BMCR 2001.01.04

Euripides: Bacchae

, , Bacchae. Βάκχαι.. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co, 1998. xlvi, 82 pages ; 22 cm. ISBN 0872203921 $5.95.

Woodruff’s new edition brings the number of available and soon forthcoming English translations of the Bacchae to about two dozen. To situate Woodruff in this glutted market, I will discuss his new edition—his translation in ‘Part 1’ of this review, his introduction and supporting material in ‘Part 2’—with some reference to rival editions. In ‘Part 3’ of this review, I have compiled an annotated list of 22 other translations of the play, including 15 published in the past decade and some older editions still in print. Throughout this review, editions from the annotated list are referred to by asterisk plus translator’s name, e.g., *Arrowsmith. In comparing lines from Woodruff’s translation to those of a rival, I do not intend to suggest that the two versions will compare throughout as they do for the particular lines under consideration. Indeed, in no way does this review aim to conduct an exhaustive comparison. It attempts only to describe each recipe briefly and to give a spoonful of each dish in the unusually diverse potluck of available translations. In addition to a short description and assessment of each edition, the annotated list also reproduces lines 1-5 and 877-881 so that readers can compare something from them according to their own preferences. I offer my own assessment of the lot at the beginning of ‘Part 3’.

Translations differ, of course, according to whether they aim at a literal rendering, for careful study of the text and the thought of the playwright, a dramaturgic rendering, for the practice and study of performance, or a poetic rendering, for the crafting of verses intended to approach the beauty of the original, free from the constraints of the text’s most literal meaning. Woodruff’s translation aims at all three,1 though his highest priority is to support careful study. His edition is “intended primarily for classroom use”(vii) and aims “first of all at being clear and true to the basic meaning of the text.”(vii) Clarity and faithfulness to Euripides’ “basic meaning,” then, will be the standards by which the translation is assessed. The edition as a whole will be considered according to its suitability for use by undergraduates who do not have a background in classical languages and literature.

Part 1: Woodruff’s translation

At line 10 (Woodruff gives the Greek line numbers in his margin) Dionysus praises the recognition Cadmus has shown to Semele with the words αἰνῶ δὲ Κάδμον, ἄβατον ὃς πέδον τόδε . Woodruff translates “Cadmus, now, he’s done well, / to keep this ground off limits, sacred to his daughter.” These lines exemplify the way Woodruff pursues his aim of rendering Euripides’ ‘basic meaning’. Frequently Woodruff foregoes literal translation in search of a similar expression in modern idiom. One might compare this with the less inventive lines of *Rudall, who gives: “Cadmus I praise—for he has made this ground / sacrosanct, a shrine for his daughter”. This renders αἰνῶ and σηκόν more directly, though Woodruff’s “off limits” for ἄβατον effectively renders a word that others have found unwieldy.

Woodruff very finely and suggestively renders the nuances of κτυπεῖτε in Dionysus’ introduction of the chorus: αἴρεσθε…τύπανα…βασίλεια τ’ἀμφὶ δώματ’ἐλθοῦσαι τάδε | κτυπεῖτε Πενθέως, ὡς ὁπαῖ Κάδμου πόλις. “Take up the drums (58-9) / … Surround this royal home of Pentheus, and strike. / Make the city of Cadmus take notice.” (60-1) Woodruff presents these lines in a way that makes the object of κτυπεῖτε ambiguous, heightening the suggestive nature of the banging and crashing around the house that will soon see much banging and crashing.

In the first sentence of the parodos, the chorus describes its toil on behalf of Dionysus as κάματόν τ’ εὐκάματον (67). Woodruff assigns the ‘toil’ specifically to the yahooing voices in the words immediately following, Βάκ : “I strain my voice—but it’s no strain— / shouting praise of Bacchus”. *Franklin’s chorus sings of “[w]ork that does not weary me”. Another worthy rendering is *Meagher’s “light is the labor in his service”, but this fine expression is then followed by a dreadful and textually unjustified line: “So long as he screams in the ears of my soul.”

At 117 the chorus sings of the θηλυγενὴς ὄχλος that awaits them at the mountain. Woodruff calls this “a throng of women-born”. All other translators, other than those who leave it untranslated, render θηλυγενὴς less awkwardly with ‘female’ or ‘(of) women’. The most effective translation will indicate the unusual ‘womanish’ nature of this mob (cf. Heraclidae 44 and Orestes 108 on the inappropriateness of παρθένοι before the ὄχλος, suggesting the unfeminine nature of the usual ὄχλος). In general, men of Euripides’ era seem to prefer what is θηλυγενὴς to be ‘orderly’ and ‘temperate’ ( κόσμιονσῶφρον Plato, Laws 7.802e10), hardly the defining features of an ὄχλος.

At 176 Teiresias calls to the gate to remind of the arrangement he made with Cadmus θύρσους ἀνάπτειν. Woodruff translates: “We made an agreement, he and I, to tie a thyrsus…”. No assistance is given to readers who might wonder what it means to ‘tie’ a thyrsus.

