AN ORESTEIA by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides (translated by Anne Carson)

Wow, this was disappointing! I came across this in a bookstore and was very excited by the concept. I still think it is a brilliant idea which is the ONLY reason I gave this two stars. Prior to reading this, I had read Aeschylus’ Agamemnon in the superb Robert Fagles translation. I had also seen Sophocles’ Electra in the theater. Not sure who did that translation. I was totally unfamiliar with Euripides’ Orestes.  The problem with this was the total lack of eloquence in the translation. Carson renders everything in a blah, run of the mill style. She seems almost terrified of sounding, heaven forbid, theatrical! I’m all for getting the stuffiness out of the classics but if there is no sense of moment or nobility, the purpose of these works is going to be totally lost on new readers and theater-goers. Come to think of it, this is part of my problem with many (not all) modernized productions of older plays. As I recall, that production of Electra I saw was done in fairly plain English but managed to catch the play’s sense of seriousness and urgency. Anyway, Carson is a major Greek scholar so she could easily argue she knows better than me. Still, I can’t get over the sense that something is missing here. The speeches fall totally flat and some of the individual lines are downright silly. Never did I believe these were monarchs and deities battling over power. Orestes, which I’ve read is written somewhat idiosyncratically, seemed to suffer the most although it could just be that I didn’t know that one before. I have William Arrowsmith’s translation and I’m eager to read it at some point. I should also get to know the other two again. Got to get the taste of this out my mouth. If you’re intrigued as I was, I’d resist and avoid this. Too bad. It was a great idea.

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