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10 thoughts on “Sophocles

  1. Alex Alex says:

    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 revengeThey go on It's impossible to sanction revengesimply 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 eitherThis 2011 translation 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 ie 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 collouial 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 kindaconvinced to be honest They do bring plenty of rhetorical gravitas at times when Elektra bemoansYou my rancid bed in that Palace of pain118you're reminded that these guys are poets But they're determined to avoid gravitas for gravitas's sakeThey 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 2016But 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 goofySo your mileage will vary on these idiosyncratic translations For me I found that I was drawn into these plays than I ever have been before And I've read some of these like five times I liked them ; I understood them better; I was interested And I was entertainedMore plays Aias Read in December 2016Great stuff five stars review here Women of Trakhis Read in January 2017 Dug it Four stars Review here Philoktetes Read in October 2017Loved it Five stars Review here Antigone read a bunch of timesProbably 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 translationI 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?


  2. Anand Anand says:

    What a brilliant collection and now that I’ve read Sophocles’ entire oeuvre I consider him one of my favorite playwrightsPhiloctetes is one of the most brilliant portraits of pain physical and emotional pain And Odysseus who appeared as the commonsensical counterpart to the sons of Atreus in Ajax a superb portrait of heroic madness in the face of perceived insult is here the deceptive schemer Thinking now of Philoctetes I am surprised by how singular The Odyssey’s multifaceted and mostly sympathetic portrayal of Odysseus stands out in light of Odysseus’ often negative reputation in later ancient literatureThen the Oedipus plays are the most masterful “classic” Greek tragedies full of gravity beautiful language elevated grandeur and nobility and Oedipus the King is perhaps the perfect but so far my preference goes toward Oedipus at Colonus for the serenity that pervades that play and for the presence of a wiser and peaceful Oedipus and for the noble presence of TheseusAnd Antigone is special for its dramatization of the resistance of right against might of the individual against the State And it’s perhaps Sophocles’ bleakest play insofar that there are three deaths at the climax Antigone Haemon and Eurydice At least the Oedipus plays establish a kind of noble stance in relation to fate and Philoctetes ends with a hope of healing Antigone seems the most relentless of the Sophoclean masterpieces


  3. Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.) Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.) says:

    I finished this new volume of translations of the seven existing plays by Sophocles last night I unhesitatingly recommend this new work of the translators Robert Bagg and James Scully as they really did an outstanding job of presenting these powerful dramas with lyricism and impact For your information I am providing a list of the plays in the collection and the primary translator Aias James Scully Women of Trakhis Robert Bagg Philoktetes James Scully Elektra Robert Bagg Oedipus the King Robert Bagg Oedipus at Kolonos Robert Bagg Antigone Robert BaggInterestingly enough this was the first time that I had read Aias Ajax or the Women of Trakhis and I really really enjoyed both of them While I was familiar with the story of Ajax from The Iliad I have to say that Sophocles and James Scully really made me realize the physical and psychological toll that warfare and combat has upon a soldier One has to believe that what is described in Aias can only be classified as post traumatic stress disorder PTSD We see the toll that this 'madness' takes upon the family and friends of Ajax and it is truly heartbreaking In the Introduction to the volume Bagg and Scully indicate that excerpts from both Aias and Philoktetes have been performed for members of the American armed services and their families in the context of addressing and dealing with PTSD BravoFinally I have to say that I consider myself somewhat a connoisseur associated with Sophocles' Antigone and the version in this collection is simply superb The dialog is spare clipped and drips with pathos we emotionally respond not only to what Kreon and Antigone say in the play but the overall intent of Sophocles in writing the play As Antigone prepares to meet her fate she lamentsHades who chills each one of us to sleepwill guide me down to Acheron's shoreI'll go hearing no wedding hymnto carry me to my bridal chamber or songsgirls sing when flowers crown a bride's hair;I'm going to marry the River of Pain 890 895That'll wrench your heart strings Bagg and Scully have given us a new version of Sophocles that is dramatic poetic and lyrical The language incorporated in these translations is not in the slightest degree flowery or excessive In my opinion not one word is wasted the emotion is right there in your face and it just feels right Read these plays and see what you think


  4. Rosa Rosa says:

    Aias 3 Stars Women of Trakhis 5 Stars Philoktetes 4 StarsElektra 4 Stars Oedipus the King 4 Stars Oedipus at Kolonos 5 Stars Antigone 5 StarsA beautiful simple translation I only wish than 7 of Sophocles' 125 plays had survived