Woodruff embellishes the νεοχμὰ τήνδ’ ἀνὰ πτόλιν κακά (216) which Pentheus has heard while away from Thebes. Rather than hearing of “strange mischief” (*Arrowsmith), of “strange and evil doings” (*Epstein, *Milman), or even of an “astounding scandal” (*Vellacott), Woodruff’s Pentheus has heard that “there’s trouble in the city—a revolution!” Here again Woodruff adds to the text to suggest a mood and meaning beyond what a literal rendition can manage. Woodruff is among the translators who most substantially adorn the lines with which Pentheus makes his first impression. Two decidedly inventive editions also take noteworthy liberties with these lines. In the free and imaginative rendition of *Soyinka, Pentheus cries “I shall have order! Let the city know at once / that Pentheus is here to give back order and sanity. / To think those reports which came to be [ sic ] abroad are true!” Perhaps the most striking first impression is given by *Mahon, whose Pentheus, kicking empty wine skins strewn about, curses (“Oh, for fuck’s sake!”) before introducing the situation: “I’ve been abroad, where I heard strange reports / of scandalous goings-on…”

According to Teiresias, the popularly accepted account of Dionysus’ birth arose when the μέρος αἰθέρος which Zeus gave to Hera as ὅμηρος was instead called μηρός by mortals (287-297). Woodruff’s Teiresias explains this in English by setting up a pun between Zeus’ “showing sky” to Hera and the “sewn in thigh” of the later account: “…After a while, / people began to say he’d been ‘sewn in thigh.’ / They put ‘sewn in thigh’ for ‘showing sky’ because / they heard that Zeus fooled Hera by ‘showing sky’ to her.” This resembles, but does not do better than *Blessington’s juxtaposition of “thigh-piece” with “sky-piece” to transmit the pun. *Esposito attempts to spell things out more completely: “Breaking off a part of the sky that encircles the earth he fashioned one piece / into a dummy Dionysus. Using this as an offering of peace / Zeus palmed off the dummy as the real thing to Hera, thus pacifying / her hostility. Over time humans, changing the word sky, / have come to say that he was sewn in Zeus’ thigh.” Esposito alone presents a pun with four words, as in the original, by attempting to capture (the opposite of) νεικέων with “peace”. A “dummy Dionysus”, though, could certainly be improved upon.

Pentheus’ first command to the effeminate stranger who has just been brought before him is that the stranger declare his γένος. Diggle’s text, adopting Wakefield’s conjecture, has the stranger reply that he has no fear or hesitation to say what is easily said, οὐκ ὄκνος οὐδείς, ῤάιδιον δ’ εἰπεῖν τόδε (461). This is a suggestive line, given what Dionysus does and does not say in the lines to follow. Woodruff translates: “Right away, sir. It’s a simple story.” In this instance, Woodruff’s garnished interpretation of Euripides’ basic meaning does not serve his readers well. Among other complaints one might make about this rendition, one might note that nothing in the text justifies the word “sir”, nor is “sir” appropriate in the context of Dionysus’ far from obedient and respectful responses that follow. By contrast, when the messenger addresses Pentheus as ἄναξ in the following episode at 666, 670, and 760, “sir” is textually justified and appropriate to the character, and is so translated by Woodruff on all three occasions. Only at one place in the play— ὦ τᾶν at 802—could “sir” be a possible utterance of Dionysus to Pentheus, and so it is translated by Woodruff, as well as *Esposito, *Morwood, and *Seaford. But even there the word “sir” seems the wrong choice to convey the “condescension or impatience or urgency” of ὦ τᾶν (Wilkins on Heraclidae 321; cf. Dodds on Bacchae 802), all three of which could be at work at 802. Perhaps the apparent inappropriateness of Dionysus addressing Pentheus as ‘sir’ at any point in the action is one factor that has led most translators to render ὦ τᾶν“friend” (*Arrowsmith, *Bagg, *Epstein, *Franklin, *Hadas, *Meagher, *Milman, *Rudall, *Vellacott, *Walton, *Williams).

Immediately after the palace miracles, a still defiant Pentheus growls at the stranger for suggesting that the king’s efforts to seal off the city will not contain the god. Woodruff’s Pentheus responds: “What a wiseass you are—cunning, except where it counts.” (655: σοφὸς σοφὸς σύ, πλὴν ἃ δεῖ σ’ εἶναι σοφόν). An endnote on a previous line (pp. 68-69 on 395) provides another occasion for Woodruff to propose that σοφός conveys the sense of ‘wiseass’. It will be left to the reader to determine whether Woodruff’s translation of σοφός in these contexts succeeds in rendering this loaded word. To emphasize the appropriate hue of σοφός in other contexts, Woodruff uses not only ‘cunning’ (655, 656, 824, 839, 1190), but also ‘prudent’ (266), ‘sophistic’ (203), and ‘wise’ and cognates (179, 186, 395, 427, 480, 641, 877, 897, 1005, 1151).

Line 716 is bracketed by Diggle because of its similarity to 667. Except for the last word of each line, both are identical. Woodruff translates both lines without making note of the difficulty. Of the other lines bracketed by Diggle, Woodruff mentions 182, 199-203, 316, 756, 1091-1092, 1244-1245, 1388-1392, and simply translates without comment 229-230, 537, 673, 716, 1025-1026, 1028, 1221. The two most important textual issues—the lacunae after 1300 and 1329—are discussed by Woodruff both in the stage directions and, more substantially, in corresponding endnotes.

When the stranger offers to bring the women to Pentheus without an armed struggle, Pentheus cries οἴμοι and accuses the stranger of further machinations (805). Woodruff renders οἴμοι with “The hell you will.” This translation seems to overstate Pentheus’ defiance of the stranger at a place in the dialogue where Euripides may have meant to represent the young king flinching. At any rate, Woodruff translates οἴμοι more conventionally as an exclamation of woe at 1248 (“Oh,…”).

