Bibliographical Table of English Translations of the
Sophocles' Oedipus the King (Part 1, 1679 - 1967)
|Dryden, John & Nathaniel Lee, Oedipus, 1679; rpt. 1682 - 1701||Buckley, Theodore William Alois; The Tragedies of Sophocles in English Prose; 1849; much rpt.||Storr, Francis; Sophocles [Loeb Classical Library]; 1912-1913; & rpt.||Arnott, Peter D.; Oedipus the King; 1949, 1950; & rpt.|
|Theobald, Lewis, Oedipus, King of Thebes, a Tragedy; 1715||Mongan, Roscoe; Oedipus Tyrannus; 1865||Sheppard, John Tresidder; The Oedipus Tyrannus of Sophocles; 1920; & rpt.||Banks, Theodore Howard; Oedipus the King; 1956; & rpt.|
|Adams, George; The Tragedies of Sophocles; 1729; rpt. 1818||Plumptre, E[dward] H.; The Tragedies of Sophocles; 1867; rpt.||Harrower, John, et al. Sophocles - Oedipus the King; 1922||Roche, Paul; Oedipus the King; 1958; rev. ed., 1991|
|Potter, Robert; Oedipus Tyrannus Translated; 1746 - 1804; rpt. 1813, 1819||Campbell, Lewis; The King Oedipus and Philoctetes; 1874; & rpt.||Harvey, Alexander; King Oedipus; 1924; & rpt||Knox, Bernard MacGregor Walker; Oedipus the King; 1959; & rpt.|
|Francklin, Thomas; The Tragedies of Sophocles; 1758-1759; much rpt.||Newell, William W.; King Oedipus - The Oedipus Tyrannus of Sophocles; 1881||Whitelaw, Robert; Oedipus the King [in Attic Tragedies]; 1927||Cavander, Kenneth; Oedipus the King; 1961; & rpt.|
|Maurice, Thomas [Reverend]; Oedipus Tyrannus; 1779; rpt. 1813, 1822||Anderson, Edmund D.; Oedipus the King; 1885||Yeats, William Butler; [Sophocles'] King Oedipus - A Version for the Modern Stage; 1928; & rpt.||Kitto, H. D. F. (Humphrey Davy Findley); Oedipus the King; 1962; & rpt.|
|Wells, Henry Willis; Oedipus Tyrannus; 1779||.Jebb, Richard C[laverhouse]; The Oedipus Tyrannus; 1893; much rpt.||Young, George [Sir]; Oedipus Tyrannus [in The Dramas of Sophocles Rendered in English Verse]; 1928 [Everyman's Library]||McLeish, Kenneth; Oedipus the King [in Four Greek Plays]; 1964; & rpt.|
|Clarke, George Somers; Oedipus, King of Thebes - A Tragedy; 1790||Lyster, Frederick, and Jules LaCroix; Oedipus the King - Tragedy in Five Acts; 1894||Fitts, Dudley, and Robert Fitzgerald; Oedipus Rex [in The Theban Cycle]; 1939-1949; & much rpt.||Corrigan, Robert Willoughby; Oedipus the King [Laurel Classical Drama]; 1965|
|Adams, George; Tragedy of Oedipus Tyrannus; 1798||Phillimore, John Swinnerton; Oedipus Tyrannus; 1902; & rpt||Grene, David; Oedipus the King; 1942; & much rpt. [U of Chicago Greek Plays & Modern Library]||Wilson, Frank K.; Oedipus Tyrannus: a New Translation; 1966|
|FitzGerald, Edward, and Robert Potter; The Downfall and Death of King Oedipus - A Drama in Two Parts; 1801-04?; & rpt.||Coleridge, E[dward] P.; Oedipus Rex; 1908; & rpt.||Truman, Nathan Elbert; Oedipus, the King; 1946||Walker, Charles Rumford; Oedipus the King, and Oedipus at Colonus. A New Translation for Modern Readers and Theatergoers; 1966|
|Shelley, Percy Bysshe; Oedipus Tyrannus, or Swellfoot the Tyrant -- A Tragedy in Two Acts; 1820; & rpt.||Way, Arthur Sanders; Sophocles in English Verse; 1909-1914; & rpt.||Watling, E.F; King Oedipus; 1947; & much rpt. [Penguin]||Mendell, C[larence]W.; Oedipus the King [in The Theban saga, Sophocles]; 1966|
|Dale, Thomas [Reverend]; Oedipus Tyrannus; 1824; verse||Murray, Gilbert; Oedipus, King of Thebes; 1911; & rpt.; rhymed verse||Cook, Albert [Spaulding]; Oedipus Rex; 1948 & 1957||Jebb, Richard Claverhouse, and Moses Hadas; Oedipus the King [in The Complete Plays of Sophocles]; 1967|
Many of these translations have been reprinted various times; the most famous literary translator-adapter-authors are John Dryden, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and William Butler Yeats. The remainder of the Bibliographical Table of Translations is as follows:
Bibliographical Table of English Translations of the Sophocles' Oedipus the King (Part 2, 1970 - 2011 / to date)
|Berkowitz, Luci, and Theodore F Brunner; Oedipus Tyrannus - a New Translation; 1970||Appignanesi, Richard, and Kenneth J McQueenie; King Oedipus [World theatre classics] ; 1986||Meineck, Peter, and Paul Woodruff; Oedipus Tyrannus; 2000 ; & rpt.||Slavitt, David R. ; Oedipus Tyrannos [in The Theban plays of Sophocles]; 2007; & rpt.|
|Gould, Thomas; Oedipus the King; 1970||Taylor, Don; Oedipus the King [in The Theban plays]; 1986; & rpt.||Mueller, Carl Richard, and Anna Krajewska-Wieczorek; Oedipus Tyrannos [in Sophokles : the Complete Plays]; 2000||McGuinness, Frank from a literal translation by Ciaran McGrogarty; Oedipus; 2008|
|Vellacott, Philip; Sophocles and Oedipus: a Study of "Oedipus Tyrannus" with a New Translation; 1971||Trypanis, C. A. (Constantine Athanasius); King Oedipus [in Sophocles : the Three Theban Plays]; 1986||Rudall, Nicholas; Oedipus the King; 2000||Ahl, Frederick ; Two Faces of Oedipus : Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus and Seneca's Oedipus ; 2008|
|Burgess, Anthony; Oedipus the King [Translated and Adapted]; 1972; & rpt.||Stace, Christopher; Oedipus the King [in Oedipus / Sophocles]; 1987||Blondell, Ruby ; Sophocles' King Oidipous : Translation with Notes, Introduction and Essay; 2002||Fainlight, Ruth and Robert J. Littman; The Theban plays : Oedipus the king, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone; 2009|
|Berg, Stephen, and Diskin Clay; Oedipus the King; 1978 & rpt||Wertenbaker, Timberlake; Oedipus Tyrannos [in The Thebans / Sophocles]; 1992; & rpt.||McAuslan, Ian, and Judith Affleck; Oedipus Tyrannus; 2003||Mulroy, David ; Oedipus Rex; 2011|
|Fagles, Robert; Oedipus the King [in The Three Theban Plays]; 1982; & rpt.||Lloyd-Jones, Hugh; Oedipus Tyrannus [in Sophocles : Ajax, Electra, Oedipus Tyrannus] (Loeb Classical Library); 1994||Mahon, Derek; Oedipus : a Version of Sophocles' King Oedipus and Oedipus at Colonus; 2005|
|Dawe, R. D. (Roger David); Oedipus Rex; 1982; & rpt.||Bolt, Ranjit; The Oedipus Plays : Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus; 1996||Love, Harry; Oedipus the King [in Introductions and Translations to the Plays of Sophocles and Euripides]; 2006|
