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Book Title: Works of Sophocles|
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 819 KB
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The author of the book: Sophocles
Edition: The Perfect Library
Date of issue: March 27th 2013
ISBN: No data
ISBN 13: No data
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Reader ratings: 6.2
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Aristotle thought Sophocles the best of the Greek tragedians, and Oedipus the King the perfect tragedy. Sophocles wrote complicated, powerful plays - seven of them have survived, out of 120. He wrote about outcasts. My favorite, Antigone, is about fighting the power, and so are Elektra and Philoktetes. Robert Bagg and James Scully run down his common themes in their intro to this complete edition:
- Sympathy for fate's victims
- Hostility towards tyrants
- Skepticism toward self-indulgent "heroes"
- Disillusionment with war and revenge.
They go on: "It's impossible to sanction revenge...simply through analysis and debate. Revenge, the audience realizes, issues from hatred immune to logic or morality."
But Sophocles is clever and ambiguous, so it's possible (for example) to misunderstand Antigone; Creon, the tyrant machine Antigone is raging against, isn't a two-dimensional villain. Sophocles' plays "bristle with ironies and implications that suggest his characters do not, or cannot, understand everything that is happening to them." If you're not careful you won't understand everything that's happening to these characters either.
This newish translation from about five years ago is a little controversial; Bagg and Scully refuse the tendency toward high-falutin' language that most other translations use. They present Sophocles in stubbornly modern voices: "Sure, you can bitch" (i.e. complain) says Elektra to her sister. The word "bogus" is used. "To translate the rich range of expressive modes Sophocles had at his disposal," argues Bagg, "we need the resources not only of idiomatic English, but also of rhetorical gravitas and, on rare occasion, colloquial English as well." They dismiss what they see as a stuffy insistence on high-toned, Victorian translation habits. The effect is a little jarring, but I'm kinda...convinced, to be honest. They do bring plenty of "rhetorical gravitas" at times: when Elektra bemoans
You, my rancid bed in that
Palace of pain
you're reminded that these guys are poets. But they're determined to avoid gravitas for gravitas's sake.
They compare the plays to Greek statues in museums: they're all this stark, pure white marble, and that's how we think of them, but they weren't anything like that when they were made. The Greeks painted them with bright, even garish colors. They even dressed them up. We have the wrong idea, because it's been so long that the colors have worn away. By using modern English in their translations, Bagg and Scully are trying to put the color back in Sophocles.
Elektra (Read October 2016)
But here's a weird effect: it's suddenly possible to interpret Elektra as a comedy. I didn't get this sense when I read Anne Carson's translation. I didn't like it as much either. Sophocles amped up the weirdness and unlikability of Elektra and Orestes from Aeschylus' Libation Bearers, which tells the same story - there's his tendency to undermine "heroes" for you - and in Bagg's hands it reaches points of near silliness. "They've found a way into the heart of their hostess," says Elektra to Aegisthus, snickering. (They found it with daggers.) And a moment later: "For gods sake, brother," she says to Orestes: "Don't let him talk! You'll get a speech!" There's a whole section where Orestes slowly reveals to Elektra that it's not his ashes in this urn that's almost goofy.
So your mileage will vary on these idiosyncratic translations. For me: I found that I was drawn into these plays more than I ever have been before. (And I've read some of these like five times.) I liked them more; I understood them better; I was more interested. And I was more entertained.
Aias (Read in December 2016)
Great stuff, five stars, review here.
Women of Trakhis (Read in January 2017)
Dug it! Four stars, Review here.
Philoktetes (Read in October 2017)
Loved it! Five stars, Review here.
Antigone (read a bunch of times)
Probably the consensus best of his plays, and I see no reason to disagree. Here's my most complete review of it.
Oedipus Rex & at Colonus (read years ago and not this translation)
I never have written a review of these two, even though Oedipus is the most iconic figure in all of Greek drama. They're good? Dude fucks his mom?
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Read information about the authorSophocles (born c. 496 bc, Colonus, near Athens [Greece]—died 406, Athens), (Greek: Sophocle) was an ancient Greek tragedy playwright. Not many things are known about his life other than that he was wealthy, well educated and wrote about one hundred and twenty three plays (of which few are extant). One of his best known plays is 'Oedipus the King' (Oedipus Rex).
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