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The Complete Plays of Sophocles: A New Translation Paperback – July 26, 2011
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“Bagg and Scully’s renderings strike me as the most performable versions of Sophocles I’ve ever encountered…if you’re looking for the translation that best reflects the emotional force and expressive range of the original plays, you would be hard pressed to do better.” (Philadelphia Inquirer)
From the Back Cover
The most celebrated plays of ancient Athens in vivid and dynamic newtranslations by award-winningpoets Robert Bagg and James Scully
The dominant Athenian playwright in fifth-century-BCE Athens, Sophocles left us seven powerful dramas that still shock as they render the violence that erupts within divinity and humankind. Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Kolonos, and Antigone trace three generations of a family manipulated by the inscrutably vindictive god Apollo to commit patricide, incest, and kin murder. Elektra and Women of Trakhis begin as studies of women obsessed with hatred and desire but become dissenting critiques of the Greeks’ enthusiasm for revenge and ego-crazed heroics. Two hard-hitting dramas set in war zones, Aias and Philoktetes, use conflicts among Greek warriors at Troy to thrash out political and ethical crises confronting Athenian society itself.
These translations, modern in idiom while faithful to the Greek and already proven stageworthy, preserve the depth and subtlety of Sophocles’ characters and refresh and clarify his narratives. Their focus on communities under extreme stress still resonates deeply for us here and now. This is Sophocles for a new generation entering the turbulent arena of ancient Greek drama.
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Top Customer Reviews
Particularly, I found myself completely enveloped in Scully's translation of "Phiolktetes". Yes, I had found Greek tragedy interesting up until reading this play but with this work, I was actually hooked. It became a page-turner. Mind you, I am a 24 year old, female college student who has never studied Greek tragedy before. The way this version of "Philoktetes" was translated made it approachable, intriguing, and relevant. Greek tragedy should not only be reserved for Classicists who study Greek literature in the confines of academia. It should be available to the widest of audiences. I do not believe Sophocles would have wanted his works hidden from the view of the public.
Both Bagg and Scully's translations bring Sophocles into the modern age. I find this to be very important. The Greeks have much to teach our society. Translations like this one ensure that their messages will not be lost.
longevity: to be old and full of days!"
About a year and a half ago it dawned on me just how much Greek Tragedy I'd senselessly eluded while studying philosophy and literature at university. I read Plato, and the comic playwright Aristophanes, almost exclusively in pursuit of the 'historical Socrates'. In the process, I ignored the tragic plays for a variety of reasons. Surely, a preconceived notion of tragedy manufactured by a lofty student mind told me I probably did not need whatever Sophocles had to teach me. At least not yet. Those particular student years are long gone, and now that life has accumulated some weighty history of its own I found myself yearning to hear a timeless voice, dark and a little oracular - a voice speaking from the base of humanness. From a pocket of ignorance, I recalled Sophocles. Surfing Amazon and judging books by their covers, I was drawn to this distinguished, clean edition full of all seven plays, recently republished, some plays revised, by two poet/playwrights. I already had prior respect for James Scully's poetry collection, 'Donatello's Version'. Many of these translations, however, belong to Robert Bagg, and I was more than willing to trust him with my first read of this ancient playwright. There is something I prefer about reading translations done by two individuals, especially when one of them is a poet. Also, when I first ordered this book, I remember, too, being motivated to do so after reading one of the translator's generous responses that addressed another reviewer's gripe about some aspect of the book or translation. I appreciated the time he took to respond in kind.
The book. This book is incredibly easy to read - as in, it's comfortable to hold, balance in one hand, turn the pages without creasing the very flexible spine - that is, if books made well enough to withstand several reads and remain in pristine condition is your thing. The font is sizable. I normally wear glasses but could remove them for most all 800+ pages of the text. And the pages welcome marginalia, most excellent for the student of classical literature, actors, or for classics enthusiasts who want to keep notes as they go. There is ample white space which grants the dialogues a poetic white-spaciousness so you can make correlations, map out a genealogy, or compose thesis statements or stage notes without inscribing over or intruding upon the text. (This kind of thing is important to me.) I praise the typesetters, too, for ensuring the quality and configuration of this edition. A remarkable book so far as books go. What's also remarkable is that a book this length weighs as little as it does. Compare it with the house-heavy weight of DeLillo's 'Underworld', similar length.