In the stage directions preceding Agave’s first lines (1168ff.), Woodruff describes her as carrying “the head of Pentheus on a stick, his hair curled round it like ivy on a thyrsus.” Agave, though, carries no ordinary ‘stick’ that is adorned like a thyrsus: it is a thyrsus on which Pentheus’ head is mounted, as Woodruff’s translation of 1142 and his endnote on 1185 indicate. Unfortunately, Woodruff’s supporting material lacks an adequate discussion or description of this central stage prop.

At 1181-1182 the chorus asks Agave to name those who took part in the kill. A literal rendering might run: CHORUS: ‘Who else?’ ( τίς ἄλλα;) AGAVE: ‘Those of Cadmus…’ ( τὰ Κάδμου…) CHORUS: ‘What of Cadmus?’ ( τί Κάδμου;) AGAVE: ‘…those offspring of his’ ( γένεθλα). Like *Epstein and *Morwood, Woodruff does not preserve the genitive form of ‘Cadmus’, implicating Cadmus more than the text does: “CHORUS: Who else? AGAVE: Cadmus… CHORUS: Cadmus? AGAVE: His daughters.” This translation will be of little help to most new students of the play, who should be given—in addition to a grammatically faithful translation—some assistance in following this choppy and emotional exchange. *Epstein’s translation, though less disconnected, goes even further in implicating Cadmus in the attack: “CHORUS: And who struck him then? AGAVE: Cadmus— CHORUS: But how could Cadmus— AGAVE: His daughters attacked the monster after I did.” All three translators may have been influenced by Dodds, whose commentary translates the lines: “CHORUS: Who else (struck him)? AGAVE: It was Cadmus… CHORUS: Cadmus? AGAVE: Whose daughters laid hand on this creature— ” Cf. *Morwood: “CHORUS: Who else struck him? AGAVE: It was Cadmus… CHORUS: Cadmus? AGAVE: …whose children laid their hands on this wild beast—” I do not mean to suggest that Cadmus is not in any way implicated in the action of his daughters. I do intend to point out the care with which such lines must be translated, and to recommend better supporting material in cases in which an inexperienced reader of tragedy might have difficulty following the text.

Part 2: Woodruff’s introduction and supporting material

Woodruff’s translation is supported by an introduction (34 pages), brief footnotes on roughly half the pages of the translation (rarely totaling more than a few lines), more substantive endnotes (13 pages, not flagged in the translation, unfortunately), an appendix (6 pages) discussing the lost speeches, and a bibliographical note (2 pages) supported by a list of works cited (4 pages). To introduce an aura of decadence the cover of the book presents a mug shot of Elvis Presley in his newly acquired army uniform.

Woodruff’s substantial introduction presents short discussions, each of a couple of pages or so, grouped under key headings. In the first of these, entitled “The Play”, Woodruff sets the scene of the dramatic action, gives a brief outline of the story, and characterizes the imminent meeting of Dionysus and Pentheus. Woodruff compares this meeting to “Mick Jagger in his prime running into a newly installed conservative dictator” (xii), if we could also imagine the rock star as being able to bring forth a real earthquake. The section on “Cultural Background” follows, divided into three subsections. In “Religion”, Woodruff offers a short account of Dionysus and the “elusive” religious practices associated with him. In “Madness and Control” Woodruff explores the tension between the release afforded by ritual and its claim to promote sound-mindedness. Woodruff presents this as a fundamental paradox of the Dionysiac religion treated by the play: “The chorus in the Bacchae celebrates the joys of intoxication induced by wine or mountain dancing, and at the same time praises soundness of mind and all the calm and collected virtues that go with accepting the human condition. In almost one breath they praise self-control and letting go.” (xv) This is very nicely phrased. In his discussion of the “New Learning” Woodruff argues that fifth century intellectualism is characterized in the play as a threat to this “wisdom of acceptance, which leads to a quiet life, is modest, and resists innovation.” (xvii)

In the section on “The Author” Woodruff introduces frequently treated themes in the Euripidean corpus. Woodruff highlights criticisms of religion, women’s issues, and the “conservative populism” (xxi) which, he claims, defines Euripides’ political sympathies. In “Ancient Tragic Theatre” Woodruff describes the tragic festivals, staging, and setting of Greek tragedies, adding notes about the conventions of chorus and messenger. Woodruff includes a subsection entitled “Plot” which says almost nothing about plots, but instead insists on the untenable thesis that “fate and divine decree operate in the background, if at all” (xxiv). Rather than conceiving the action as predestined, Woodruff argues, “the audience must believe that the characters have real choices to make” (xxiv). Readers might question why this perspective is necessary to approach the play, or if indeed it is supported by the action itself. Dionysus, of course, fulfills his promises stated in the prologue, and he explains the cruelty of doing so—whatever we think of it—by referring to Zeus’ design (1349, a line brushed off by Woodruff as a “passing reference” (xxiv) without major significance). Further, Dionysus seems to have an effect on Pentheus that obstructs his ability to choose anything. In fact, this is acknowledged by Woodruff when he suggests that, before we even meet Pentheus, “perhaps he has already been crazed by Dionysus into a state in which he can see no further than resistance to the new cult.” (xxviii) This does not accord neatly with the claim that “the startling change in Pentheus” in the third episode is “wrought, apparently, by persuasion” (69, cf. 71).

