Oedipus Plays of Sophocles by Sophocles

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With this volume, poet Robert Bagg completes his translation of the three plays in which Sophocles dramatized the agony and destruction inflicted on Oedipus and his family, the royal house of Thebes. To the newly revised "Oedipus the King," first published in 1982, Bagg adds "Antigone" and "Oedipus at Kolonos." Composed decades apart in the fifth century BCE, these tragedies hold a central place in Western literature--not only because of the formal beauty and dramatic power of their poetry, but because of the shocking ironies that convey Sophocles’ understanding of divine malice and human vulnerability.

Bagg’s goal has been to make accurate but idiomatic renderings of the Greek originals that are suitable for reading, teaching, or performing. What makes his versions "leaner, tauter, more luminous and Sophoclean than other translations," writes classicist Richard P. Martin, is Bagg’s "decision to follow the American poetic tradition of Stevens, Pound, and Frost rather than the English tradition" of most other contemporary translators. Readers and actors alike will find these translations loyal to Sophocles’ characteristic directness and concision, his pervasive irony, his unsparing descriptions of physical violence, and the music of his choral songs. Each character speaks with a distinctive voice; each play possesses a tone expressive of the issues that preoccupied Sophocles during the stages of his long engagement with the fate of Oedipus, his wife/mother Jocasta, and their children.

In the introductions, Bagg and his wife Mary discuss factors in ancient Greek social and cultural life that are likely to be unfamiliar to the general reader but are central to interpreting Sophocles’ meaning. They have also annotated each play to clarify mythological references and points of interpretation and translation. In their general introduction they explore the origins of Greek theater, the nature of the Athenian festival of Dionysos at which Sophocles’ plays were first performed, and the characteristic ingredients of Greek drama in performance. They conclude with a discussion of the known facts and surviving anecdotes of the playwright’s life.


About Sophocles

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The Greek dramatist Sophocles, born to a wealthy family at Colonus, near Athens, was admired as a boy for his personal beauty and musical skill. He served faithfully as a treasurer and general for Athens when it was expanding its empire and influence. In the dramatic contests, he defeated Aeschylus in 468 b.c. for first prize in tragedy, wrote a poem to Herodotus (see Vol. 3), and led his chorus and actors in mourning for Euripides just a few months before his own death. He wrote approximately 123 plays, of which 7 tragedies are extant, as well as a fragment of his satiric play, Ichneutae (Hunters). His plays were produced in the following order: Ajax (c.450 b.c.), Antigone (441 b.c.), Oedipus Tyrannus (c.430 b.c.), Trachiniae (c.430 b.c.), Electra (between 418 and 410 b.c.), Philoctetes (409 b.c.), and Oedipus at Colonus (posthumously in 401 b.c.). With Sophocles, Greek tragedy reached its most characteristic form. He added a third actor, made each play independent---that is, not dependent on others in a trilogy---increased the numbers of the chorus, introduced the use of scenery, shifted the focus from religious to more philosophical issues, and brought language and characters, though still majestic, nearer to everyday life. His finely delineated characters are responsible for the tragedy that befalls them, and they accept it heroically. Aristotle (see Vols. 3, 4, and 5) states that Sophocles said he portrayed people as they ought to be; Euripides, as they are. His utter command of tragic speech in the simple grandeur of his choral odes, dialogues, and monologues encourages the English reader to compare him to Shakespeare (see Vol. 1).
Published August 1, 2004 by University of Massachusetts Press. 304 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

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A thrilling, accessible translation of Sophocles' Oedipus plays.

May 27 2010 | Read Full Review of Oedipus Plays of Sophocles

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