  5. John Pistelli John Pistelli says:

    It is never a bad time to get right with the classics After having read Oedipus and Antigone several times in multiple translations Jebb Arnott Fagles over the years I decided to read all of Sophocles’s extant plays—a mere seven out of 123 civilization is fragile; don’t let anyone tell you differently I am here reading the version by poet and translator Paul Roche for Signet Classics According to Wikipedia Roche was a second generation Bloomsberrie enemy to Vanessa Bell and lover of Duncan Grant Was it Hugh Kenner who with a mixture of homophobic venom and campy cattiness described Bloomsbury as a congeries of men and women all in love with Duncan Grant? As a translator Roche is much less devoted to Biblical fustian than Jebb and his verse is as simple and conversational as Fagles’s while also being carefully wrought As he tells us in his translator’s preface he retains Sophocles’s meter by using what he rather oddly calls “Freewheeling Iambic”—ie essentially a form of accentual verse not unlike Hopkins’s neo medieval “sprung rhythm” wherein the poet counts the beats per line without also counting the syllables this to keep a flexible but percussive regularity as of natural speech Roche adopts this techniue he says to give English readers a sense of the speed of the plays in Greek and it works uite well for that; but he confesses also that it is beyond his ingenuity to reproduce the density of sound in Sophocles—the alliteration consonance and assonance that creates such magnificent textures out of what Roche assures us are common Greek words Roche arranges the plays in the historicalmythological order of events they describe so that the volume opens with Ajax set during the Trojan War and ends with Antigone the conclusion of the Theban cycle—even though Antigone is a work of Sophocles’s middle period and famously late plays such as Philoctetes and Oedipus at Colonus get displaced into the middle of the volume I suppose this is the least confusing way to do it for students but I would have preferred to track the development of the playwright’s vision and sensibilityMy brief responses to the plays themselves in the order in which they appear in this volume Ajax In this play set during the Trojan War after the death of Achilles the great warrior Ajax has just been vexed by Athena Furious that the armor of Achilles has gone to Odysseus he plots to murder Agamemnon and Meneleaus whom he not unreasonably blames for having dragged him away from family and homeland for the sake of their corrupt and sordid war But Athena tricks Ajax into murdering instead a head of cattle seized from the Trojans before it can be distributed among the Argives When he comes out of his illusion the mortified and furious Ajax plots and eventually accomplishes suicide despite the protests of his sailors the chorus and of his touchingly though realistically loyal captive bride Tecmessa Following Ajax’s death a dispute ensues between his half brother Teucer and the Atreus brothers over whether his body should be buried shades of Antigone; eventually the shrew and politic Odysseus mediates and the burial takes place This is not a very action packed play; the main interest is in its laments and debates particularly in Ajax’s climactic curse upon the House of Atreus Teucer’s rancor against same and Odysseus’s amusing opening conversation with Athena Odysseus is an ambiguous figure here ethically dubious but pragmatic and level headed in a play all about seeking balance; Athena standing behind him is even uestionable Even interesting than the language though is the mise en scène Ajax among the slaughtered cattle in the play’s beginning; Ajax’s body impaled upon his own sword oozing gore throughout the final third This is a play whose superficial resolution cannot cloak its terrible assertion that if the gods will it your life will become an abattoir Your own hubris will certainly not be to your advantage in the situation however Electra This a protracted revenge play poignant for its tender portrayal of its heroine reduced to the conditions of a slave and thereby able to sympathize with the conditions of slavery Her repeated references to herself as a nightingale singing of her losses is moving in itself and moving when one considers it as a poetic trope that will resonate through the centuries—in Ovid Shakespeare Keats EliotELECTRA Shallow is one who forgets a parent’sPitiless end Give me insteadThe sorrowful nightingale she who singsIts Itys—forever distraughtEmissary of ZeusThe confrontation between Electra and her sister who wants to be prudent is a nice revisitation of the AntigoneIsmene conflict in Sophocles’s earlier play Orestes’s fake death reported by his older confederate to mislead the villainous Clytemnestra is a masterpiece of action narrative justifying the back cover’s reference to Sophocles as a “tragic Homer” Clytemnestra herself is too petulant to be impressive though her self justification that she killed Agamemnon in revenge for his sacrifice of Iphigenia is compelling despite Electra’s correct reply that this does not justify adulterous murder Not the most impressive Greek play but worth reading for its heroine Philoctetes In this play’s backstory the titular snakebitten warrior has been abandoned on a deserted island called Lemnos by his Greek comrades during the Trojan War because the stench of his wounded foot so disgusted them The play begins when crafty Odysseus along with the dead Achilles’s son Neoptolemus land on Lemnos to retrieve Philoctetes because an oracle has revealed that the Greeks will not defeat Troy without him This play is notable for its particularly unpleasant portrayal of the scheming Odysseus a figure Sophocles seems to find repellent as he attempts to trick Philoctetes into coming back to the Greek camp The decent Neoptolemus forges a tender relationship with the aging injured warrior and resists Odysseus’s deceit As in the similarly late play of old age Oedipus at Colonus Sophocles elegiacally portrays a youngster coming to love an older vulnerable person who relies on the aid and loyalty of youth Philoctetes’s characterization is masterly from his sad way of asking after his former associates and lamenting the news of their deaths including that of Achilles to his sick old man’s uerulousness especially potent in his rage against Odysseus He really does remind me of a Beckett character with his unutterably sad vulnerability his bittersweetly comic and half impotent fury and even his injured foot a motif in Beckett poet of pain whose characters often literally “can’t go on” because they lack the power of locomotion But Sophocles has the gods whereas Beckett has nothing and this play not a tragedy at all ends full of promise as the 90 year old playwright and his suffering hero look to the horizonGood bye sea skirted isle