Sophocles is one of the central giants of world literature. The great gulf that exists between the great Athenian poet's language and our modern English is vast, making a new translation very much welcome for those hoping, while ignorant of Classical Greek, to bridge the linguistic divide. Having read many translations in the past, I very much looked forward to this one. Unfortunately, the news is not quite what I hoped for. For one, both translators add ridiculous and completely uncalled for stage directions and parentheticals whenever they desire. When the blind and bleeding Oedipus asks Creon to promise him to expel him from the city, Bagg's stage direction reads 'Creon touches Oedipus' hand.' We are told that "Antigone is out of breath" and that "Ismene raises her voice." We are also told that the Choral Leader should speak "sotto voce" to his fellow chorus-members. In Bagg's translation, Oedipus exits into the palace mid-way through Teiresias' revelation rather than at the end. There is absolutely no textual evidence for this reading. Less problematically, the Corinthian is incorrectly called the 'Messenger' although he is not an official messenger from Corinth. Teiresias is made to say something close to (I do not have the words before me), "I will not leave until I have said what you brought me here to say," rather than the more accepted "I will go when I say what I came here to say." The endnotes do not explain this choice.
Although the translators are poets the choral odes are dull. There is no poetry or rhythm to them. The lines during these moments are presented in truncated lines as if this were a substitute for rhythm. The sense of stchomythia is not very strong. Scully's translation of "Aias" adds obscenities which I found unintentionally humorous. We are at one point told that this is done because modern Western society has lost the negative cultural connotations which come with the word 'fox,' but Scully's Aias' suggestion that Odysseus fornicates with foxes isn't a very effective way of re-introducing that cultural connotations. The translators ultimately seem to believe that they are co-creators with the playwright rather than translators. I find little in these translations to recommend them.
Before I come across as completely dismissing this volume I will say that there are numerous aspects which I do very much like. This translation is heavy on endnotes. Sometimes they offers a little more than I thought was needed but I am grateful for what they explain. In a few of the plays I made new discoveries by reading the endnotes (although I found the notes to "Women of Trakhis" lackluster). This volume's "Antigone" contains a MAJOR improvement over other translations of this magnificent play. For that I am very, very glad, ultimately, that this translation exists. Bagg presents an entirely new (to me) reading of an important line. What was once completely perplexing now makes perfect sense. The word 'phusis' means 'nature.' But Bagg, citing the work of Lloyd-Jones and N.G. Wilson, reminds us that it can also be understood to means 'birth.' Antigone's famous line is thus NOT "It is not my nature to join in hate but only to love." The way this version translate that line is now closer to: "I made no enemies by being born; I made my 'philia' at birth." Many readers have no doubt found themselves perplexed by that line in its former reading but now, thematically, the new reading makes PERFECT sense to me. In the opening line, Antigone refers to Ismene as 'autadelphon' - 'born like me of the self-same womb.' For Antigone the 'womb' means everything. She fights for the family. Creon's wife, Eurydice, is the "All-Mother" of Haemon. She kills herself in front of an alter cursing Creon for killing her two sons. Thus, "I made no enemies by being born; I made my 'philia' at birth" means just that, her loyalty is to the womb. Those from the womb MAY become enemies later (like Ismene) but only 'philia' originates from the womb. Creon represents the state. Antigone the family. Around and inside both of them, the themes of Love and Death play their part.
Ultimately, these adaptations of Sophocles's plays take too many liberties. The addition of invented stage directions and parentheticals are ridiculous. The language is a bit on the casual side for my taste. The Lattimore and Grene translations, despite their weaknesses, including an almost complete lack of contextual material and endnotes, remain my preferred version of Sophocles.