For someone like me already familiar with the robust, ironic and totally vulgar expressions of Aristophanes, I knew I wanted one guide for this Sophoclean undertaking. Bagg & Scully's translations are not meant to be a one-time-read and then move on, but they are a darn good starting point. Before moving on to other translations, I'd read the Theban plays three times, and Philoctetes and Electra twice, Aias once. I was trusting these two writers to introduce me to a playwright who I want in my life for the rest of it, to get these characters, structures, archetypes and stories ingrained in my head so that when reading other translations I'd have already established a firm grasp of the action of each play. Bagg & Scully succeeded in spades. Never ever underestimate the gifts of your translators; these works are labors of love, and this edition of a complete plays is nothing shy of devotional.
Quite simply, this edition went above and beyond introducing me to Sophocles. I did embark on reading several other translations and secondary sources. In the year and a half since I read this edition, I've read Robert Fagles, Richard Lattimore, David Grene, Nicholas Rudall's stage adaptations, and very soon I'm looking forward to Seamus Heaney's versions of Antigone and Philoctetes. I was also able to read Bernard Knox's 'The Heroic Temper' with some degree of familiarity and comprehension. Having read several more versions of Sophocles, I can say this with respect to Bagg & Scully: had I begun, instead, with Robert Fagles' translations and branched out, I would be no less impressed with these translations, surely acknowledging their unique fusion of poetic intensity and clarity. And it ought to be intense clarity I go out on.
Thank You, Bagg & Scully, for introducing me to Sophocles and effectively changing my life. I'm not a bit cynical when I say that. I needed his voice in my life. My enormous thanks.
Although the translators are poets the choral odes are dull. There is no poetry or rhythm to them. The lines during these moments are presented in truncated lines as if this were a substitute for rhythm. The sense of stchomythia is not very strong. Scully's translation of "Aias" adds obscenities which I found unintentionally humorous. We are at one point told that this is done because modern Western society has lost the negative cultural connotations which come with the word 'fox,' but Scully's Aias' suggestion that Odysseus fornicates with foxes isn't a very effective way of re-introducing that cultural connotations. The translators ultimately seem to believe that they are co-creators with the playwright rather than translators. I find little in these translations to recommend them.
Before I come across as completely dismissing this volume I will say that there are numerous aspects which I do very much like. This translation is heavy on endnotes. Sometimes they offers a little more than I thought was needed but I am grateful for what they explain. In a few of the plays I made new discoveries by reading the endnotes (although I found the notes to "Women of Trakhis" lackluster). This volume's "Antigone" contains a MAJOR improvement over other translations of this magnificent play. For that I am very, very glad, ultimately, that this translation exists. Bagg presents an entirely new (to me) reading of an important line. What was once completely perplexing now makes perfect sense. The word 'phusis' means 'nature.' But Bagg, citing the work of Lloyd-Jones and N.G. Wilson, reminds us that it can also be understood to means 'birth.' Antigone's famous line is thus NOT "It is not my nature to join in hate but only to love." The way this version translate that line is now closer to: "I made no enemies by being born; I made my 'philia' at birth." Many readers have no doubt found themselves perplexed by that line in its former reading but now, thematically, the new reading makes PERFECT sense to me. In the opening line, Antigone refers to Ismene as 'autadelphon' - 'born like me of the self-same womb.' For Antigone the 'womb' means everything. She fights for the family. Creon's wife, Eurydice, is the "All-Mother" of Haemon. She kills herself in front of an alter cursing Creon for killing her two sons. Thus, "I made no enemies by being born; I made my 'philia' at birth" means just that, her loyalty is to the womb. Those from the womb MAY become enemies later (like Ismene) but only 'philia' originates from the womb. Creon represents the state. Antigone the family. Around and inside both of them, the themes of Love and Death play their part.
Ultimately, these adaptations of Sophocles's plays take too many liberties. The addition of invented stage directions and parentheticals are ridiculous. The language is a bit on the casual side for my taste. The Lattimore and Grene translations, despite their weaknesses, including an almost complete lack of contextual material and endnotes, remain my preferred version of Sophocles.