|Bagg, Robert; Oedipus the King; 1982 ; & rpt. [in The Oedipus plays of Sophocles : Oedipus the king, Oedipus at Kolonos, and Antigone]; also, with James Scully, in The Complete Plays of Sophocles : a New Translation, 2011; also in The Oedipus cycle : a New Translation, 2012||Kessler, Jascha ; King Oedipus. Oedipus at Colonus [Vol. 2 of Sophocles, or Sophocles 2, ed. David R Slavitt & Smith Palmer Bovie; 1998-1999||Constantine. Peter ; Oedipus the King [in Three Theban Plays] ; 2007|
|Spender, Stephen; The Oedipus Trilogy: King Oedipus, Oedipus at Colonos, Antigone : a Version; 1985||Williams, Frederick; Oedipus Rex [in A Cry of Kings : Six Greek Dramas in Modern English]; 1999||Johnston, Ian ; Oedipus the King ; 2007|
Background on Drama, Generally, and Applications to Sophocles' Play
Drama or theater is often superficially covered in introduction to literature classes, introduction to literature textbooks, and sometimes in Humanities classes and textbooks. A principal reason for this superficiality is this genre's complexity, which is indicated by its usually being placed last in introductory textbooks: prose fiction, poetry, drama is the usual order for such textbooks, arranged from lesser to greater in complexity and difficulty. A play is not only a written piece of literature, and consequently possessed of all potential literary components of fiction and poetry, but also a script, which should require something physical of a particular theater or stage (setting, props, etc.) as well as of its actors (gestures, actions, blocking or grouping or composition on the stage). The word drama comes from Greek dran 'to do [something], perform a physical action,' which is indicative of its action orientation. If a literary author composes a work which does not mandate physical uses of setting, props, action, or other uniquely dramaturgical components, then the author might have more properly written a short story, novel, poem, or essay, none of which obliges us to go to a theater (or movie theater) to watch it: we could simply and only have read it.
The particular elements of drama, its unique dramaturgical components, are as follows (the first three, are designated with the terminology of Alan S. Downer, a brilliant literary scholar and student of drama, in his essay "The Life of Our Design: The Function of Imagery in the Poetic Drama" [Hudson Review 2 (1949): 242-260; and reprinted in many anthologies of critical essays on the drama and Shakespeare], as well as Downer's text-anthology of drama):
--nonverbal "language" of action (physical motion, gesture, composition or blocking)
--nonverbal "language" of setting (actual, physical scenic elements of the stage, theater, or, in later drama, set design [e.g., tables, chairs, sofas])
--nonverbal "language" of props (actual, physical objects, which the props master or props mistress must furnish for the dramatic performance and are seen on stage)
--sound effects (e.g., screams, thunder, music)
[--lighting effects (available only later in drama, when indoor theaters developed; also in film)]
[--for film, a particular kind of drama, and covered by
the screenplay of Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion, reprinted in volume
2 of the Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, 5th ed. or the
screenplay of Marguerite Duras' Hiroshima Mon Amour in volume 2
of the Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, 6th ed., and available
for rental at some video rental stores, the following elements: (a) camera
distance (long shot, medium shot, close-up); (b) camera angle (horizontal,
up angle, down angle -- or aerial or crane shot, from a height); (c) camera
motion (camera stationary and objects or people move into its view; camera
moving and objects or people static -- a "pan" or dolly shot; zoom shot:
camera zooms into a closeup of something or zooms out to a wide angle shot
away from something; camera moving and objects or people moving, as in
every "B" Western from the 1940's, with a camera on the back of a pickup,
in front of the galloping hero or villain out in the wilds of Burbank or
Northridge, California); (d) camera or film speed (normal motion, fast
motion, slow motion); (e) special effects, the abbreviation "F/X" now immortalized
in two (more to come?) films of this name]
Many times stage directions for plays, indicating the above special dramaturgical elements, are indicated in printed texts of plays by square brackets, indicating that they have been supplied not by the author but rather by the translator or editor. Dramatists often do not bother indicating where and when a certain physical action should take place on stage, prop be supplied, or detail of setting be constructed, first, because the dramatist feels that the script or text "speaks" for itself, second, the dramatist is writing for professionals who will know how to proceed, and, third, supplying all such references would probably expand the script or text to twice its length or even more. Therefore, alert readers, who do not have the opportunity to see a drama on stage, must read the text like a director for a middle school play, realizing that the director is going to have to specify for the youngsters almost all motions, actions, gestures, props, and details of the set that are evoked by, indeed demanded by the language, the words, of the text. Here is where the playwright lives up to the meaning of the suffix of the name, wright, as a genuine maker. When stage directions have been supplied by the playwright or dramatist to indicate the languages of action, props, setting, or of sound effects, readers should, as with implied languages of action, props, setting, or sound effects, ponder what ideas or themes may be implied, often at a subliminal level, particularly to a theatre audience viewing the play.
