Top critical review
on 17 April 2016
In terms of sheer readability, I find Philip Vellacott's translations in the old Penguin Classics editions vastly superior to James Morwood's in this Oxford World's Classics edition. I've given this volume a three star rating because the plays are well worth reading in themselves, and the ones I've seen are enormously powerful on stage, but I'd certainly recommend getting hold of Vellacott's versions if at all possible, perhaps using this one as a supplement for the sake of the more up to date introduction and notes, and because it includes the interesting "Rhesus", which as far as I know Vellacott hasn't done.
I'm not in a position to compare the translations in terms of how closely they adhere to the original Greek, but comparing the openings of the two versions of Bacchae will show what I mean about readability:
Vellacott: "I am Dionysus, son of Zeus. My mother was Semele, daughter of Cadmus: I was delivered from her womb by the fire of a lightning-flash."
Morwood: "I am the son of Zeus, Dionysus. Semele, the daughter of Cadmus, bore me once in a birth precipitated by the lightning flame."
"The son of Zeus, Dionysus" is clumsy enough in itself, but the decision to give that run of three separate names together seems to me inexplicable.
Morwood doesn't translate the sung passages as verse, though confusingly he does set them out in lines ("This is a prose translation. However, lyrical and choric passages - intended for sung or chanted performance - have been laid out on shorter lines. These will inevitably have the appearance of free verse, but the translator's aim has been simply to denote the distinction between the spoken and sung or chanted areas of the play." Why, I wonder, couldn't italics have done the job?) Vellacott does use rhyming verse for such passages, and again this adds to the pleasure and vividness of the reading experience, though I don't know what it may have cost in terms of strict accuracy of translation.