Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

July Books 13-15) Three Theban Plays by Sophocles

This is the Wordsworth Classics edition of Antigone / Ἀντιγόνη, Oedipus the Tyrant / Οιδίπους Τύραννος and Oedipus at Colonus / Οἰδίπους ἐπὶ Κολωνῷ, all translated by Jamey Hecht. I took them fairly slowly, to let the blank verse translation sink gently into my mind.

I found Antigone / Ἀντιγόνη the most politically interesting of the three. The title character's brother has died as a rebel against Creon, the king of Thebes; she wishes to give him decent burial, contrary to royal command. It's quite a striking narrative of a woman demanding what we would now call human rights against the established political power (which claims moreover to have divine backing). Creon pushes his authority too far and suffers awful consequences.

I had read Oedipus the Tyrant / Οιδίπους Τύραννος previously in a different translation. I found it just as powerful here, with perhaps a better rendition of Oedipus' increasing consternation and horror as the truth becomes clear to him. I did wonder if Sophocles' audiences would have been in any suspense whatsoever as to what was going to happen; surely everyone going into the theatre would have been muttering "killed his father, married his mother" and just watching to see how well it was done?

Oedipus at Colonus / Οἰδίπους ἐπὶ Κολωνῷ seemed to me the weakest of the three, and I had to start it again after getting halfway through and realising I had missed most of the plot. Here the blind Oedipus has found refuge near Athens, but the factions in Thebes (his sons and Creon) have been told by an oracle that the resting place of his corpse will determine the victor in their struggle. Oedipus gets some good bitter speeches about how unfair life is in general, and his own in particular, but I found the play as a whole much more difficult to follow.

The decision to present the three plays in order of composition here did not work for me. For readers not passionately devoted to analysing how Sophocles' writing style evolved over the decades of his career, it surely makes much better sense to order them by internal chronology, ie Oedipus the Tyrant / Οιδίπους Τύραννος first, then Oedipus at Colonus / Οἰδίπους ἐπὶ Κολωνῷ, then Antigone / Ἀντιγόνη last. This has the merit of explaining why Antigone's brother was fighting Creon, and also puts the strongest plays first and last, which makes for a more satisfying experience as a reader.

The almost complete lack of stage direction offers a blank slate, but also a challenge, to anyone wanting to direct the plays today.
Tags: bookblog 2012, writer: sophocles

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