G1. The "Language" of Action "Language" of action isn't a character's exclusively verbal reference to some action, gesture, or motion. If a character on stage simply says "Yesterday I told someone to stand up," this reference does not constitute the language of action. However, a genuine or authentic dramatist or playwright (remember the spelling of the latter word, based on the suffix wright, meaning "a maker") instinctively writes words that mandate actions or gestures from the actor or actors. (An authentic or genuine dramatist, instinctively writing for the correct literary genre, will write words that demand physical embodiment on stage.) (G1a) For example, Oedipus's opening words to the priest "Speak up, old man. Your years,/ Your dignity--you should speak for the others./ Why here and kneeling, what preys upon you so?" (lines 9-11) in the play aren't accompanied in the ancient Greek by the stage direction, supplied by the twentieth-century translator Robert Fagles: "Helping a priest to his feet." How did Fagles know to put the stage direction there, to help the reader? The words of the playwright tell him; if Oedipus doesn't help the priest to his feet, he at least gestures to indicate that the priest should rise, all implied by the actual words of the text in lines 9-11. (G1b) Since literature is the maximum meaning in the words and literary components used, any example of the "language" of action will also be revealing about character, personality, human nature, or theme. What personality traits about Oedipus are conveyed visually and orally through the reference cited in 1a of this question? What general themes or ideas of the play are embodied here? We see here (on our second or more reading of the play) that: (1) Oedipus wants to be helpful to his people, with the dramatic irony in the background that he himself has brought the plague on them through his unwitting murder of their king many years ago; also, ironically, Oedipus will not be able to help himself, as he forges ahead in his project of attempting to help his people; (2) Oedipus encourages a pride, a lack of slavishness in others, like the priest; this pride is a projection of Oedipus' own, lying behind what happened on the road with Laius (the moral is always report serious traffic accidents to the police and insurance company, and never leave the scene of an accident), as well as Oedipus' not swerving from his project of investigating the murder, though repeatedly warned to do so; (3) Oedipus, ironically, will not be able to stand, unaided, on his own two feet at the end of the play, through the culmination of several of the play's plot elements; and (4) Oedipus' own name means "swellfoot," and the actor portraying the character may walk with a limp; this partial handicap happened as a result of something in Oedipus' infancy, which Oedipus is as yet unaware of: the name and the limp have multiple meanings -- partial ignorance of his own identity, his own personal enactment of the Sphinx's riddle of what walks on four feet in the morning, two feet in the afternoon, and three feet in the evening. (G1c) What language of action is demanded by the script, the text of the play, in what the Priest says in lines 27-31? How does this particular action, demanded of the actor playing the Priest, help suggest some facet of the Priest's character as well as about the magnitude of the problem the Priest is concerned with?
G1-1. Grammar and the Language of Action; Grammar and the Interconnection of the "Languages" of Action and Props or Setting
Instinctively or intuitively, true dramatists or playwrights are drawn to use certain grammatical constructions like "the demonstrative pronoun"--this, that, these, those--or "relative adverb"--here, there--which evoke action on stage; in other words, grammar in the text that requires an actor's motion or gesture. (G1-1a) The demonstrative pronoun, whose grammatical function is the pointing to something in a sentence, virtually makes or forces an experienced actor or actress to point or gesture to something physical on stage. For example, when Creon begins his communication with Oedipus by saying "If you want my report in the presence of these people"(line 103), it's the demonstrative pronoun that tips off the translator that a stage direction can be added, not in the original Greek: "Pointing to the Priests, while drawing Oedipus toward the palace." What does Creon's gesture help reveal about him? His pointing gesture helps signal an "us versus them" mentality of some politicians and administrators, who don't want the public involved, at least at a certain point, in the decision-making. Oedipus, in contrast, is all for revealing everything: something both laudable and tragic in his own case. (G1-1b) Sophocles' use of the relative adverb parallels his artful use of the demonstrative pronoun in the opening scenes of the play, as well as throughout. For example, the Priest's repeated here in lines 18 and 20 causes the language of action (the gesture mandated for the actor playing the Priest) with actors (members of the Chorus) who have become part of the setting: all suggesting the panoply of people suffering from the plague ravaging Thebes. The adverb around in line 28 works similarly.