Woodruff presents four pages introducing “The Characters of the Bacchae”. He begins by equipping new readers to approach the multifaceted character of Dionysus and to appreciate the beauty and power of the choral lyric. This is followed by concise and helpful discussions of the other characters. Each of these, however, contains interpretations which might better be identified as the author’s reading among other possible alternatives. Teiresias is seen as a representative of the ‘New Learning’ (xxvii, cf. xvi, xxxvii, xxxix, xl, 67), negatively portrayed as a feature of Euripides’ anti-intellectualism (cf. xxi, xl). Cadmus, according to Woodruff, is “almost senile” (xxviii, cf. xxxviii, 76 on 1216) in the first episode. When discussing Pentheus, Woodruff makes frequent reference to the “unconscious” (xxviii, 71) or “suppressed” (xvi, xxiv; cf. xi) desires of Pentheus and the “psychoanalytical truth” which the play unveils about him (xxxiv, mentioning other scholars). Agave “is more stage prop than dramatic character,” about whom Woodruff concludes: “without a mask, the part would be very difficult to bring off in serious theater” (xxix). The lack of qualification in presenting these interpretations (all off the mark, in my opinion) might limit rather than facilitate a beginner’s approach to the richness and complexity of Euripides’ characterizations.

Woodruff concludes his introduction with a 13 page survey of “Interpretations of the Bacchae“. These short but stimulating discussions of seven interpretations of the play, followed by Woodruff’s own reading, set Woodruff’s edition apart from others. They are excellent prolegomena for students of the play. The first reading Woodruff considers, which he refers to as the ‘recantation’ interpretation, considers the play to be a mature palinode of the poet’s youthful criticism of religion. A second interpretation, associated with Winnington-Ingram, suggests that the play involves moral scrutiny of Dionysus and his cult. Woodruff then considers interpretations which see the play as a source of ‘rationalism’ (Verrall, Norwood) and ‘irrationalism’ (Dodds). A fifth interpretation, attributed to Segal and Nussbaum, argues that the play “honestly represents unresolved tensions in human life” (xxxiv) and is hence neither for nor against Dionysus. A sixth interpretation, associated with Seaford, treats the destruction of Pentheus as ‘a social necessity’, a ritual which promotes civic unity. Lastly, the play’s political dimensions are considered by mentioning some interpretive remarks of Leinieks and Esposito.

Woodruff concludes with his own reading of the play, which—as one might expect from his emphasis on what he refers to as the ‘New Learning’—views the play as a concerted effort to “skewer the wisdom of intellectuals” (xxxix). “Everything that anyone in the play sees as bad” Woodruff proclaims sweepingly, “is associated with the New Learning” (xxxix). Further, according to Woodruff, Euripides, with his particular framing of the Pentheus myth, “seems to be tacking onto the play a message that does not appear to be integral to the plot” (xl). It hardly seems possible, though, that the central theme of any tragedy could be something that is not integral to the plot. Further, the play certainly develops negative characterizations which are not immediately attributable to the office of sophists and philosophers. The hamartia of Pentheus in particular is ethical and political above and beyond its relation to Athenian intellectualism. His excessiveness, and the god’s corresponding excessive response, are an education in themselves of lasting relevance to the broad human questions they treat. These questions may indeed overlap with concerns about the ambiguous social position of ‘wise men’ in Euripides’ Athens, but such particular concerns could hardly be the occasion and the subject of this universally compelling work of art.

Part 3: annotated list of Bacchae translations

For students without a background in classics, the best self-contained ( i.e., non-omnibus) editions of the play are *Seaford, *Esposito, *Franklin, and Woodruff, in descending order according to my preferences in a student edition. Any of these four editions would do an admirable job of supporting undergraduates who approach the play for the first time. One of these editions might be preferable to another on different occasions. *Seaford’s excellent edition provides the most detailed and most valuable commentary; though it is a trustworthy companion for advanced students of the play, it is probably too sophisticated for use in an introductory survey course. *Esposito, by contrast, makes a special effort to explain language and action in the play which is too often left unexplained by editors of student editions. His success in doing so makes his edition especially choiceworthy for undergraduates new to Greek tragedy. *Franklin’s notes also endeavor to anticipate the questions and interests of beginning students, though they are more simple and less concerned to link particular issues with scholarly questions than *Esposito or Woodruff. Most (facing) pages of *Franklin’s notes also present questions for students in the form of bullet points. Finally, it should be stated that some features of Woodruff’s edition which are not to my taste might be particularly attractive to others, such as his use of colloquialism and of examples drawn from popular culture.

Three other editions merit consideration for classroom use: *Morwood’s new Oxford University Press ‘World Classics’ edition, the forthcoming Penguin editions by Davie (replacing the old *Vellacott series), and the forthcoming Loeb editions by *Kovacs. Containing several plays in each volume, these do not focus exclusively on the Bacchae as the above four do, but may be preferable in survey courses reading several plays apace. *Morwood contains particularly generous and helpful notes. *Kovacs has a (new) facing Greek text and an excellent literal translation. The Davie volume containing Bacchae has not yet appeared, but the other available volumes read very well and are well supported with useful notes and introductions. At the present moment the market offers about a half dozen worthy editions of the Bacchae. Straying from those here recommended, though, except for dramaturgic or poetic purposes, can quickly lead into dubious territory.

In addition to a very brief statement of the content and merits of each edition, I also indicate whether the line numbers refer to the Greek or English, if they exist at all. Lastly, lines 1-5 and 877-881(=897-901) are reproduced to equip readers to make their own comparison at first glance. These lines, in Woodruff’s translation, run as follows. 1-5: I have arrived. I am Dionysus, son of Zeus, / come to Thebes, where my mother gave me birth / in a firestorm, struck by lightning. Her name / was Semélê her father, Cadmus, had founded / this city. I have changed from divine to human form, / and here I am. [( pointing to various features of the landscape)] There’s the Ismenus river, the other one is called Dirke=. 877-881(=897-901): What is wise? What is the finest gift / that gods can give to mortals? / A hand on the heads / of their enemies, pushing down? / [No.] What is fine is loved always.

