Poppies

PITY & TERROR

The Tetralogies of Aeschylus

Translated, Reconstructed and Re-imagined by Andrew Wilson

 

The Oedipus Tetralogy (Oidipodeia)

Production date 467 BC

Seven Against Thebes

Laios reconstructed

Oidipous reconstructed

Seven against Thebes by Aeschylus

Sphinx imagined

Can there be a coherent and successful state, if a ruler's primary loyalty is to his family? How a family that put its own interests first, against the advice of the gods, destroys itself - to the ultimate benefit of the state.

"A tetralogy about obedience, monarchy, marriage, family, fate and an inherited curse."

More details and discussion here

 

 

The Danaid Tetralogy

Produced between 466 and 459 BC

The Asylum Seekers

The Suppliants by Aeschylus

The Egyptians reconstructed

The Danaids reconstructed

Amymone imagined

Is it more important to obey authority - one's father, Zeus - or to obey one's feelings? Women asylum seekers commit mass murder to avoid sex - is there a defence when thy're brought to trial?

"A tetralogy about refugees, sex, race, war and corrupt leadership - and love"

More details and discussion here

 

The Orestes Tetralogy (Oresteia)

Produced 458 BC

Clytemnestra Syracuse

Agamemnon uploaded 12 August 2022

Choephoroi uploaded 15 January 2023

Eumenides

Proteus

The Oresteia is the only complete trilogy which survives; the fourth play of the tetralogy, the satyr-play Proteus is missing. The are innumerable translations of the Oresteian trilogy - though I am currently working on my addition to the pile - updates will be posted from time to time. My intention is eventually to complete the tetralogy with a re-imagined Proteus.

 

The Prometheus Tetralogy

Unknown date (and uncertain authorship - see discussion): after 475 BC and probably before 424 BC

Caucasus

Prometheus the Prisoner [Author uncertain]

Alcmena imagined

Prometheus Released reconsructed

Prometheus Bringer of Fire reconstructed

When the human race is scheduled for annihilation by Zeus, Prometheus saves his creation by giving them fire - the gateway to progress, the potential to act like gods. He is brutally punished. But was mankind worth saving? In Time Zeus mellows, grows wiser. Gods can change. He offers mankind a new deal. But will they appreciate his gift of "Justice"?

More details and discussion here.

 

About Aeschylus

Aeschylus was born (around 525 BC) when Athens was a monarchy - the democratic revolution occured when he he was still in his teens. He was already a recognised playwright by the time of the Persian invasions - he fought at Marathon in 490 and probably again at Salamis in 480. He died soon after the success of Oresteia, when Pericles' influence was on the rise (in 457/6).

He wrote 90 plays, of which we know the titles of 70 - and with 52 of those he won the first prize at the Great Dionysia. Most of his plays were produced as tetralogies, four plays with a linked theme: a trilogy of tragedies followed by a farcical satyr-play. His satyr-plays were famous - but nothing survives to show us why. But to me it seems clear that as a writer he could be funny and rude as well as deeply emotional. He also acted as a choregos (producer/financier) - his confident use of the full resources of the theatre of his day is clear. He exploited the spectacular - the invasion of the Danaids' sanctuary by a horde of savage Egyptians (Suppliants), the laying of the purple "carpet" in Agamemnon ...

I've translated the surviving plays, line-for-line to maintain pace, using blank verse for iambics (the shorter line in English helps to convey the often compressed language of the Greek), kept to a four-foot anapaestic line in step with the original, and translated the choral/lyric passages keeping as far as possible to the original metre, substituting stress for macra. The subtly evolving and syncopating rhythms of Aeschylus' songs are a vital feature.

About me!

Seventy-one years ago I was transported - like a nineteen-fifties Harry Potter - from my dull but respectable South London suburban elementary school to a large and thriving Public School (as they were called back then). No magic, just the 11plus! The magic came a year Later, when I was chosen (against my will, embarrassingly) to study Greek, with Philip Vellacott of Penguin Classics fame. The magic of Greek advanced me to a scholarship to Cambridge, a forty-year career in teaching Greek and Latin, and, in retirement, - to celebrate my successor in the upward mobility stakes - to translating Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone into Ancient Greek (Bloomsbury Press 2004).

Translating Greek drama has preoccupied me for many years. I've seen productions in Greek or translation whenever I could - from Bradfield to Syracuse, from Epidaurus to Greenwich, from backstreet pubs to the National Theatre. Everywhere I was haunted by the words of T S Eliot on Gilbert Murray , who had "simply interposed between Euripides and ourselves a barrier more impenetrable than the Greek language." Barriers sometimes erected by producers - but more usually by translators: the Greek so clean and simple, the English so... not.

To vault this barrier: the translator's challenge.

By insisting on going line-for-line, in blank verse, I have , I hope, made it impossible to use "two words where the Greek language requires one". Drama can obviously be "poetic", but drama is not poetry - to work, its language must be instant, clear and straightforward when spoken by an actor to an audience (obviously this could apply to poetry, but it does not define the nature of poetry). Had Aeschylus'work not captivated his audiences , I doubt he would have scooped those 52 first prizes - all the tetralogies featured here did. Aeschylus' reputation is still contaminated by Aristophanes' parodies: he's assumed to be pompous, archaic and obscure. He's none of these things, as I hope my translations may reveal.