play sixteen: hecuba #2

My admiration for Anne Carson has no peak.
My admiration for Anne Carson has no peak.

Author: Euripides

Translator: Anne Carson

Published: c.424BC

Synopsis: A tragedy set before the Greek forces depart after the sacking of Troy. Trojan Queen Hecuba, wife of Priam, has been reduced to servitude. Her daughter Polyxena (a “shooting star that wipes itself across the play and disappears” [Carson, 2006]) is sacrificed by Odysseus and Agamemnon to appease the ghost of Achilles, who has immobilised their fleet. Hecuba’s grief is compounded when her son Polydorus is murdered by his guardian, King Polymester of Thrace, out of greed. Hecuba seeks her revenge with other Trojan women by blinding Polymester and killing his two sons.

[I have reread Hecuba because of the stark differences in translation, which should be accounted for in this project, and because of my undying love for Anne Carson. If you’ve never encountered her, get a taste here.]

What moved me: The layer of Anne that sits atop Euripides like the rainbow in a puddle of oil.

Example One

CHORUS: […]

And Odysseus is on his way here now,

any minute now,

to drag the young colt away from your breast,

away from your poor old hands.

Go to the temples,

go to the altars,

bend as a suppliant at the knees of Agamemnon.

Call on the gods of the sky

and the gods underground.

Surely prayers will spare your child!

Or you will have to watch

her

fall forward

at the tomb

and spray red blood

from a blackbright hole

as it opens her throat wide.

Example Two

HECUBA: […]

I supplicate you:

do not rip the child from my hands.

Do not kill her.

Enough death!

This one is my joy. This one is my forgetting of evils.

She comforts my soul –

she is my city, my walking stick, my way on the road.

play ten: thyestes

Tantalus
‘Tantalus’ [the progenitor of the House of Atreus] by Gioacchino Assereto (circa 1640s)

Author: Seneca

Translation: Caryl Churchill

Date: c.62 CE

Synopsis: Atreus is king of Mycenae and is intent on revenge against his brother Thyestes. Sons of Pelops, they were destined to take turns ruling the country and keeping the symbol of power, a ram with a golden fleece. However, while Atreus was king, Thyestes seduced his wife and together they stole the ram. Civil war ensued. Now Atreus is king again whilst Thyestes and his three sons are in exile. He lures his brother and nephews to his kingdom on the promise of peace and the offer of sharing his crown. Unbeknownst to Thyestes, Atreus murders the boys and cooks them (save their heads, hands, and feet) to serve to their father for the celebration feast. Revenge is realised when he reveals to the sated Thyestes the fate of his young sons.

What moved me: the economy of Churchill’s version has stripped back the slight floridness usually associated in my mind with much translation of classical tragedy. She exposes a perfectly-working muscle. Blunt. Fast. There is little hope of redemption. Seneca’s decision to end the play with the rotten Atreus, instead of the Chorus, is no accident.

An example of this bareness:

FURY: […]

Then there’ll be nothing

anger thinks forbidden,

brother terrifies

brother, father sons and

sons fathers, children’s

deaths are vile and their births

even worse. A wife

destroys her husband,

wars cross the sea to Troy,

the earth is watered with

blood and great leaders

are defeated by lust.

Rape’s a joke and love and

laws both fade away.

The sky’s not exempt. Why

are the stars shining?

do their flames still owe the

world glory? Let night

be something else. Let day

fall out of the sky.

So stir up your gods, call

hatred, carnage and

funerals, and fill the

whole house with Tantalus.

(Caryl Churchill, 1995)

play five: agamemnon

Le sacrifice d'Iphigénie, by François Perrier, 1633.
Le sacrifice d’Iphigénie, by François Perrier, 1633.

Author: Aeschylus

Translator: David Grene and Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty

Published: 458BC

Synopsis: The Chorus and Clytemnestra clamour for the return of her husband and king, Agamemnon, from his victory in the Trojan War. However, a pall is cast as his death at Clytemnestra’s hands is increasingly foreshadowed. It is prophesied by Cassandra (the Trojan princess taken by Agamemnon as his concubine) that his wife will visit her fury upon him for sacrificing their daughter Iphigenia to Artemis, who had becalmed the winds and so forestalled the Greek ships from setting sail to Troy. She also foretells her own death and enters the palace welcoming its inevitability. Aegisthus, Clytemnestra’s lover, reveals himself as a co-conspirator and the Chorus warns of the return of Orestes, son of Agamemnon, to avenge his father’s death.

What moved me: the impotence of the Chorus of old men.

But we, dishonoured for the ancientness of our flesh,

were left behind then when the army went;

we remain, propping on staffs a strength like a child’s.

For the child’s marrow, too, leaps within his breast

but is only the match of an old man’s;

the god of war is not there either.

And the overold, the leafage already withering,

walks his three-footed way, no stronger than a child;

wanders, a dream in the daylight.

play one: hecuba

Hecuba Blinding Polymestor by Giuseppe Maria Crespi
Hecuba Blinding Polymestor by Giuseppe Maria Crespi

Playwright: Euripides

Published: c. 424 BC

Translator: William Arrowsmith

Synopsis: A tragedy set before the Greek forces depart after the sacking of Troy. Trojan Queen Hecuba, wife of Priam, has been reduced to servitude. Her daughter Polyxena is sacrificed by Odysseus and Agamemnon to appease the ghost of Achilles, who has immobilised their fleet. Hecuba’s grief is compounded when her son Polydorus is murdered by his guardian, King Polymester of Thrace, out of greed. Hecuba seeks her revenge with other Trojan women by blinding Polymester and killing his two sons.

What moved me: Polyxena – the embodiment of regal virtue – speaks to Hecuba of her impending doom. The hard sounds of ‘B’, ‘D’, and ‘G’ are unrelenting and make me feel like my feet have been tied to a concrete block and I’ve abandoned to the sea.

But now I die,

and you must see my death: –

butchered like a lamb

squalling with fright,

and the throat held taut

for the gashing knife,

and the gaping hole

where the breath of life

goes out,

and sinks

downward into dark

with the unconsolable dead.