Robert Bagg: Poems, Greek Plays, Essays, Novels, Memoir

Bob's Blague

News from Norton

October 18, 2013

Tags: Sophocles Translations

Just learned that the Norton Anthology of World Lit will include my versions of Sophocles' OEDIPUS THE KING and ANTIGONE in its third edition, out next February.

My version of THE BAKKHAI will be staged at the University of Georgia for seven performances starting March 25th.


September 23, 2013

Tags: Fall; Performances; Wilbur bio

I fell at home into an exercise frame and damaged my 7th vertebrae, which had to be replaced. I'm up and about, but have impaired motion and strength in my left arm. Luckily, golf requires only guidance from the left arm while strength is applied by the right arm and body turn. Docs say I should be able to resume play by next spring.

Better news: my play for Ralph Lee's Mettawee River Theatre Company, TALIESIN, based on the Welsh medieval myth, played in 20 venues in NY, VT and MA this summer as well as six performances in the Bishop's garden at the St. John the Divine Cathedral in NYC in September.

Excerpts from my bio of Ricard Wilbur are in the Spring issues of The Common, Yale Review and Hopkins Review and another forthcoming in Hopkins around October 1st.

Latest Essays & Production

September 14, 2012

Tags: Richard Wilbur, Oedipus the King, Old Dominion, The Common, Amherst

Just out is an excerpt from my bio-in-progress of Richard Wilbur, in the Summer 2012 AMHERST magazine. Its focus is Wilbur's college career, during which he was an outspoken and highly articulate pacifist and progressive. Coming next month in THE COMMON is another bio excerpt, this one entitled "The Poet in Rome", about Wilbur's annusmirabilis in Rome, 1954-55. My translation of OEDIPUS THE KING (more…)

Response to Peter Green's review of THE COMPLETE PLAYS OF SOPHOCLES

May 3, 2012

Tags: Sophocles, THE COMPLETE PLAYS OF SOPHOCLES, Peter Green, Robert Bagg, James Scully, New York Review of Books, Oedipus the King, tragedy, performance, translation

Does this book dumb down Sophocles?
Peter Green’s appraisal [“Obsessed with Scapegoats and Outcasts,” NYR May 10, 2012] of our volume, The Complete Plays of Sophocles, ignores the comprehensive nature of the book: its detailed explanation of our goals, assumptions, and methods as translators; introductions that give our interpretations of each play; scholarly notes that provide discussion of the very subtleties in Sophocles’ text that Green claims we suppress; and the fact that ours is the first single volume containing all seven of Sophocles’ plays by translators whose versions of Athenian drama have been staged in over 65 productions worldwide. Worse, his charges that our translations are inaccurate or indifferent to Sophocles’ complexities contain characterizations and negative judgments that are demonstrably false. (Readers can judge Green’s assessment of their poetic quality for themselves by exploring the excerpts on this site.)

Green acknowledges at the outset that our volume is part of a generational shift of emphasis from reading Athenian plays as literature toward appreciating them as drama. Although he accepts the theatrical potential of our versions, he fails to discuss the demands that translating for the theater entails. He essentially mocks and discredits our clearly stated intent, to combine accuracy and playability, by condemning our translations en bloc on the basis of an eight-line passage from a single play, Oedipus the King. In this rebuttal I defend my choices in translating that passage and respond to other issues Green raises in his article: his main focus, that of Sophocles’ supposed intention for writing Oedipus the King, and his charges that we radically simplify Sophocles, overuse colloquial English, (more…)

Norton Anthology of World Literature now published

April 13, 2012

Tags: Norton Anthology, new versions of Sophocles, updates galore

The 3rd edition of The Norton World Literature anthology, radically revised by Martin Puchner of Harvard and a distinguished cohort of co-editors, has just appeared. Included in its truly global scope are scores of updated translations and under known works. Worth a look.