Arrowsmith, William. (1959) in David Grene & Richmond Lattimore, eds. Euripides V: Electra, The Phoenician Women, The Bacchae. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Contains an introduction (12 pages), an appendix (1 page) discussing the lacuna after 1329, and a chronological note (5 pages, by Lattimore). Line numbers: Greek. This reliable and worthy translation is still used by many, but does not offer assistance to students on the level of the editions recommended above. 1-5: I am Dionysus, the son of Zeus, / come back to Thebes, this land where I was born. / My mother was Cadmus’ daughter, Semele by name, / midwived by fire, delivered by the lightning’s / blast. And here I stand, a god incognito, / disguised as man, beside the stream of Dirce / and the waters of Ismene. 877-881: —What is wisdom? What gift of the gods / is held in honor like this: / to hold your hand victorious / over the heads of those you hate? / Honor is precious forever.

Bagg, Robert. (1978) The Bakkhai by Euripides. Amherst, Massachusetts: University of Massachusetts Press. Contains an introduction (16 pages) and helpful notes (14 pages). Line numbers: English. This translation spells out the action carefully and compellingly, and is among the editions most suited for performance. In numerous places, Bagg gives the most compelling translation of all available editions. Had I not restricted this review to locating the most literal and clear translations with the most helpful support to the uninitiated, Bagg’s edition would be a more obvious choice for the first rank. 1-5: I’m back! —a god standing on ground / where I was born, in Thebes. / Lightning ripped me / from the pregnant body / of Kadmos’ daughter, Semele=. / That blast of flame was my midwife. / I am Dionysus, the son of Zeus. / You see me now at the rivers, / Dirce and Ismenus, but my godhead / you cannot see, because I’ve changed it / for this: the body of a man. 877-881: What is wisdom? When the gods / crush our enemies, their heads cowed / under the hard fist of our power, / that is glory! —and glory / always is the prize men crave.

Blessington, Francis. (1993) Euripides: The Bacchae. Aristophanes: The Frogs. Two Plays of Dionysus. Arlington Heights, Illinois: Harlan Davidson. Contains an introduction covering and linking both plays (10 pages), a list of dates (4 pages), and a select bibliography (2 pages total, one for each play). Line numbers: Greek. This is a good translation in an affordable edition, well suited to courses studying both plays, though it has less in the way of notes and explanatory material than those I have recommended above. 1-5: I, Dionysos, have come to Thebes, / Zeus’ son, whom Cadmus’ daughter, / Semele, bore and delivered by lightning. / Changed from a god to a man, / I visit the streams of Dirce and Ismenos… 877-881: What is wisdom? Or what lovlier gift / From the gods, in mortal eyes, / Than to hold a stronger hand / Over enemy heads: / Honor is dear—always.

Cacoyannis, Michael. (1982) Euripides: The Bacchae. Contains an introduction (19 pages). Line numbers: none. Outdated and lacking adequate assistance for careful study of the play. 1-5: I, Dionysus, son of Zeus, am back in Thebes. / I was born here, of Semele, daughter of Cadmus, / blasted from her womb by a bolt of blazing thunder. / Why am I here? A god in the shape of a man, / walking by the banks of Ismenus, the waters of Dirce? 877-881: What is wisdom? Which / of all the God-given gifts / is more beneficial to man / than the power to hold / an enemy powerless at bay? / That which is good is welcome forever.

Epstein, Daniel Mark. (1998) in David Slavitt and Palmer Bovie, eds. Euripides 1: Medea, Hecuba, Andromache, The Bacchae. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. (See BMCR 00.08.09) The volume includes a “pronouncing glossary” (10 pages), a general introduction by Palmer Bovie (8 pages), and a translator’s preface to each play (11 pages for Bacchae, including five pages of notes to the subsequent lines). Line numbers: English. A good edition, though not of the standard of those recommended above. Based, unfortunately, on Murray’s outdated text. 1-5: I am Dionysus, the son of Zeus. My mother / was Semele, the mortal daughter of Cadmus, / whose labor a flash of lightning cruelly sped. / But I have shed the God’s shape and come as a man / to this land of Thebes. And thus you see me here / by the springs of Dirce and the stream of Ismenus. 877-881: What gift of Gods to men / is more lovely than wisdom / or the glory of mastery / over a fallen enemy? / Such glory endures forever.

Esposito, Stephen J. (1998) The Bacchae of Euripides. Newburyport, Massachusetts: Focus Publishing, Focus Classical Library. (See BMCR 98.11.02) Contains an introduction (21 pages), four appendices—on the lacuna after 1300 (2 pages), the lacuna after 1329 (half a page), a geneology, and an essay by Valerie Warrior on “The Roman Bid to Control Bacchic Worship” (6 pages)—a glossary of themes and terms (18 pages), a map of Greece and Asia Minor (1 page), and a bibliography (2 pages). Line numbers: Greek. This edition should be emulated by others whose aim is to equip less sophisticated students to appreciate a Greek play. The translation is faithful and yet flows nicely. The notes discuss issues and explain elements of the text that most editions pass over. This is the edition of choice for students without experience in Greek drama or knowledge of Greek language. 1-5: I have come to this land of Thebes as the son of Zeus. / Dionysus is my name. Semele, the daughter of Cadmus, / gave me birth after being forced into labor by fiery lightning. / Exchanging my divinity for human form I have arrived / at Dirce’s streams and the waters of Ismenus. 877-881: What is the wise gift or what is the finer gift / of gods among mortals? / Is it to hold a stronger hand / over the head of enemies? / No, for what is fine is dear always.

