The Oedipus Plays of Sophocles: Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Kolonos, Antigone

The Oedipus Plays of Sophocles: Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Kolonos, Antigone

The Oedipus Plays of Sophocles: Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Kolonos, Antigone

The Oedipus Plays of Sophocles: Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Kolonos, Antigone


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 mostother 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


In translating the three plays by Sophokles that deal with Oedipus, Jokasta, and their children, as well as with Kreon and his family, I have tried to preserve as much of the poet's meaning, both primary and ramifying, as possible—and to do so in language clear enough to have dramatic effect. Given our imperfect and often contested knowledge of what Sophokles' Greek means at many points—and the difficulty (even the impossibility) of discovering exact English equivalents for an inflected language that can compact several different meanings within a single phrase or word—total literal accuracy is beyond reach. Nor is it always desirable, especially if it produces the eccentric-sounding locutions that literal translations of Greek sometimes impose on English. Thus my goal has been to achieve maximum playability with the least sacrifice of accuracy.

Some scholars have approached literal accuracy, including the late Thomas Gould, my teacher and friend, in his translation and absorbing commentary on Oedipus the King (1970). I have worked with the exacting examples of Gould, Sir Richard Jebb, and Sir Hugh LloydJones in my mind, but with the actors' and audiences' need for verbal clarity and strong speech rhythms in my ears. Oedipus' thoughts (at the start of the Kolonos) on surviving with meager rations suggest a useful mantra for a translator: Suffering teaches patience. So does time. And when in doubt, Tom Gould advised, look again and again at the Greek.

No modern production can reproduce the conditions of ancient theatre, especially the irrecoverable cultural elements of the Athenian Festival of Dionysos, a holy occasion attended by priests, protected by gods, and witnessed by an audience that believed the gods were intimately involved in their welfare. The story the play told was itself part of a living religious tradition; in performance it combined music, dancing, and acting in a style (and with an authority) now lost. Because ancient manuscripts lack stage directions I have supplied my own, most often to suggest an appropriate entrance or exit line, but also to propose stage business that seems textually prompted. I should warn, however, that several of my stage directions are driven by a critical interpretation. In the introductions to each play, particularly for Oedipus the King, I comment more fully about issues of staging.

Surviving texts not only lack stage directions, more crucially they lack the playwrights' original music and choreography. Modern productions usually suffer when directors make no effort to restore that musical dimension; Greek revivals in which the choral odes are raggedly chanted and the chorus rooted are rarely inspiring. The odes make their best dramatic sense when their words are set to music and sung, and the thought in the words expressed in a dance. I urge any director planning to stage a Greek play to join forces early on with a choral composer and . . .

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