modern audience without problems in understanding at all. I really must owe the credit to Sophocles for my favourite moments. The endings "Oedipus the King" (where a messenger describes Jocasta's death and Oedipus blinding himself) and where in "Oedipus at Colonus" a man describes Oedipus going into the light before Theseus's eyes- they moved me so much. I recommend this translation to anyone who wants to enrich their lives with a timeless and simple story about human nature.
on December 31, 1998
Sophocles' masterpieces cannot be acclaimed enough for their fluidity, coherence, content and style. Indeed, I have never read a play that captured my heart and soul as much as Antigone, and I have never had more interest in any story than that of Oedipus. Roche's translations are the best ever produced by human hands. The text reads perfectly, as if originally written in English (although not in an english style), yet it more accurately represents Sophocles' work than any other translation on the market. Roche has used his great poetic skill and love of greek to create a triumph of classic literature.
on May 29, 2002
I'm not sure how to rate this book. For one thing, I don't know much about Greek drama. However, in some respects no one does. Our author tried to be faithful to the original in ways he feels are important: "I have tried to walk and to run, to rise and to sit, with the Master, but never by imitation, only by analogy, transposition, re-creation." He has given us the three plays in iambic lines of varying length, with inventive syntax and vocabulary (sanctioned by the example of the original). I got annoyed with the verse at various points as it seemed just wrong: the expression seemed not to reflect the intention, and words were used (dare I say it?) sloppily. Now, I know I'm on shaky ground here. For one thing (a big thing!), I have not seen the plays performed. Moreover, our author knows the Greek, and he may be reflecting it quite closely, and my criticism should be directed at the Master. On top of that, Paul Roche, from his introduction, is clearly a good writer, so I must assume that the odd things he does he does deliberately.
But, anyway, as he says in a note on meter in the Appendix, "Indeed, the danger on the stage is not that poetry should sound monotonous but that it should not sound at all." He has quite a bit more to say on the subject, which is an important one. Sophocles wrote in an "iambic" meter rather than prose. In fact, it's possible that writing a play in prose, or good parts of it in prose, made as much sense in classical Athens as writing song lyrics in prose would now, and for roughly the same reason. While the actors may not have sung all the words, certainly the chorus was singing, and song hovered around, heightening the action.
Having said all that, I think our author does some very good things. For one thing, he does give us a good verse translation with all the choral markings - the Episodes, the Strophes and Antistrophes, with nice summaries at their heads. He brings the speech into reasonably colloquial English without sacrificing the "beat". (As an example of that, I particularly liked the byplay between Creon and the sentry in "Antigone". Here he gives the sentry a Cockney accent and Creon the voice of one of those impatient stuffed-shirts in a screwball comedy.) Overall, he achieves the right balance between vivacity of expression and dignity. His introduction and appendix are informative, opinionated, and well-written. In summary, this is an excellent version of these three plays (only a trilogy by coincidence).
on October 3, 2001
This was a lot better than I expected it to be. The reading is easier than Shakespeare - in fact, I like this more. Much of the credit must go to Paul Roche. Watching a clip of a video of these plays (under a different translation) showed that his translation was not just word for word, but - as he says in the introduction - a work of art that retains the melody of the poetry.
I found the sophistication of Shakespeare (and the multiple suicides/murders) - amazing for something written so much earlier. But what was here was something more human. Within the different but wonderful style of speaking (thanks to Sophocles) was a modern voice (thanks to Roche) that made this play not only readable but enjoyable.
on July 1, 2004
This is a moving book that stays with you. It conveys the idea of tragedy and life's hand of cards dealt to each one of us. Paul Roche's translation of Sophocles is excellent and his introduction is wonderful to read both before and after reading the plays.
Here are the stories of Oedipus, the King of Thebes, respectively Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone. It all began with the words of the gods spoken through an oracle and thus the words eventually become fulfilled, for you cannot outwit, nor cheat the oracle.
The ultimate lesson one finds, as outlined in Roche's intro, is that each one of us are handed a destiny in life and it is in vain to attempt to do otherwise, to cease what is handed to us prior our births. However, there is the human freedom of the will and with this we make decisions and act, all so within the predetermined destiny we are given. And so it is, Oedipus is foretold that he will murder his father and marry his mother and despite all efforts to prevent this, it ultimately becomes fulfilled.
