September 21, 2011

Review: "The Complete Plays of Sophocles--A New Translation" translated by Robert Bagg & James Scully

I finished this newly published (2011) volume of translations of the seven existing plays by Sophocles recently.  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 extraordinary lyricism and emotional 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 Bagg)
Interestingly 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 a classic case of "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.  I say, 'Bravo!'

Finally, I have to say that I consider myself somewhat a connoisseur associated with Sophocles' Antigone, and the translated 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 laments,
"Hades, who chills each one of us to sleep,
will guide me down to Acheron's shore.
I'll go hearing no wedding hymn
to carry me to my bridal chamber, or songs
girls sing when flowers crown a bride's hair;
I'm going to marry the River of Pain." (890-895)
That'll wrench your heart-strings.  In this collection, Bagg and Scully have given us a new version of Sophocles that is dramatic, poetic, and lyrical, and incredibly relevant for our time.  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.


  1. I'm becoming interested in the Greek works as well. I own the Oedipus works and may get to them soon. In particular I'm becoming interested in Plato/Socrates/Aristotle. :-)

  2. Thanks for your visit and comments, Jillian! I am glad that you're thinking about picking up Sophocles at some point, and the 'Theban' trilogy (i.e., Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone) is truly splendid. Frankly, it has been my experience that spending some quality time with these ancient classics provides a superb foundation for reading the great literature of the succeeding ages. Have fun, and do let me know what you think of Sophocles. I'd be interested in what translation you read as well. Cheers! Chris