G2. The "Language" of Setting The "language" of setting is not simply a character's reference to a place or detail of a place, unless that place or detail of place must be embodied onstage and seen by the audience. Besides a great deal of trouble and potentially expense (details of set and also props must be borrowed, rented, purchased, or constructed for the drama, whereas they can merely be verbally referred to in fiction, poetry, or nonfiction), the "language" of setting can be extremely important, since the setting remains in view of the audience for an entire scene, act, or perhaps the whole play. Though the audience may not be paying attention to details or aspects of the set, nevertheless they are seeing them all the time, and these details and their potential meaning or symbolism are registering on the audience's subconscious (perhaps conscious, for the more literarily experienced) for the whole scene, act, or play. As with its use in television advertising (e.g., the fancy restaurant and glamorous nighttime setting, including people in evening dress, all surrounding the automobile being promoted), the "language" of setting in drama, may have a powerful subliminal thematic symbolism. See the figures or illustrations in the art textbook for the course -- for what the Greek theater evolved into, including any overhead diagrams of its parts. From its front view, it probably looked something like the following:
The theater was huge, seating up to 20,000 people (a large Broadway theater seats about 3,000), which necessitated good stone acoustics from sound bouncing off the skene and the stone seats of the audience, as well as certain features of the actors' costumes. The actors wore buskins, an ancient forerunner of what in the 1970's would be called "platform shoes," which helped not only to make the characters being portrayed appear larger than life, befitting their importance in myth and legend, but also helped project their voices to the huge audience (no electronic amplification systems, no Madonna or Janet Jackson body mikes yet). Also, the actors wore large hollow masks that helped identify to the huge audience who each character was, magnify the size of the actor to befit the larger-than-life character or story being portrayed, helped actors "double" roles (play more than one part, by change of costume and mask), and also amplify the actor's voice like the megaphone of bygone days (cheerleaders, Rudy Vallee).
Aspects of setting in the ancient Greek drama are held to a minimum, usually involving, for purposes of plot and symbolism, one or two altars, placed in the orchestra area or on the skene or both; the three steps leading up from the orchestra to the raised level of the skene or main backdrop (what Fagles calls the "facade"); a central door in the skene (or "facade"); two pillars (or more) on either side of the skene; and the roof of the skene or "facade." In Aeschylus' play Agamemnon (included in the full not shorter edition of NAWL), spectacular and thematic uses are made of the three steps up to the proskene, as well as the eccyclema (or ekkyklema), a sort of little trolley rolled out of the central door to reveal the results of a murder (always carried out offstage in ancient Greek drama). In lines 1395 and following in the Fagles translation (in NAWL), the central door or curtain would have been opened to roll out what was supposed to be the dead body of the murdered Agamemnon (remember how the Agamemnon story crops up several times in Homer's Odyssey?): sort of the misguided pride of the murderers, Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus at what they've done ("heeere's Johnny!"). A drawing of how the eccyclema (or ekkyklema) might have looked is as follows:
Likewise, Aegisthus' pride is amplified by where he stands when he utters his reply to the recrimination of the Chorus for his adulterous and murderous affair with Clytaemnestra (lines 1647 and following in the Fagles translation): "You say! you slaves at the oars -- / while the master of the benches cracks the whip" (1653-54). He is talking down to the chorus not only in tone and imagery but literally by where he is standing relative to them in the ancient Greek theater (the top step of course, while the Chorus is in the "orchestra" area):
An actor could stand atop the skene to indicate elevation (see the illustration above), as in the opening of Aeschylus' play Agamemnon (included in the full not shorter edition of NAWL), in which a watchman opens the play, complaining (in the translation of Robert Fagles) of "the long watch I keep, one whole year awake . . . / propped on my arms, crouched on the roofs of Atreus/ like a dog" (lines 2-4). Euripides in his play Medea (included in NAWL), a forerunner of the movie Fatal Attraction, makes spectacular and thematic use of the skene and mechane (literally, a "machine": a kind of crane used for special aerial effects, like gods or goddesses ascending or descending, or dragon-drawn chariots ascending or descending). Medea's first several speeches (lines 96-165 in the Fagles translation) in the play are uttered from inside the skene, amplifying her cries as well as suggesting helplessness (the audience's and Medea's, through being separated and bound up or held captive) and the idea of internalizing (Medea has been and will be secretive and sneaky in what she does). At the end of the play, she talks down to her husband, who has been unfaithful to her and attempted to abandon her (something that could only happen in ancient times and ancient literary works, literature, as all non-English majors knowing, having no relevance or reference to real life), both in her language and her literal physical position onstage: she's in a dragon-drawn chariot (supplied by her grandfather, Helios, the sun god) about to make her escape after committing a couple of murders (okay, four murders) aimed at hurting her persecutors, especially her faithless, opportunistic husband (a character who could only happen in ancient times and ancient literary works . . . ). How the mechane would have functioned is illustrated by the following:
(G2a) Fagles derives his initial stage directions about suppliants' hovering around the main altar (which could be either in the orchestra area or on the raised platform stage of the skene) from lines 2, 18, 40, etc.: a repeated reference in the language of the drama (both a text and a script) that has the actors interacting (in more than one sense of the word) with this facet of setting: the altar. Why, thematically, should the audience's and reader's attention be repeatedly drawn to (Apollo's) altar? Clearly, we are supposed to continually be subliminally aware of the role of the gods -- particularly Apollo -- their oracles, and fate in the action of the play and in human life -- as all these have had their tragic bearing on Oedipus' life.
G3. The "Language" of Props A character's mere verbal reference to some physical object is not the "language" of props, unless that object must, as a consequence of the text, the script, be placed on stage. As with details of the set, props are extra trouble and expense in the drama; while the other, exclusively verbal literary genres (except for unusual writers like William Blake--who is represented later in the NAWL), can simply refer to objects (branches wound in wool, crown, staff, sword) without physically providing them, the text or script of a play may require their placement and use onstage, involving rental, borrowing, purchase, or construction of the specific items. (G3a) If a character refers to someone's crown or garland, this verbal reference isn't the "language" of props, unless the reference happens in such a way as to demand the presence of crown or garland onstage. However, when the Priest says the following words, referring to Creon's first appearance on stage, they require one of the play's props: "he's crowned, look,/ and the laurel wreath is bright with berries" (lines 94-95). What might be the meanings or facets of symbolism in this prop, other than signaling that Creon has been to Apollo's oracle for a consultation about the source of the plague troubling Thebes? The idea of a crown implies elevation, power, and, potentially, pride. Oedipus has gotten his crown, along with an attendant pride, by solving (partly--not completely, as he thinks) the Sphinx's riddle and by his elevation to the kingship. But this pride will help lead to his downfall, which will result in a new king--the very Creon who now enters with this crown. Furthermore, Creon's crown probably is in the back of the mind of Oedipus when Oedipus later accuses Teiresias and Creon of political conspiracy; how would the subconscious thought process work, with reference to this prop and the later accusations?