of LemnosBreeze me away on a faultless voyageTo whatever haven Fate will waft meTo whatever purlieus the wish of my friendsAnd the universal god of happenings brings me The Women of Trachis This one is almost Euripidean in its sympathy and complexity It is the story of how Deianeira trying to win back the love of her womanizing husband the hero Hercules after he captures a younger bride accidentally kills him by sending him a shirt beueathed to her by the centraur Nessus Nessus unbeknownst to her had poisoned it to revenge himself on Hercules for wounding him as he attempted to rape Deianeira The second half of the play full of the very slowly dying Hercules’s complaints is not interesting but Deianeira’s resigned intelligent and forthright reflections on the fatality of love are uite moving as is her eventual suicideYou are talking to a woman    who is neither perverse nor ignorant    of the ways of men    and knows the inconstancy of the human heartAnyone who has a boxing match with Eros is a foolThe god of love does exactly what he likes—    even with the godsIf he rules me    then why not another woman in the same way Oedipus the King What is left to say about Oedipus? It is a masterfully constructed play full of symbolic economy references to eyes and vision are pervasive and every time I experience it it is unbearably suspenseful in its dramatic irony Everybody from the ancient audience to the post Freudian reader knows Oedipus’s story before he does rendering the play a master class in sympathy with sublime catastrophe Even though this play allows its spectators a god’s eye view we know that we no less than the tragic hero are caught in the toils of fate and must one day submit Few moments in literature are moving than Jocasta’s farewell “Good bye my poor deluded lost and damned There’s nothing else that I can call you now” Not son not husband Oedipus’s tragic flaw I note is a trust in himself borne of solving the Sphinx’s riddle without realizing its implications for all mortals When he refers to himself earlier in the play as “a stranger to the story” of Laius’s murder we know that the terrible story is in fact about him and no one else Seeing himself as a rational foe of the monstrous perhaps also implicitly the sexual the feminine and the deadly he does not recognize the monstrous in himself But the sublimity of his self trust comes from his pursuing his investigation to the end of the line until he finds a truth so horrifying to look upon that he must strike at the organs of perception thereby becoming precisely the decrepit man at evening going on three legs referred to in the Sphinx’s riddle I recall that Adorno and Horkheimer in Dialectic of Enlightenment were able to mount their attack on the entirety of Western civilization by treating Odysseus about whom Sophocles is so ambivalent as its founding representative—Odysseus the polytropic man who always wins by cheating Of course there would have been a hint of self praise in selecting Oedipus as representative of Enlightenment But Oedipus is the ultimate in self scrutiny and self criticism as the modern West might say of itself if only it weren’t too self critical to congratulate itself so In any case Oedipus may investigate himself and punish himself but it does not make him or us any less a monster This truth—that knowledge is its own good but no salvation—suggests the limits of any Enlightened perspective Oedipus at Colonus Sophocles’s final vision the drama of the aged Oedipus’s transfiguration his mysterious near assumption on the outskirts of Theseus’s AthensSome emissary maybe from heaven came;    or was the adamantine floor of the dead    gently reft for him with love?The passing of this man was painless    with no trace of pain nor any loud regretIt was of mortal exits the most marvelousThere is loud conflict with the blind and vulnerable Oedipus in marvelous command of language as he rebukes his enemies—including Creon and his son Polyneices As Roche observes “his years of suffering have raised him to a holy dignity as the recognized vehicle of divine justice” The drama gives way to the mysterious ritual of its conclusion a kind of authorial prayer for grace on the lip of the grave Meanwhile the chorus of Athenian elders concludes at the play’s end as Sophocles nears his own death and a weeping Antigone walks offstage to her fateCome then cease your cryingKeep tears from overflowingAll’s ordained past all denyingA wisdom much out of fashion—and not actually comforting—but fortifying Antigone Now this play I have never uite understood Ever since Hegel it is famous for supposedly representing a confrontation between two viewpoints each of which is right on its own terms But Creon is not right on any terms Everyone in the play agrees that his decree against burying Polyneices is impious a slight against the gods that will invite punishment Moreover his ruling is impractical from a pragmatic political perspective—while a leader wants to make himself feared and respected petty dictatorial actions against a defeated enemy seem like a confession of insecurity a display of inner weakness rather than strength As for Antigone she may be technically correct about the familial and religious need to bury her brother but Sophocles presents her as a heroine so death entranced as to be positively Decadent I imagine she is the inspiration for Wilde’s Salome I believe some have suggested that Antigone has an incestuous desire for her brother a plausible interpretation given that she is herself a child of incest But she justifies risking her life for her brother in coldly rational terms terms so rational that they actually exclude piety since she avers that she would not risk death to bury any other family member if you lose a husband or a child you may marry or bear another but you can’t find or make siblings Again correct on a technicality but all her emotion all her desire is for death itself because what does she who has lost so much have to live for?—Come tomb my wedding chamber comeYou sealed off habitations of the graveMy many family dead finished fetched    in a final muster to PersephoneThere is much to admire in this brief play from the chorus’s extraordinary oration on human power and limitation to the brief but perfectly evocative roles for Haemon a Romeo avant la lettre as Roche points out in his introduction and the prudent or cowardly Ismene I do not think this play can bear the weight of its political interpretation—as a staging of the rival claims of family and state—since both family and state are so utterly disordered in this story of the house of Oedipus But as a drama about human despair and perversity about the irresistible urge some of us—the fatally stubborn Creon no less than death’s bride Antigone—feel to take our lives to their ultimate conclusions in some spectacular gesture it is unrivaled


