Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Euripides V - Andromache, Herakles' Children, Herakles


Volume V in the Methuen Euripides series edited by my former drama lecturer, J Michael Walton.  He and I failed to see eye to eye on more or less everything but I have to admit I found his introduction here interesting, reliable and stimulating.

On the other hand the translation of Andromache, the main reason I bought the book, is downright bloody awful.  I really cannot stomach translators who want to advertise their own dramatic conceits.  A new version by an established creative writer, like Ted Hughes, or Brecht, or Tony Harrison - that's something else, a new version of an ancient original.  This exercise by Robert Cannon is just risible.  I'm no Greek scholar but I'm willing to bet Euripides didn't write one clause per line.  Ghastly.  Still, I suppose it's a measure of Euripides' greatness that a powerful tragedy still shines through.

I had assumed, in my ignorance, that Herakles' Children and Herakles itself weren't up to much - scraps from the master's table.  With the former I was definitely wrong - the battle of wills between Herakles' mother Alkmene and the devious Eurystheus, King of Argos and deviser of the Twelve Labours, is compelling.  A complicated back story, mixing one part history with four parts myth, is expertly doled out in bite-sized portions.  And Herakles himself isn't in it.  Indeed, Euripides' fascination with the hero - both here and in the eponymous play - seems to be about the human consequences of godlike heroic achievement.  That said, Herakles itself seems to be missing an act.  Did Euripides really just have a character called Madness appear, make a speech, send our hero off his nut and then just bugger off?  I don't think so.  But I did enjoy the Choral song about the Twelve Labours, which sounded to me like an extremely ancient form incorporated by Euripides as a device to demonstrate just how long ago his play was set.

The translation of the two Herakles plays is by Kenneth McLeish and a much happier product.  This, after all, is meant to be basically a source book from which performers can then build their own interpretation.

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