G4. Music and Sound Effects Music and sound effects are acoustic trouble in the drama, insofar as the text of a play, a script, requires their actual implementation (versus mere verbal references to them in the exclusively verbal literary genres). Not only do these components have to be physically produced, but, as with props and set, they increase the possibility of errors or mishaps in actual stage productions (e.g., a missed cue for the music or sound effect). Aristotle in his treatise The Poetics (partially reprinted in NAWL ) refers to them in the Greek drama, and they have been used subsequently in drama and in film. For example, John Williams, following the lead of classical composer Richard Wagner, composed specific melodic motifs for each of the characters in the Star Wars movies, and each time the character appears or is mentioned (as in Wagner's Ring of the Nibelungs) the melody is heard in the soundtrack. (G4a) A wonderful combination of sound effect and the language of setting can be found in Euripides' tragedy Medea, in which we hear the title character's sobs and sorrowful speech from inside the skene, before we ever see her. Euripides manages to convey the ideas of helplessness (we hear the sorrow but feel extra-distanced by not seeing the source of the sound) and internalization (Medea's emotions are driven inside, and she will become secretive in the play) through both sound effect and setting. (G4b) Almost certainly the choruses in Greek tragedy, such as the first one in Oedipus, in lines 165-244, were danced, as well as chanted or sung, possibly to some form of music. How could these auditory elements be made expressive to match or convey the content of, say, the first chorus in lines 165-244?
G5. Dramatic Irony A special kind of irony is used by playwrights in the drama: dramatic irony. When a character onstage says something that another character onstage or other characters onstage or the audience knows to be only partly true or quite wrong, the playwright is using dramatic irony to bring out ideas, or facets of a character's personality. No play has more dramatic ironies in it than Oedipus the King. For example, in the opening of the play (with a combination of the language of action, as well as verbal speech), when Oedipus declares "Here I am myself--/ you all know me" (lines 7-8), we sense not only some pride, but also irony, for in fact, with two exceptions, no one in the play knows who Oedipus really is, including Oedipus--an ignorance that has produced and continues to produce terrible consequences. A little later, when Oedipus says that he'll pursue the murderer of Laius even if the trail leads into Oedipus's own household (lines 280-87), the audience and reader wince, knowing that the trail will lead not just into Oedipus's household but to Oedipus himself. Oedipus wrecks (Rex) himself. Such dramatic irony is used by Sophocles throughout the opening lines and throughout the play. Where else?
G6. (G6a) Because his translation is mostly in blank verse, Fagles makes use of the convention of the echeloned line, in which part of the same line of poetry is echeloned, as in line 9 ("I am Oedipus" plus "Speak up, old man. Your years"), to indicate verse paragraph units, or division of a line of poetry between two or more speakers. (G6b) Rapid interchange of dialogue between two speakers, in single lines or small groups of lines, has the technical name in ancient Greek drama of stichomythia. It often indicates, dramatically and poetically, argument or debate.
G7. (G7a) Oedipus the King in Art Besides ancient Greek vase painting (Oedipus conversing with the Sphinx is an especially popular subject), Sophocles' Oedipus the King (in other translations, Oedipus Rex, Oedipus Tyrannos, King Oedipus, etc.) has been rendered by later artists, including J[ean] A[uguste] D[ominique] Ingres (1780-1867), Gustav Moreau (1826-1898), and Francis Bacon (1910- ): e.g., Oedipus and the Sphinx (1826), painting by J.A.D. Ingres; Oedipus and the Sphinx (1864), painting by G. Moreau; Oedipus and Antigone or The Plague of Thebes by Charles Francois Jatabeat; and a modern painting by contemporary British artist Francis Bacon, inspired by the Ingres painting of 1826. For a view of a red-painted Greek vase version of the subject, click here ; for a second ancient Greek vase version of the subject, click here; for a third ancient Greek vase version of the subject, click here. For the Moreau painting, click here or click here or click here. For the Ingres, painting click here. For the Bacon painting, click here. (G7b) Oedipus the King in Music The play has been put into musical terms by Tom Lehrer (popular music, comedy), and in art music by Ruggiero Leoncavallo (1858-1919), in Oedipo Re (1920; posthumous production); Igor Stravinsky, Oedipus Rex (1927); Georeges Enesco, Oedipus (1936; music drama); and Carl Orff, Oedipus the Tyrant (1959; tragedy with music).
G8. Various Translations of Sophocles' Oedipus the King
Sophocles' play has been translated at least a score of
times, as indicated by the following table (ordered by date of the first
publishing of the English translation), which show the variety of titles
(based on the ancient Greek title, which is, in English transliteration,
Oidipous Tyrannos; the Greek word tyrannos, from which the
English word tyrant is derived, meant primarily just what our word
king means today):
Differences in translations in just the very opening of the play, affecting the interpretation of the lines, can be seen in the last part of these Notes and Questions, following the section "General Questions." The translators have had to deal with several difficult issues -- including the reference to Cadmus (Kadmos, in closer English transliteration to the original ancient Greek) -- and have chosen various options (e.g., inserting explanation into the translation, omitting details). The play in the original ancient Greek is in unrhymed verse, but is translated in prose as well as verse in the various English translations.
