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

Bob's Blague

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…)

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

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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…)

Review of THE COMPLETE PLAYS OF SOPHOCLES: A NEW TRANSLATION

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…)

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