Franklin, David (2000) Euripides: Bacchae. A new translation and commentary by David Franklin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Cambridge Translations from Greek Drama) Contains a brief statement of the background to the play (1 page), a map of ancient Greece (1 page), a synopsis of the play (2 pages), a list of pronounciations (1 page), an introduction to the Greek theatre (3 pages of text by P. E. Easterling, 1 page of illustrations), a timeline of authors and works in Greek literature (1 page) and an index (3 pages). The translation of the text is presented on right hand pages, the commentary faces this on left hand pages. Most commentary pages contain bullet points with questions directed to the reader. This is a fine edition for classroom use. Its commentary targets students with the least amount of preparation and sophistication. Unfortunately, it uses Murray’s outdated text. 1-5: I, Dionysus, son of Zeus, have come to the land of Thebes! Semele, the daughter of Cadmus, gave birth to me on the day she was sent into labour by the fire of lightning. I have put aside my divine form, and in the body of a man I have come here, to the stream of Dirce and the waters of Ismenus. 877-881: What is wisdom? / What god-given right is finer in men’s eyes / Than to hold the hand of power over an enemy’s head? / Honour is always precious.

Hadas, Moses and John McLean (1960) Ten Plays by Euripides. New York: Bantam. Contains an introduction to the volume (13 pages), an introduction to each play (1 page), and a glossary (4 pages). Line numbers: Greek (in page heading). An inexpensive and generally reliable old prose rendition, though without enough supporting material to warrant classroom use. 1-5: Zeus’ child has come back to the land of the Thebans. I am Dionysus whom Cadmus’ daughter, Semele, bore long ago by the flaming thunderbolt’s midwifery. My form I have changed from divine to human, as I come now to Dirce’s streams, to the water of Ismenus. 877-881: What is wisdom? What boon from the gods is fairer among men than to hold a victorious hand over the head of one’s enemies? What is fair is ever dear.

Kovacs, David (forthcoming) Euripides VI. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, Loeb Classical Library. (See BMCR 04.03.21, 96.12.2 for earlier volumes.) The new Loeb volumes of Euripides by Kovacs which have already appeared offer an excellent literal prose translation and a (new) Greek text facing each page of the literal translation. His textual decisions are discussed in the volumes of Euripidea published by Brill.

Mahon, Derek (1991) The Bacchae: after Euripides. Loughcrew, Oldcastle, County Meath, Ireland: Gallery Press. Line numbers: none. Mahon’s poetic rendition is not free enough to approach the splendor of his extraordinary poems, but this edition is nevertheless worthy of consideration, especially for those who want to see what a poet of his unique style and caliber has done with the play. 1-5: My name is Dionysus, son of Zeus / and Semele, Cadmus’ eldest daughter. Whoosh! / I was delivered by a lightning flash / and here I am back home in Thebes again / pretending to be a mortal among men / although, as we all know, I am one of the gods. 877-881: What pleases best, what grand / gift can the gods bestow / more than the conquering hand / over the fallen foe? / It’s still the same old story, / a fight for love and glory, / and every heart admits that this is so.

Meagher, Robert Emmet (1995) Euripides Bakkhai. Wauconda, Illinois: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers. (See BMCR 96.1.10) Contains a preface (2 pages), commentary (21 pages in long essay format), and an appendix of choral odes “adapted for performance”. Line numbers: none. This is “a translation written specifically for the theater” (iv). “Anything less [than a playable script], as an aim,” according to Meagher, “would be a betrayal of the author, who spent his life not in libraries nor in classrooms but in the theater” (iv). The ‘commentary’ which follows the ‘ τεξτ‘ (as the heading of its pages proclaims, as if to promote bad habits early) is more of an interpretive essay, written by a stage director concerned to explore the force and implications of the action on stage. 1-5: Land of Thebes, I am back, / Dionysus, the boy-child of Zeus. / My mother was Semele, daughter of Kadmos. / She was a mere girl, when from her womb / I was blasted into birth by a bolt of blazing fire. / God though I am, I have taken mortal form / to stand here beside the river Dirke / and the waters of Ismenos. 877-881: What is wisdom? / Of all god-given gifts, / what do men want more / Than to have their enemies / Under their thumb? / It is always sweet / To have one’s way.

Milman, Henry Hart. (1997) Euripides Bacchae. Mineola, New York: Dover Thrift Editions. (reprint of Milman’s 1865 translation of “The Bacchanals”) Contains an introductory ‘Note’ (1 page) and no supporting material to accompany the antiquated translation. Line numbers: none. One wonders what service Dover thinks it is doing to readers by putting out an edition such as this one. 1-5: Unto this land of Thebes I come, Jove’s son, Dionysus; he whom Semele of yore, / ‘Mid the dread midwifery of lightning fire, / Bore, Cadmus’ daughter. In a mortal form, / The God put off, by Dirce’s stream I stand, / and cool Ismenos’ waters; 877-881: What is wisest? what is fairest, / Of god’s boons to man the rarest? / With the conscious conquering hand / above the foeman’s head to stand. / What is fairest still is dearest.

