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True to the spirit of the Greek originals
on 4 October 2012
Vellacott's translations of Euripides' tragedies are not new and neither are they, strictly speaking, true to the letter of the Greek originals - by that I mean they don't work well as cribs and so are no replacement for the Loeb editions for anyone needing help with reading Greek. Where they come into their own, however, is in turning these plays into accessible and sometimes powerful English.
As the last of the great Athenian tragedians whose work has come down to us, Euripides is, inevitably, responding to the tragic visions of Aeschylus and Sophocles. His plays can be quite difficult as they are unexpected, shifting and complicated: Medea is a fine example where we are, rather shockingly, made to feel at least some measure of sympathy for Medea herself despite her rather wonderful killing spree and her controvertial murder of her children. The chorus, too, whose response we, to some extent, mimic, show an empathy with Medea's situation and guide our moral response to the play to its still unexpected ending.
So I like these translations which are dynamic and vigorous: they may not be literally tied to the Greek originals but they convey well the spirit and essence of the texts.