  6. EJ Daniels EJ Daniels says:

    An excellent modern translation of the works of Sophocles which emphasizes vernacular and eschews grandiose phrasing While I personally prefer the florid prose of traditional translations this version does emphasize the timeless ualities of Sophocles' great works


  7. Yair Ben-Zvi Yair Ben-Zvi says:

    There's not much I can say about this collection that won't sound like hyperbole but the fact is it's all kind of true What you see in these works is in many cases the early seeds of some of the greatest storytelling devices ever conceived by the minds of men Much like how the Bible or as Eddie Izzard would say the Biblee is a cornerstone of the West in such a way as to partly explain our languages cultures beliefs so to with these texts we find the Grecian mother to our Biblical father I categorize them that way because so it seems to me at least that ancient Greek storytelling has something that the Bible what I've read of it so far does not Namely this missing factor is a self awareness and even a malleability relatively speaking of concept that the Bible dogmatic as it is just doesn't have Oh sure Biblical exegesis is anything but uniform duh but where does Moses doubt God's efficacy or even existence while still giving him praise? ala Lucretius I don't know if nothing else I guess I could envision the Greek mode of storytelling of being Chabbad the Jewish Religious movement where the Bible not even ironically come on is the strict shomer shabbes Ultra Orthodox Both offer something the other lacks but both lack something that keeps them from being wholeI won't pretend I'm original in thinking this hell Thomas Auinas and Maimonedes kind of predate me and their whole 'reconciling the two halves of the dialectic as in Grecian ideas made consumable for the religious public' thing but I will say that these are not friendly bedmates But that's part of the fun It's knowing these ideas are at each other's throats it's downright DarwinianDigressions aside this a wonderful collection and will have you slapping your forehead as you realize that the ancient Greeks were masters of storytelling devices that many modern and ostensibly 'sophisticated' writers STILL have trouble grasping Read it and watch the seeds as they fall to the soil


  8. Mert Mert says:

    55 Stars %100100Includes all 7 of Sophocles's surviving works Instead of adding all of them separately I've decided to add this one only Same as Shakespeare I've read all of these plays multiple times I only added Turkish editions of the plays separately Great compilation of plays definitely recommended


  9. Pilar Pilar says:

    Very good edition by A C Pearson This volume contains the Greek text of the surviving seven tragedies by Sophocles with critical apparatus and an introduction The title introduction and notes of the critical apparatus are written in Latin as it is customary in this Oxford scholarly editions


  10. Marc Marc says:

    Contains all the classics of Sophocles Best ones Antigone Oidipoes Electra


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