Ancient History & Civilisation

Translator’s Note

A new translation of an author as great as Euripides needs little justification, perhaps, but it may be useful to point out certain respects in which this translation differs from those of Philip Vellacott, which Penguin published in four volumes between 1953 and 1972. In these, for the most part, the translation was deliberately broken up into verse-like lines, creating a certain stateliness that reflected the dignity of the original but often resulted in the kind of English that could only exist on the printed page. My aim has been to produce a version that conforms far more to how people speak, and for this the medium of continuous prose was essential.

A further consequence of the earlier approach is that all the characters speak the same form of stylized English, whether they are princes or slaves. By adopting continuous prose I have tried to achieve a tone that is more relaxed, less stylized and less close to the Greek word-order, while remaining true to the original. There is a wider range of tones and moods in recognition of the fact that, for all the uniformity of the Greek, not every character maintains a wholly dignified tone. Some speak in a more colloquial and fast-moving style, even verging on the humorous (e.g. the Nurse in the Hippolytus), others require a more dignified style because they are arrogant or demented or divine.

In the lyric passages, especially the choral odes, I have aimed at a certain archaic formality of language in recognition of their emotional or religious content, but the overriding concern has been to let the freshness and beauty of the poetry come through to the reader as directly as possible. These elements of song in Euripides’ work were much admired by his contemporaries and by later generations and here, if anywhere, the translator’s responsibility weighs particularly heavily.

Euripides is intensely interested in human nature in all its different forms and a modern translation must therefore try to take some account of the richness of his character portrayal and psychological insight. It is this belief that underpins my attempt throughout these plays to find and express variety of tone; I have tried to think of the words as being spoken by real persons rather than literary creations, remembering the remark attributed to Sophocles that, whereas in his plays he showed men as they should be, Euripides drew them as they are.

No dramatist of any age can be content to live solely within the confines of the printed page, and it is gratifying that my translations of two plays, Trojan Women and the Bacchae, have been used for performances on the London stage. I hope that other plays in these versions may catch the eye of modern producers and that the reader who comes fresh to Euripides in this volume may feel that his voice deserves to be heard more in the modern theatre.

My collaborator, Dr Richard Rutherford, and I are both grateful for advice and encouragement from Professor Pat Easterling, and particularly for her careful scrutiny of the General Introduction. At a late stage Dr Oliver Taplin also read this section and suggested a number of improvements. There is a debt of some thirty years’ standing I should like to record here and that is to the man who introduced me to Euripides at school, Mr Robert Grassom: I hope he approves of my efforts. My thanks go also to Robin Waterfield, whose suggestion it was that I attempt this translation, and to my wife, Philippa, for her patience and support. Finally, I would like to thank Dr Rutherford for his contribution of introductory essay and notes, and for his thoughtful and prompt checking of my versions: his scholarly eye rescued me several times from ‘translationese’, and any remaining imperfections should be laid firmly at my door.

I would like to dedicate this book to Philippa, Lorna and Andrew.

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