Keith Oliver's production of Sophocles' play is brilliantly served by a brand-new translation, written for the occasion by the respected poet Robert Bagg.
The new translation by, by University of Massachusetts English professor Robert Bagg, is so flawlessly conceived and executed that Bagg must almost be considered a true playwright.
has done more here that convert Greek words to English.
has created new poetry from the old.
Some of Bagg's
most impressive work is contained in the traditional Greek Chorus songs, which accompany the unfolding action.
This translation, by Massachusetts scholar Robert Bagg
, highlights the secondary conflicts.
Translated with an Introduction and Notes by Robert Bagg
University of Massachusetts
"Every classical Greek play has a strangeness at its heart," begins Robert Bagg
introduction to his
The strangeness to which he
refers results from our own unfamiliarity with commonplaces in the Greek experience, and necessitates introductions of modern texts and translations of ancient works.
Bagg's own contributions to the acquaintance of modern reader or viewer with ancient authors are illuminating and brief, and are directed primarily at the strangeness, to us, of Dionsysiac worship and influence in their many apparently contradictory aspects.
Although the modern audience is faced with this cultural hurdle, the power of The Bakkhai derives nevertheless from a more frightening kind of strangeness, the kind a society or individual encounters when he
confronts the composition of his
For Euripides has painted an externalized vision of interior human forces in conflict, forces over which we considerably less control than we would like to hope.
does not attempt to delineate the patterns of conflict beyond explaining something of their cultural and literary context; rather, he
translation of the play to speak for itself, to present the audience with images and sounds for which each viewer must ultimately make his
succeeds admirably in translating music into music in even the most difficult contexts; for example, turning a running hexameter into artful repetition,
treats some with the grace that marks the rest of his
work (e.g., the crucial pun on the name of Pentheus, "grief": "No sorrow is what your name means, / Pentheus.
703-704; Greek 508), at times he
descends to the banal:
again glosses over the details of the myth ("There is evil in Pentheus' blood - / the bestial earth blazes in his
face ...". Because he
attempts to offer a produceable translation, Bagg
is probably within his
bounds in removing an obstacle to the audience's attention to the play, and certainly the tragedy does not suffer much for these omissions.
One of the beauties of Greek mythology, however, is its energetic refusal to be consistent, and any smoothing of its rough edges must at least bring a mist to the eyes of a classicist.
At the far end of the same problem, Bagg
does an admirable job of filling the long lacuna in the last scene of the play, piecing together the known fragments and scholarly deductions into a plausible whole.
On a smaller scale he
at times adds a word or line of explanation for the sake of his
audience, and these additions are without exception conservative and inconspicuous.
All these "tampering" with the received text contribute to such a smoothly flowing poem that even the most pedantic of us classicists would have to agree that the end justifies the means.
has not produced a school-text translation, a skeleton upon which a teacher or director must hang hours of interpretation before the original form can be perceived.
Rather, without often straying beyond the strictest sense of the Greek, he
has successfully translated one work of art into another, rendering living Greek into living English.
The clarity of his
poetry confronts the audience directly with the horror and the beauty of the Dionysiac forces, and thus I believe the version would lend itself well to production, one of the stated goals of this translation.
translation of Sophocles' Theban plays is one of those felicitous renderings of Greek tragedy in which, for the most part, faithfulness to the ancient text meets poetic phrasing and meticulousness of image.
The reason for this fortunate union of linguistic precision and rhetorical boldness may lie in Bagg's
... constant engagement in numerous productions of Greek plays ... [T]he attractive volume includes illuminating introductions ... and ... an interesting essay on Greek theatre in the time of Sophocles.
eminently actable text is an ingenious effort to recapture the remarkable poetic flavour of Sophocles' language; his
unfailing loyalty to the letter and his
sufficient philological expertise prevent the emphases and preoccupations of the theatrical practitioners from imposing an insurmountable barrier between ancient sensibility and modern sentiment.
has wisely written in a style of lucid and strong simplicity.
language is direct and forthright, yet dignified and eloquent.
© 2011 Robert Bagg
and James Scully; all rights reserved.