S1. What might be the multiple meanings or symbolism, some of them ironic and unwitting, in Oedipus' repeated initial address to his people as his "children"?
S2. Robert Fagles, along with some other
translators, deletes some specific details of the original text, broadening them
or paraphrasing them or abridging them. One such detail is the repeated
reference to Cadmus (or Kadmos) , which can be found initially in the opening
speeches of the play (see the translation excerpts in the section below, "A
Conspectus of Various Translations"). The name Cadmus, indeed, is the
third word of the play in the original Greek: O tekna, Kadmou tou
palai nea trophe. (2a) Cadmus or Kadmos
(sometimes the adjective "Cadmean" or "Kadmean" is used by
the original Greek text, and sometimes the translations) is the paternal
great-great grandfather of Oedipus (though Oedipus is unaware of this fact).
(See the handy family charts in Gould, p. 48; and Meineck & Woodruff, p.
xxxiii.) Libya (granddaughter of Zeus and Io) and Poseidon had the son
Agenor; Agenor had the son Cadmus; Cadmus and his wife, Harmonia, had the son
Polydorus; Polydorus had the son Labdacus; Labdacus had the son Laius; and Laius
had the son Oedipus. How does this detail contribute one of the numerous
dramatic ironies in the play? (2b) Semele, one of the two daughters of
Cadmus and Harmonia, with Zeus, had the son Dionysus (sometimes called Bacchus).
How does this fact bear (in more than one sense of the word "bear") on
the play, including any explicit reference to Dionysus or Bacchus in the play? (2c)
Cadmus founded Thebes. He was directed to follow a cow and settle where it would
lie down; he did so, after a long wandering. On the spot, prior to building the
city, he wanted to make a sacrifice to Athena. Several of his men sent to fetch
water for the rite from a nearby spring did not return, and when Cadmus
investigated, he found a dragon or serpent feasting on the bodies of Cadmus'
men. Cadmus killed the snake with a stone, unaware that it was the guardian of a
spring sacred to Ares, and Cadmus was threatened with being transformed into a
snake himself; however, Athena appeared and directed Cadmus to draw the dragon's
teeth and sow half of them (she reserved the other half for herself). Cadmus had
no sooner plowed the teeth into the ground when armed men began springing up
(called "Sparti," meaning "sown-men"). They immediately
began to fight one another -- in some versions of the tale, because Cadmus was
instructed to fling a stone among them. The battle claimed the lives of all but
five of the fighters, who made peace with one another and Cadmus. All then
participated in the founding of Thebes. How might the following ideas or
concepts in the story of Cadmus (his name so often referred to in the play) be
implied, and how might any of them have any thematic application in the
play: (2c1) sowing and reaping, consequences; (2c2) aggression, violence,
and killing; (2c3) irrationality or anger; (2c4) the role of the gods?
The Family Tree of Oedipus (Two More Marriage Lines Need to Be Drawn: One Between Laius & Jocasta, and One Between Oedipus & Jocasta)
A Simplified Version of the Oedipus Family Tree:
S3. How do references to parentage and lineage form a motif in the play, and relate to or help express what themes or ideas?
S4. (a) How do repeated references to seeing/blindness and light/dark form motifs in the play, expressing what themes or ideas? (b) How do repeated references to foot or feet form a motif in the play, expressing what themes or ideas?
S5. Throughout lines 114-42 there is a repeated discrepancy or discordance between the use of the plural by people reporting the crime against Laius, and Oedipus's use of the singular. How is Sophocles suggesting something about Oedipus's subconscious knowledge through this discrepancy? (Cf. lines 931-36.)
S6. How is Oedipus's criticism of the Thebans' failure to pursue what happened to Laius (lines 145-47, 291-94) unwittingly applicable to Oedipus himself, given an earlier traffic accident (precursor of L.A. freeway shootings) he's been involved in himself?
S7. What other major literary work that you know features Teiresias (lines 322-526) as a major character, and what might account for the popularity of this figure?
S8. How do Oedipus's charges against Teiresias and Creon (lines 406-39, 454-59, 573-750) suggest what happens to the chief executive of a state -- or city-state (Oedipus; some Presidents of the United States) -- through wielding power?
S9. How does Oedipus's interchange with Teiresias (lines 322-526) exemplify the ancient Greek dramatic device of stichomythia, and what does this device help convey about Oedipus and people in like social or political or psychological situations?
S10. While Oedipus exults in having solved the riddle of the Sphinx (part of which is don't bet on the latter in a heavyweight boxing title bout, as the gap in his front teeth should have warned), how is his partial failure, by not seeing how the riddle applies to him personally, suggested in lines 500-24 and the end of the play (especially lines 1550-1684)?
S11. What might be the symbolism of a climactic event in Oedipus' life -- a serious traffic accident, probably the first (literarily) recorded occurrence of "road rage" -- occurring in the particular place it does (lines 881-98)? What might be the symbolism, that is, of the place itself?
S12. Why did Sigmund Freud find lines 1073-76 of this play very interesting?
S13. What might be the symbolism of the particular
details involved in (a) Jocasta's suicide and (b) Oedipus' self-chastisement
G1. Many of the components noted by Professor Walter Evans (and others) in connection with the Archaic or Geometric periods in ancient Greece will also apply to the literature, art, and music of the Classical period, represented in literature by Sophocles' Oedipus the King. How might the following be found in the Sophocles play, as well as examples of art and music brought up in this unit of the course: (a) warrior focus or aristocratic values; (b) individualism; (c) determinism, discipline, rigid patterns; (d) attention to funeral rites or death?
