Collaborating with Aeschylus (and Sophocles and Euripides and a Director and Cast)
Keywords:translation, pedagogy, critical thinking, performance, Greek tragedy
In Terence Rattigan’s The Browning Version the crusty old Classics master disdainfully describes interest in elegant translation as mere “collaborating with Aeschylus”. Yet translators must surely collaborate with the author, to create equivalent words that will resonate with their audience as the Greek dramatists’ words resonated with theirs. An added dimension in translating Greek drama is that, unless the translation’s purpose is only to elucidate the Greek, the collaborative net must encompass directors, designers, actors, and audience. Since the translator(s) have agonized over the mot juste or over transforming or removing a Greek expression for greater accessibility, they can view their final version not only as an end product, but also as the best version. In effect, their translation stands almost on the level of the original, at least in the relationship they hope that it will have with an audience. From the perspective of the director and actors, who have probably not been privy to the translators’ discussions, the words are only the beginning. Nothing, even the stage directions that some translators insert in hopes of preserving their vision, is sacrosanct. One of the translators’ goals is probably retention of a clear connection to their original text, if not exactly fidelity to it. But for some directors, the much-performed genre of Greek drama by definition needs a dose of originality to confound audience expectations of ‘the Classics’ with actors in bedsheets. For them, the translators’ product is far from fixed and can be manipulated or even undermined by the director’s vision. Translators and directors can learn much from one another, and since 2012, I have worked with undergraduates and a director colleague to create and perform translations of Greek tragedy. This paper will discuss our process and products, and especially the multiple relationships possible between translators’ and director’s visions.
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