Morwood, James (1999) Euripides: Iphigenia among the Taurians, Bacchae, Iphigenia at Aulis, Rhesus. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (See BMCR 00.06.05) Contains an introduction by Edith Hall (31 pages, 3 pages covering Bacchae), a ‘select’ bibliography (8 pages), a chronology (2 pages), a map of the Greek world (2 pages), and explanatory endnotes (65 pages total, 14 pages for Bacchae) keyed by asterisk in the body of the translation. Line numbers: Greek. This excellent new translation is the best available edition of ‘collected’ plays. Hall’s four page introductory note on the Bacchae is challenging and suggestive. 1-5: I am the son of Zeus, Dionysus. Semele, the daughter of Cadmus, bore me once in a birth precipitated by the lightning flame. I have transformed my appearance from god to man and come to this Theban land, and here I am at the streams of Dirce and the waters of Ismenus. 877-881: What is wisdom? Or what god given prize / is nobler in men’s eyes / than to hold one’s hand in mastery / over the head of one’s enemies? / What is noble is precious—that ever holds true. [The choral parts of this prose translation are presented in shorter lines in order to distinguish “between the spoken and the sung or chanted areas of the play” (xl).]

Raphael, Frederic & Kenneth McLeish (1998) Bacchae by Euripides. London: Nick Hern Books, Drama Classics series. Contains an introduction (16 pages), a (1 page) list of key dates (listing nine), and a guide to further reading (1 paragraph), which lists six titles, none of which is later than 1967. Line numbers: none. This pocket size edition does little to promote appreciation of the play. 1-5: You see the son of God. I have returned. / Dionysos, son of Zeus. Home, here, to Thebes. / My mother was Semele, King Kadmos’ daughter, / My father Zeus. Lightning the midwife: / Born in a flash, the fire-child. I have changed my shape: God comes in mortal guise. / See—here by the waters of Dirke, Ismenos’ stream— / My mother’s tomb… 877-881: Wisdom? What’s that? / What truer gift from God / Than hands outstretched / In triumph above your enemy? / Revenge is sweet, they say.

Roche, Paul (1998) Euripides: 10 Plays, A New Translation by Paul Roche. New York: Signet Classics. Contains an introduction to the volume (2.5 pages), a translator’s preface (9 pages), a glossary of classical names (32 pages), and a brief introduction (1-2 pages) preceding each play. Line numbers: none. The first page of Roche’s introduction claims without qualification that Euripides “…was appalled by the low status of women even in hypercivilized Athens” (ix). All the same, Roche explains, Euripides “…does not approve of the henpecked husband or of giving a child the mother’s surname…” (ix). Equally remarkable is Roche’s choice of text: in the era of Diggle, Roche chose to use A.S. Way’s Loeb and the Budé of Parmentier and Grégoire. 1-5: So, the son of Zeus is back in Thebes: / I, Dionysus, son of Semele—daughter of Cadmus— / who was struck from my mother in a lightning stroke. / I am changed, of course, a god made man, / and now I approach the rivulets of Dirce, / the waters of Ismenus. 877-881: What is wisdom? What is beauty? / Heaven blest in sight of man / But to hold a hated rival’s / Head beneath one’s hand. / Beauty is a joy forever.* [The asterisk leads to the footnote: ‘John Keats knew his Euripides!’ A connection could have been suggested more instructively, e.g., ‘cf. the first line of Keats’ ‘Endymion’.’]

Rudall, Nicholas (1996) Euripides: The Bacchae. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, Plays for Performance. Contains an introduction (4 pages). Line numbers: Greek. This translation is designed for performance. 1-5: Look on me—Dionysus, Son of Zeus. / I have come to this land of Thebes. / Semele, daughter of Cadmus, gave me birth. / Fire born by lightning was the midwife. / I have changed from god to mortal shape. / And here I stand by the streams of Dirce and the waters of Ismenus. 877-881: What is wisdom? What greater gift of gods / Than to keep the hand of victory / Over one’s enemies? Therein lies honor. / And honor is precious.

Seaford, Richard (1996) Euripides: Bacchae. Warminster: Aris & Phillips. (reviewed in BMCR 96.11.1; cf. the exchange with Segal 98.07.01, 98.05.26, 98.3.10.) Contains a general introduction to the series by Shirley Barlow (23 pages), Seaford’s introduction to the Bacchae (30 pages), an apparatus criticus (7 pages + 2 pages indicating manuscripts and symbols used in the apparatus), Greek text with facing literal translation, passages from the Christus Patiens (a page and a half, untranslated), scholarly commentary keyed to the translation (111 pages), a general bibliography by Collard (6 pages), a selected bibliography covering Bacchae (2 pages) and an index (4 pages). Line numbers: Greek. This is the most comprehensive and sophisticated edition available to students who do not read Greek; even for those who do, it is invaluable. 1-5: I am come, the son of Zeus, to this Theban land, Dionysos, to whom the daughter of Kadmos once gave birth, Semele, midwived by lightning-borne fire. And having changed my form from god to mortal, I am here at the streams of Dirke and the water of Ismenos. 877-881: What is the wise (gift), or what is the finer gift from the gods among mortals? Is it to hold the hand powerful over the head of your enemies? (No, for) What is fine is dear always.

Soyinka, Wole (1973) The Bacchae of Euripides: A Communion Rite. New York: Norton. Contains an introduction (7 pages), a chronology (1 page), and a production note (half a page) stating that any cuts to the text “must NOT be permitted to affect the essential dimension of a Nature feast.” (xix) Line numbers: none. This adaptation by the Nobel Laureate does not stay very close to the text of Euripides. It is nevertheless an enticing and valuable piece in its own right, probably the most interesting of the ‘poetic’ editions. Opening lines: Thebes taints me with bastardy. I am turned into an alien, some foreign outgrowth of her habitual tyranny. My followers daily pay forfeit for their faith. Thebes blasphemes against me, makes a scapegoat of a god. It’s time to save my patrimony—even here in Thebes. I am the gentle, jealous joy. Vengeful and kind. An essence that will not exclude, nor be excluded. If you are Man or Woman, I am Dionysos. Accept. 877-881: not included.