G2. How might the following components noted by Professor Walter Evans (and others) in connection with the Classical period in ancient Greece apply to the literature (represented by Sophocles' Oedipus the King), as well as examples of art and music brought up in this unit of the course: (a) clarity and simplicity (or restraint) of structure; (b) rationality; (c) focus on human beings, this world; (d) idealism; (e) innovation (some struggle against or adaptation of tradition)?
A Conspectus of Various Translations, Organized by
Date, of Sophocles' Oedipus the King
|R.C. Jebb, 1904; dean of late nineteenth-century translators of the ancient Greek drama; the translation is in prose||Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald, 1939-1949; both great translators of ancient Greek literature; the translation is in verse; Fitzgerald's translation of Homer's Odyssey has become a standard|
|OEDIPUS. My children, latest-born to
Cadmus who was of old, why are you set before me thus with wreathed branches
of suppliants, while the city reeks with incense, rings with prayers for
health and cries of woe? I deemed it unmeet, my children, to hear these
things at the mouth of others, and have come here myself, I, Oedipus, renowned
Tell me then, venerable man, since it is your natural part to speak for these others, in what mood are you placed here, with what dread or what desire? Be sure that I would gladly give all aid; I should be hard of heart if I did not pity such suppliants as these.
My children, generations of the living
In the line of Kadmos, nursed at his ancient hearth:
Why have you strewn yourselves before these altars
In supplication, with your boughs and garlands?
The breath of incense rises from the city
With a sound of prayer and lamentation.
I would not have you speak through messengers,
And therefore I have come myself to hear you --
I, Oedipus, who bear the famous name.
You, there [to a priest], since you are eldest in the company,
Speak for them all, tell me what preys upon you,
Whether you come in dread, or crave some blessing;
Tell me, and never doubt that I will help you
In every way I can; I should be heartless
Were I not moved to find you suppliant here.
|David Grene translation, 1942||E.F. Watling translation, 1947|
Children, young sons and daughters of old Cadmus,
why do you sit here with your suppliant crowns?
The town is heavy with a mingled burden
of sounds and smells, of groans and hymns and incense;
I did not think it fit that I should hear
of this from messengers but came myself, --
I Oedipus whom all men call the Great.
[He turns to the Priest.]
You're old and they are young; come, speak for them.
What do you fear or want, that you sit here
suppliant? Indeed I'm willing to give all
that you may need; I would be very hard
should I not pity suppliants like these.
Children, new blood of Cadmus' ancient line --
What is the meaning of this supplication,
These branches and garlands, the incense filling the city,
These prayers for the healing of pain, these lamentations?
I have not thought it fit to rely on my messengers,
But am here to learn for myself -- I, Oedipus,
Whose name is known afar.
[To the Priest:] You, reverend sir,
In right of age should speak for all of them.
What is the matter? Some fear? Something you desire?
I would willingly do anything to help you;
Indeed I should be heartless, were I to stop my ears
To a general petition such as this.
|Albert Cook translation, 1948 and 1957||Peter Arnott, 1950|
O children, last born stock of ancient Cadmus,
What petitions are these you bring to me
With garlands on your suppliant olive branches?
The whole city teems with incense fumes,
Teems with prayers for healing and with groans.
Thinking it best, children, to hear all this
Not from some messenger, I came myself,
The world renowned and glorious Oedipus.
But tell me, aged priest, since you are fit
To speak before these men, how stand you here,
In fear or want? Tell me, as I desire
To do my all; hard hearted I would be
To feel no sympathy for such a prayer.
My children, in whom old Cadmus is reborn,
Why have you come with wreathed boughs in your hands
To sit before me as petitioners?
The town is full of smoke from altar fires
And voices crying, and appeals to heaven.
I thought it, children, less than just to hear
Your cause at second-hand, but come in person --
I, Oedipus, a name that all men know.
Speak up, old man; for you are qualified
To be their spokesman. What is in your minds?
Are you afraid? In need? Be sure I am ready
to do all I can. I should truly be hard-hearted
To have no pity on such prayers as these.
|Theodore Banks translation, 1956||Paul Roche translation, 1958|
Why are you here as suppliants, my children,
You in whose veins the blood of Cadmus flows?
What is the reason for your boughs of olive,
The fumes of incense, the laments and prayers
That fill the citiy? Because I thought it wrong,
My children, to depend on what was told me,
I have come to you myself, I, Oedipus,
Renowned in the sight of all. [to Priest:] Tell me -- you are
Their natural spokesman -- what desire or fear
Brings you before me? I will gladly give you
Such help as is in my power. It would be heartless
Not to take pity on a plea like this.
Children, children! Scions of the ancient Cadmean line!
What is the meaning of this thronging round my feet --
this holding out of olive boughs all wreathed in woe?
The city droops with elegiac sound
and hymns with palls of incense hang.
I come to see it with my eyes, no messenger's.
Yes, I whom men call Oedipus the Great.
[He turns to the Priest]
Speak, Elder, you are senior here.
Say what this pleading means,
what frightens you, what you beseech.
There's not a thing I could coldbloodedly
refuse petitioners so pitiful.
|Bernard Knox translation, 1959||Kenneth Cavander, 1962|
My sons! Newest generation of this ancient city of Thebes! Why are you here? Why are you seated there at the altar, with these branches of supplication?
The city is filled with the smoke of burning incense, with hymns to the healing god, with laments for the dead. I did not think it right, my children, to hear reports of this from others. Here I am, myself, world-famous Oedipus.
You, old man, speak up -- you are the man to speak for the others. IN what mood are you sitting there -- in fear or resignation? You may count on me; I am ready to do anything to help. I would be insensitive to pain, if I felt no pity for my people seated here.
My children, why do you crowd and wait at my altars?
Olive branches . . . and wreathes of sacred flowers --
Why do you bring these, my people of Thebes?
Are heavy with incense, solemn with prayers for healing,
And when I heard your voices, I would not let
My messengers tell me what you said. I came
To be your messenger myself, Oedipus, whose name
Is greatest known and greatest feared.
