Kitzinger and Grennan on their translation of “Oedipus at Colonus”

[Revised 12/14.]
A few years ago, Oxford University Press began publishing new translations of Greek Tragedies.  For Oedipus at Colonus, the editors turned to a wife and husband team at Vassar College:  the classicist, Rachel Kitzinger, and the Irish (now Irish-American) poet, Eamon Grennan.
I’ve found the explanatory material in their translation (published in 2005) quite interesting.  Prof. Kitzinger’s Introduction to the play discusses, in part, the use of language to portray the strengths and weakness of the characters;  I also like her references to how the staging of the play reinforces its meaning.
Some of Kitzinger’s back-of-the-book Notes on the Text are fascinating – such her comments about the rhytms of the Chorus and the uncertainty about some lines of the original Greek.
Prof. Grennan discusses with wit and insight the problems facing a translator (who, among other things, speaks no Greek.)  He praises Fagles’ (and Robert Fitzgerald’s) translations.  I have the impression that Grennan’s rendering of the play is a bit more free in its diction than Fagles’ – that is, when he must chose, he favors clarity and flow in English over closer adherence to the Greek.  (For his part, Fagles’ translation is less stilted and easier to speak than many previous versions.)
I’ve posted both essays and the notes here.  Rachel’s Introduction is long and if I had more time, I’d put together a selection of excerpts.  But you’ll probably find it easy to skim sections that repeat discussions we’ve already had.  At the least, I would recommend reading her final section – “Sophocles’ Gift to Athens” (p. 17ff).  And Rachel’s four-page addendum about Greek performance practices contains the added authority of someone who has much first-hand experience staging the plays in their original language.

Music From Ancient Greece (examples)

Here are some short musical pieces from ancient Greece played by the Ensemble De Organograpia, “a period instrument ensemble dedicated to performing and recording lesser know works from several different eras.” Their CD, Music of the Ancient Greeks, was recorded in 1995, 1997 by Pandourion Records and is still available for purchase on Amazon and elsewhere.
Performers Gayle and Philip Neuman were directors of The Oregon Renaissance Band when they made this CD.  They’ve recorded other ancient musics as well, including Sumerian and Egyptian.

(Note the use of quarter-tones in this song;  our ears aren’t used to the pitch of these “in between” notes.)
Delphic Paean, Athenaeus (127 BC)  [Track 07]  (3:41)
For a lot more information about the music, here’s the booklet enclosed with the Music of Ancient Greece CD

I hope I’ll have time to add a little more about this fascinating music that was so important to ancient Greek drama.    —   Tom.

Musical Introductions to Oedipus

During our meeting about The Antigone, we discussed the difficulties of transferring ancient Greek dramas to other art forms (as, for example, contemporary theatrical performance).  Oedipus Rex – or at least the myth upon which it is based – has been widely adapted and retold as everything from a foundation for classic Freudian psychology to a famous song of the 1950’s and 60’s. (See below.)
Among the more successful re-imaginings of Sophocles’ play itself was a 1927 dramatic oratorio composed by Igor Stravinsky from a script by Jean Cocteau. The original text was written in French and then translated into Latin. Stravinsky and Cocteau called their collaboration an “opera-oratorio.”  The Latin sections of the music are framed by a narrator, who speaks in the language of the audience. Stravinsky wrote Oedipus Rex at the beginning of his “neoclassical” period;  it’s considered one of his finest and most original works.  It runs about 40 minutes.

There are several good recorded performances.  The earliest modern (mono) recording was made in Cologne in 1951, with Stravinsky conducting and Jean Cocteau reading the narration in French.  In the 1960’s, Stravinsky (or his shadow, Robert Craft) conducted a stereo recording, which was narrated in English. While the earlier performance may be a little more raw (as befits the music), the latter recording is much fuller and clearer in sound and packs a powerful wallop of its own. Both are readily available on CD.

Colin Davis is another conductor identified with the score.  (Davis’ big break as a young conductor occurred when he filled it for an ailing maestro at Sadler’s Wells theater and had a smashing success.) His first recording (1960 – out of print) was based on that performance – Ralph Richardson provided the narration. Davis’ later recording (1983, with the Bavarian Radio Symphony) uses a French narrator.  Colin Davis emphasizes the lyrical quality of the music, Stravinsky, its formal, classical structure.  I am unfamiliar with other performances.
Finally, on a less elevated level yet still a work of genius, the MIT mathematics professor, Tom Lehrer, wrote his (in)famous song, Oedipus Rex, in the late 1950’s.  I’ve posted his performance here.


PS:  I attach here the Libretto for Stravinsky’s “Oedipus Rex” (from Colin Davis’ CD), as these days CDs don’t always include it.

And here is a link to Comments on Stravinsky’s Oedipus by AL Malone (from that discusses some of the history and motivation behind Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex.

What did ancient Greek sound like? An example.

If anyone is wondering what Ancient Greek might have sounded like, I’ve found an Internet link to an old friend of mine reading 4 minutes from Sophocles’ Elektra:

Prof. Rachel Kitzinger has had a distinguished career as a classicist at Vassar College, where she went after teaching at Amherst College in the late 1970’s.  While at Amherst, she staged a production of Antigone with her students in the original Greek. The final performance took place at sunrise, on the Amherst War Memorial whose large, round surface served as the slightly-raised stage.  Built into the side of Memorial Hill facing the athletic fields and the Holyoke hills, the commemorative space suggested some of the feeling of a Greek amphitheater.

The production was a strikingly dramatic and beautiful experience.  By mixing dance, mime, masks and broadly-gestured acting, the audience could follow the action pretty well.  The political context of the time helped, too, since many of us were preoccupied with arguments about the power of the state over individuals, in general, and women, in particular.

Rachel was one of the first teachers anywhere, I believe, to put on a production like this – and she continued producing Greek dramas in their original language with her students at Vassar and on stages elsewhere in the world.  She pursued further study about ancient Greek performance practices and collaborated on at least one translation (Oedipus at Colonus) with her husband, the Irish poet Eamon Grennan.  She’s written specifically about the function and significance of the Greek chorus, her major work being a book, The Choruses of Sophokles’ Antigone and Philoktetes: a Dance of Words.  Here are some excerpts from a 2010 review of the book that outline some of Rachel’s views about the Greek chorus:

The actors on stage

The Pronomos vase, a red figured volute, c. 400 bce, Athens, depicts a scene from a Satyr play.pronomos-medium

Detail of the Pronomos vase showing the Herakles and Papposilenos performers, faces of two chorus members, and a female mask.


Note the detail of the masks held by the two actors, but I’m not sure about the female mask. Is that it on the upper left, all hair and no face?