Mary Whitlock Blundell, Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus. Translated with Introduction, Notes and Interpretive Essay. Focus Classical Library. Newburyport, MA: Focus Information Group, Inc, 1990. Pp. x, 108. ISBN 0-941051-09-9.
Reviewed by Peter Burian, Duke University.
There is more than one useful and legitimate way to translate a Greek tragedy (or almost any other important literary text) into English. Mary Whitlock Blundell's version of the OC is aimed primarily at students and teachers who want closeness to what she call the "poetry of meaning" of the Greek text. This commits her to rendering key words consistently and to respecting such elements of the original as idiom, metaphor, sentence structure, and thought patterns. It does not entail an attempt to produce an English mirror for the verbal grandeur of Sophocles, or even smooth, forceful English prose.
Blundell's volume, like others in the Focus Classical Library, is designed to help the serious but classically uninitiated reader. The translation is accompanied by explanatory notes that presume almost no background but do not patronize and contain many shrewd observations. The Introduction, devoted to Sophocles, Greek theater and performance, hero cult, and the Oedipus myth, is a marvel of judicious compression. The volume concludes with an Interpretation based in large part on Blundell's stimulating book Helping Friends and Harming Enemies (Cambridge 1989). Altogether, Blundell's interest in the ethical issues in Sophoclean tragedy informs the notes and interpretation. There are maps and a brief bibliography well suited to the target audience.
The translation itself is a model of honesty, but its language is often of a kind used only in translation, and in place after place where the reader of Greek hoped for some hint of Sophoclean eloquence, fidelity to the letter yields awkward or simply prosaic expression. For this reason, I do not think I would assign Blundell's OC in my survey of ancient drama in translation, but I can certainly imagine using it in a course on Greek religion, where its accuracy and the accompanying explanatory material would be welcome indeed.