Sutherland, Donald. (1968) The Bacchae of Euripides. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press. Contains two substantial appended discussions of the play, one (14 pages) an essay treating textual, staging, and metrical aspects, the other (58 pages) consisting of an Aristotelian analysis of the play in terms of the six component parts of tragedy. Line numbers: Greek (in page heading). 1-5: I come, a child of Zeus, again to Thebes / where once King Cadmus’ daughter, Semele, / bore me, Dionysus, whom she had by Zeus, / delivered of me by the lightning’s fire. / Changing my godhead for a mortal shape / I walk by Dirce’s springs, Ismenus’ wave, … 877-881: What can our wits contrive, or what more glorious / gift can come from the gods to men than a high hand / over the foe, heavily held, fully victorious? / Glory’s the thing men cherish, ever, and in every land.

Vellacott, Philip (1994) Euripides: The Bacchae, Medea, Hippolytus. New York: Quality Paperback Book Club. Reprinted from Vellacott’s Penguin translations: the Bacchae is that of Vellacott (1973) The Bacchae and Other Plays: Ion, The Women of Troy, Helen, The Bacchae. Harmondsworth: Penguin. Contains an introduction (26 pages) and one or two pages of notes for each play. Line numbers: Greek (in page heading). Vellacott’s translations of Euripides are in the process of being replaced with new and more reliable versions by John Davie (with introductions and notes by R. B. Rutherford). It seems odd, then, that Vellacott has been chosen for reprinting in an era of so many superior editions of Euripides. 1-5: I am Dionysus, son of Zeus. My mother was Semele, daughter of Cadmus; I was delivered from her womb by the fire of a lightning-flash. To-day I have laid aside the appearance of a god, and have come disguised as a mortal man to this city of Thebes, where flow the two rivers, Dirce and Ismenus. 877-881: What prayer should we call wise? / What gift of Heaven should man / Count a more noble prize, / A prayer more prudent, than / To stretch a conquering arm / Over the fallen crest / Of those who wished us harm? / And what is noble every heart loves best.

Walton, J. Michael (1998) in J. Michael Walton, ed. Euripides: Plays I: Medea, The Phoenician Women, Bacchae. London: Methuen. (See BMCR 03.03.15) Contains a general introduction (29 pages). Line numbers: Greek. This edition is not a poor one, but does not reach the classroom worthiness of the other recent editions mentioned in the opening of ‘Part 3′ of this review. 1-5: Here am I, Dionysos. / Son of Zeus and Kadmos’ daughter, Semele. / I have returned to this land of Thebes / Where I was born from the lightning bolt. / Now I stand by the springs of Dirke and the waters of Ismenos, / A god . . . disguised as a man. 877-881: Where is the beginning of wisdom? / What gift of the gods could be finer for man / Than to raise up his hand o’er the head of his foe, / Nothing finer, / Delightful.

Williams, C. K. (1990) The Bacchae of Euripides. New York: The Noonday Press / Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Contains an introductory essay (36 pages) with bibliography (3 pages) by Martha Nussbaum, a translator’s note (3 pages), and a discussion of the characters (2 pages). Line numbers: Greek (in page heading). Nussbaum’s introduction will better suit more sophisticated readers than undergraduates approaching Greek tragedy for the first time. Nussbaum critically analyzes the interpretations of Nietzsche, the ‘rationalists’ (e.g., Verrall), Dodds, and psychoanalysts. Following this with her own interpretation, she begins by criticizing the “simple picture” of human nature as a mixture of the godlike and beastlike. Nussbaum prefers the “complex picture”, which she associates with Aristotle, and especially with the claim that neither beasts nor gods make use of civilization and the moral virtues (xviii). This “complex picture” sees a human being as a being “arrogating to itself by itself the place of morality, pity, and compassion, firmly setting itself in opposition both to the serene, uncaring life of the gods and to the dense, uncaring life of the beasts” (xxxix). This assigns a special purpose to the emotions in negotiating the uniquely human moral realm: “for pity makes a firm distinction between what is in our power, and therefore our fault, and what is not, and fear follows pity” (xl). Because Aristotle himself “could not approve of” the Bacchae (xli), Nussbaum concludes by recommending a view of tragedy according to which the play would be appropriately admired. This Nussbaum calls “trans-Aristotelian”, according to which “the theater is not so much the place where humans set themselves off from the rest of nature, secure in their moral virtue, but the place, instead, where these fluidities and insecurities are enacted, these risks explored” (xli-xlii). Williams’ translation is poetic, rather than literal. The edition as a whole does not offer the support needed by undergraduates. 1-5: I am Dionysus. I am Bacchus. / Bromius and Iacchus. / Dithyrambus and Evius. / I am a god, the son of Zeus, / but I have assumed the semblance of a mortal, / and come to Thebes, where my mother, Semele, / the daughter of King Cadmus, gave birth to me. Her midwife was the lightning bolt that killed her. / There is the river Dirce, and there the stream / Ismenus. 877-881: What is / wisdom? / What / the fairest / gift the gods / can offer / us / below? / What / is nobler / than / to hold / a dominating / hand / above / the bent / head of / the enemy? / The fair, the / noble, how / we / cherish, how / we welcome / them.


1. Re: poetic: “I have tried to bring across some of the beauty of poetry given the chorus…” (vii). Re: dramaturgic: “…I have tried to give the characters the different voices I hear in the Greek, so that the translation can be produced on stage with minimal changes.” (vii)