Review of The Tandem Ride

November 11, 2011

Tags: Bagg, Junkins, North Dakota Quarterly, poetry, classical, Madonna of the Cello, Cello Suite, ostrakon, Ostrakoi

Review by Donald Junkins in The North Dakota Review, Fall 2009, pp. 190-192

Robert Bagg has one of the few uniquely identifiable voices of his poetic generation at once open and condensed, yet poignantly explicit, probing and multilayered, a voice would one could call Baggian straight talk. In The Tandem Ride, he has compiled a versatile collection of not only a kaleidoscope of imagery and Classical allusions but also a dazzling assortment of personal experience and literary resonance. The distinguishing feature of Bagg's poems, early and late, is that he writes with a deft hand and gliding hawk's eye. He takes his subjects not only to heart but to mind, and the reader receives willingly the full force of both.

A ribbon for Bagg's penetrating diction and his excursions into the heart, for his invitation into the sensual worlds of his and our our own pasts, his minglings of the classical and modern worlds of what it is to be aware and human. No American poet has so updated, dramatized, and clarified within modern experiential settings Greek historical overtones and geographies as has Bagg. His intellectual range is prodigious, and his original diction testifies to his literary perceptions and his openness to human experience. His voice is authoritative and penetrative, and his lines simmer with overtones and undertones rife with wit and melodic in sounds.

In the opening poem, “Ostrakoi”—fragments of clay pots; one use to which 5th century B.C.E. Athenians put them was to find the matching half held by a long-lost relative—he remembers (more…)

Philadelphia Inquirer Review of THE COMPLETE PLAYS OF SOPHOCLES

November 5, 2011

Tags: Bagg, Scully, Sophocles, Oedipus, Antigone, Kolonos, Elektra, Aias, Philoktetes, Ajax, Athenian drama, Greek plays, Athenian Theater

The text you type here will appear directly below the image
From The Philadelphia Inquirer

Bagg, Scully stress the dramatic
in translating Sophocles
The Complete Plays of Sophocles
A New Translation
Translated by Robert Bagg and James Scully
Harper Perennial. 880 pp. $16.99

Reviewed by Richard Lindsey

There is a pithy old Italian saying: traduttore, traditore - (a translator is a traitor). Sophocles, one of the three major dramatists of Athens in the fifth century B.C., certainly hasn't lacked for betrayers in the last 2,400 years.

So in addressing this new translation of Sophocles' seven surviving plays by poets Robert Bagg and James Scully, the inevitable first question is: Why another translation?

For one thing, every translation, like every betrayal, is different. Because no translation can ever be exact in every way, each one has at least the potential to show us something different about the original work.

For another thing, languages and their users change over time. As the translators point out, although Sophocles' plays "communicate in and through time, translations of them do not. Each generation . . . renders them in the style it believes best suited for tragedy."

The equally inevitable second question is: Why this translation? The answer to this question is less simple and perhaps more provocative.

Bagg and Scully argue that Sophocles has often been translated with a kind of general elevation and elegance that doesn't always reflect what is in fact a quite wide emotional and linguistic range. Although Sophocles' language can certainly be formal, dense, and allusive, some of it is simple, direct, and even blunt. The translators have made a point of trying to highlight these differences.

To translate Sophocles' breadth of expression, Bagg and Scully have required "the resources not only of idiomatic English but also of rhetorical gravitas and, on rare occasion, colloquial English as well." Consequently, they've adopted "a wide and varied palette" for vocabulary and levels of speech, striving for "a language that is spontaneous and generative as opposed to studied and bloodless."

In doing so, (more…)


October 16, 2011

Tags: Sophocles, review, PerSe

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 (more…)

HORSEGOD review in Winter 2011 AMHERST magazine

February 26, 2011

The Power of Myth

Horsegod: Collected Poems, by Robert Bagg ’57 (
Reviewed by Amelia Klein ’00

[Poetry] To read Horsegod is to enter a fairly complete world, a world made coherent by a symbolic logic at once deeply private and derived from the wellsprings of ancient mythology. Robert Bagg is in fact the author (more…)

HORSEGOD Goes to Ground

May 16, 2010

I've withdrawn HORSEGOD: Collected Poems from publication by iUniverse following some disagreements with iUniverse's management. I expect to publish a revised and expanded Collected Poems under a new title next year. Used copies of HORSEGOD are available on Amazon and new copies IndieReader, but these will be drawn down as they are sold.

New Content on Bob's Blague Page: Current Reviews of THE COMPLETE PLAYS OF SOPHOCLES and THE TANDEM RIDE and Other Excursions: Poems 1955-2010