On The Greek Plays

The Greek Plays: Sixteen Plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides
Eds. Mary Lefkowitz and James Romm
(Penguin Random House, New York, 2016, 826 pp. $25).

There is no shortage of English translations of Greek tragedy.  Indeed, the tradition of rendering the Athenian dramatists into English dates back to at least the sixteenth century and has yielded an abundant and diverse harvest.  For the opening of Euripides’ Medea alone, for example, the sampling below, which spans more than two centuries, demonstrates a general, though not universal, interest in rendering poetry into poetry.  But the tone, style, and mood of that poetry—or that prose—varies, as translators explore the rhetorical and artistic space between their ancient source and their own creativity.  (Of particular note is the element of humor in Byron’s deliberate fragment below, which simply breaks off rather than rendering the whole play or even the whole speech!)