Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Oedipus Plays of Sophocles

I’ll start of by saying I have read Oedipus/Oedipus Rex/Oedipus Tyrannus/Oedipus the King a number of times over the years but this is the first time I have read all of Sophocles’ Oedipus Plays; Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone.

I have always loved the story of Oedipus but now I see that I sadly never got the full picture of the narrative. The story does not end with the self-blinding of Oedipus but continues into his later life (as in Oedipus at Colonus) and with his children (as in Antigone).

I can safely say I mostly dislike the majority of the characters in these plays. Although they can sometimes appear as ‘good’ (as with Creon as the innocent party at the beginning of Oedipus the King and sympathizing with Oedipus after his world falls apart at the end of the same play, for example) they are mostly terrible people; except for Antigone.

Antigone plays a major role in the second two plays and is the most purest character out of everyone that appears. It is hard to really make a judgment of character from plays so old (due to the beliefs and expectations of societies changing over time) but it is safe to say that in my modern reading of these plays she is the only character that I hold any sympathy for.

After taking the time to read all three plays in order I can now express my belief that all three plays are needed to fully appreciate the story Sophocles was trying to give.

Although I fully enjoyed these plays, the one thing I really gained from reading the version translated by Paul Roche was his introduction to the work. He takes the time to explain the process and difficulties when translating. I have never understood why there are multiple different translations of older, or foreign texts, because I always believed there should only be one ‘correct’ translation. Roche changed this for me by explaining how it is not just about translating words but translating the work to entice the same feelings as the original. This can be seen when he describes his process;

“It is not merely meanings that a translator has to match but feelings, and for this there are no rules that he can follow- he can only depend on his ear. And to do this he must be a poet.” (Roche xiii).

That explanation gave me a much better understanding of this process and I suppose will make me respect translators a little more in the future, especially seeing as he translated Antigone first just to get into the same spirit as Sophocles (who wrote the plays in a different order than they are read; 1) Antigone, 2) Oedipus the King, and 3) Oedipus at Colonus).

These plays were originally wrote over 2,000 years ago so I can’t say anything revolutionary about the work but they should definitely be read at least once by everyone (especially those with an interest in the Greek classics).

The edition I read was ISBN: 0-452-01167-1

Sophocles. The Oedipus Plays of Sophocles. Trans. and Ed. Paul Rouche. Toronto: Plume, 1991. Print.

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