[To Priest:] Will you tell me, then? You have dignity enough
To speak for them all -- is it fear that makes you kneel
Before me, or do you need my help? I am ready,
Whatever you ask will be done . . . Come, I am not cold
Or dead to feeling -- I will have pity on you.
|H.D. Kitto, 1962||Luci Berkowitz and Theodore Brunner, 1970|
My children, latest brood of ancient Cadmus,
What purpose brings you here, a multitude
Bearing the boughs that mark the suppliant?
Why is our air so full of frankincense,
So full of hymns and prayers and lamentations?
This, children, was no matter to entrust
To others: therefore I myself am come
Whose fame is known to all -- I, Oedipus.
-- You, Sir, are pointed out by length of years
To be the spokesman: tell me, what is in
Your hearts? What fear? What sorrow? Count on all
That I can do, for I am not so hard
As not to pity such a supplication.
What is it, children, sons of the ancient house of Cadmus? Why do you sit as suppliants crowned with laurel branches? What is the meaning of the incense which fills the city? The pleas to end pain? The cries of sorrow? I chose not to hear it from my messengers, but came myself -- I came, Oedipus, Oedipus, whose name is known to all. You, old one -- age gives you the right to speak for all of them -- you tell me why they sit before my altar. Has something frightened you? What brings you here? Some need? Some want? I'll help you all I can. I would be cruel did I not greet you with compassion when you are gathered here before me.
|Thomas Gould, 1970||Robert Fagles, 1977, 1979|
My children, ancient Cadmus' newest care,
why have you hurried to those seats, your boughs
wound with the emblems of the suppliant?
The city is weighed down with fragrant smoke,
with hymns to the Healer and the cries of mourners.
I thought it wrong, my sons, to hear your words
through emissaries, and have come out myself,
I, Oedipus, a name that all men know.
Old man -- for it is fitting that you speak
for all -- what is your mood as you entreat me,
fear or trust? You may be confident
that I'll do anything. How hard of heart
if an appeal like this did not rouse my pity!
Oh my children, the new blood of ancient Thebes,
why are you here? Huddling at my altar,
praying before me, your branches wound in wool.
Our city reeks with the smoke of burning incense,
rings with cries for the Healer and wailing for the dead.
I thought it wrong, my children, to hear the truth
from others, messengers. Here I am myself --
You all know me, the world knows my fame:
I am Oedipus.
[Helping a Priest to his feet:] Speak up, old man. Your years,
your dignity -- you should speak for the others.
Why here and kneeling, what preys upon you so?
Some sudden fear? some strong desire?
You can trust me. I am ready to help,
I'll do anything. I would be blind to misery
not to pity my people kneeling at my feet.
|Stephen Berg and Diskin Clay, 1978||Don Taylor, 1986|
why are you here, why
are you holding those branches tied with wool,
begging me for help? Children,
the whole city smolders with incense.
Wherever I go I hear sobbing, praying. Groans fill the air.
Rumors, news from messengers, they are not enough for me.
Others cannot tell me what you need.
I am king, I had to come. As king,
I had to know. Know for myself, know for me.
Everybody everywhere knows who I am: Oedipus. King.
Priest of Zeus, we respect your age, your high office.
Why are you kneeling? Are you afraid, old man?
What can I give you?
How can I help? Ask.
Ask me anything. Anything at all.
My heart would be a stone
if I felt no pity for these poor shattered people of mine
kneeling here, at my feet.
My children. You are the modern descendants
Of King Cadmus, who founded our city.
Why do you come here with these laurel branches,
Ritually dressed, and all the sings
Of desperate people begging for help?
In the city I hear prayers for the sick,
And the sound of weeping. The air is heavy
With incense and tears. What more do you want?
I can't rely on second-hand reports,
I have come to find out for myself.
I am Oedipus the king. Everyone knows my name.
You, sir, you are a priest,
A man old enough to be wise
And entitled to speak first. A sudden panic
Is it, or a demand for action?
Anything I can do, I will do, of course.
I would have to be a man without feeling
To close my eyes and stop my ears
To a petition from everyone, such as this.
|Paul Roche, 1991||Hugh Lloyd-Jones, 1994|
My children, scions of the ancient Cadmean line,
what is the meaning of this thronging round my feet,
this holding out of olive boughs all wreathed in woe?
The city droops with elegaic sound
and hymns with palls of incense hang.
I come to see it with my eyes, no messenger's.
Yes, I whom men call Oedipus the Great.
[He turns to the Priest:]
Speak, Elder, you are senior here.
Say what this pleading means,
what frightens you, what you beseech.
Coldblooded would I be, to be unmoved
by petitioners so pitiful.
Children, latest to be reared from the stock of Cadmus, why do you sit like this before me, with boughs of supplication wreathed with chaplets? and why is the city filled at the same time with incense, and with the sound of paeans and lamentations? Thinking it wrong to hear this from the report of others, my children, I have come myself, I who am called Oedipus, renowned to all.
Come, aged man, tell me, since it is fitting you should speak for these, what is your state, one of fear or one of longing? Know that I am willing to render every kind of aid; I would be hard of heart if I felt no pity at such a supplication.
|Peter Meineck and Paul Woodruff translation, 2000||Ian Johnston, 2007|
My children, new nurtured by old Thebes,
Why have you come here pleading,
Wearing wreaths and clutching boughs?
The city burns with pungent spice.
Healing hymns echo the sounds of suffering.
To have heard such news from others
Would not have been right.
My children, I am here, famous Oedipus.
[Oedipus addresses an elderly priest:]
Old man, it is your duty to speak for all.
Why are you kneeling in supplication --
What do you fear, what do you want?
I will help. Only a heartless man could bear
To see such sorrow and not feel pity.