Now what is so beautiful and yet tragic is beauty seen in suffering, the final outcome in some ways is honorary, yet painful; ugly yet divine; disturbing, yet positive in meaning. In King Oedipus' suffering he is finally vindicated, accepted by the King of Athens, and yet dies while being an outcast by many but with honor and pride of himself and his actions subsequent his many years of suffering blind, walking in the harsh desert with his daughter Antigone. His two son's deaths, the predecessor King of Thebes, Creon also reaps tragedy in a major and soul stirring way. The ultimate death of Antigone, Creon's son and wife, the vindication of Oedipus and self punishment of Creon's pride; there are many lessons, many meanings in these three stories. The tragedy conveyed is that of a nature of pessimism and yet a numinous quality of the irrational in the Dionysian, in the void of Being, in the sacred as opposed to the profane.
Now as far as Freud is concerned with his 20th century psychoanalysis he labels the "Oedipus Complex," I can understand the similarity with the sexual attraction towards a parent, however I find there is really no connection here with the plays of Sophocles and that of Freud. There simply is no relation towards the desires of murder and sex, as these actions were entirely accidental and pre-determined by the gods, by the oracle. So in line with this, taking it much further, that is, to those Jim Morrison listener's of music, there is great difference in the original intent of Sophocles and that of the mantra uttering "Kill the Father, F---- the Mother."
What also makes these plays so enlightening is the origin from a totally non-theistic society far apart from the monotheistic mindset of the Western civilization, as we know it and so deeply ingrained in both thought and rational analysis.
on February 6, 2015
Zoe's Review - I had to read this book for school. I have been dreading reading it for a long time, when I finally got the nerve to start it, it was not as bad as I thought it would be. In the book there are three plays that are all centered around Oedipus. The first play is about Oedipus and a prophecy he was told, the second play is about the aftermath of the prophecy and the third play his is about his daughter and what happens to her after everything has happened. I found the first play to be easy and fast to read, as the book continued on, I found the next two plays harder. Although I never would have read it if it where not for school, I found them to be interesting and the writing had a rhythm to it. I recommend this book to people who like to read Shakespeare.
Maci's Review - The Oedipus Plays of Sophocles by Sophocles translated by Paul Roche are about a man named Oedipus and the curse that is on his family. In Oedipus the King, Oedipus learns about the curse, in Oedipus at Colonus it is the aftermath of him discovering the curse, and Anitgone is about what happens to Oedipus’s daughters Antigone and Ismene. I personally like the second two plays better than the first play. The plays were written in a way that it would have been better to read them aloud then read them silently. I read this book because it was my summer required reading, otherwise I probably would not have read it. I recommend this book to anyone who likes poetry because they are written in a very poetic way.
on January 22, 2013
As someone else has pointed out this is NOT the Paul Roche translation of The Oedipus Plays of Sophocles - shame on you Amazon for advertising this awful version with the front cover of the Roche translation!
If you haven't read the Roche version, do so, and you will understand my disappointment.
Now that I've got over _that_ rant, the format of this electronic version is atrocious. It's almost as if someone took a versified form of the play and smushed it into paragraphs. The beginning passage reads like:
"OEDIPUS My children, latest born to Cadmus old, Why sit ye here as suppliants, in your hands Branches of olive filleted with wool? What means this reek of incense everywhere, And everywhere laments and litanies? Children, it were not meet that I should learn From others ...."
It goes on-and on. Notice the incorrect capitalization (Branches, And, From) and you will understand my distress at the copy-editing.
The Paul Roche version (from the paperback version) reads:
My children, scions of the ancient Cadmean line,
what s the meaning of this thronging round my feet,
this holding out of olive boughs all wreathed in woe?
The city droops with elegiac sound
and hymns with palls of incense hang
Compare the two translations and you will see the better translation that Roche does.
on August 24, 1999
I just recently completed the Oedipus trilogy for my Junior Honors English class. I found the stories captivating and intruiging, and loved Sophocles use of language and beautiful dialogue. Readers must remember though that the story is a MYTH, not a non fiction book; and Oedipus was not at fault for his sins. Otherwise, these stories were beautifully written and for those interested in Greek Mythology, these scripts will intice you.