BMCR 2001.09.20

Euripides: Hecuba, Trojan Women, Andromache. With introduction by Edith Hall

, , Hecuba ; The Trojan women ; Andromache. Andromache.. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. lvii, 167 pages : map ; 23 cm. ISBN 0198150938. $60.00.

I imagine that everyone who teaches Greek tragedy in translation entertains a mental wish list for the ideal classroom text. My ideal translation would read idiomatically in English without unduly compressing or inflating the original. It would include several tragedies in a single volume so as to be affordable to students, and the selection would facilitate fruitful comparisons among the plays. My ideal teaching translation would provide the assistance lacking in the austere University of Chicago translation series edited by Grene and Lattimore, which dominated the field for decades; it would include a glossary, a time line, a map, explanatory notes, reproductions of relevant works of art, and suggestions for further reading.

The volume under review, the third in a series of translations of selected plays of Euripides by the team of James Morwood and Edith Hall, comes closer to meeting these criteria than any other with which I am familiar; it is thus welcome indeed. Although it is currently available only in hard cover at the stunning price of $60.00, a paperback edition in the Oxford World Classics Series is forthcoming in November, 2001. The rationale for presenting these three plays in a single volume is compelling. All are works of Euripides’ maturity, probably composed over the ten-year span from 425 to 415. All trace the misfortunes of the Trojan royal women after the fall of their city, while offering intriguing contrasts of chronology, structure, and tone. Trojan Women takes place in the immediate aftermath of the Trojan War and focuses in a series of pathetic episodes on the suffering of the captive women. Hecuba, a somber play set in the early days of peace, shows how the former queen of Troy transmutes passive suffering into active revenge. The kaleidoscopic plot of Andromache, which takes place some years into the postwar era, realistically depicts the life of slavery that was described with anticipatory dread by the captive women in the two other plays. The volume is rich in connections and contrasts. It is also generous with supplementary material: in addition to Hall’s introduction and bibliography, students can consult a chronology of Euripides’ work and times, a map of the Greek world, and explanatory notes by Morwood keyed to the translation.

Not all of the parts struck me as equally satisfactory. Hall’s stylish introduction covers a good deal of ground in thirty-two pages, and offers an up-to-date Euripides with its attention to reception and the status of women and slaves as well as to more traditional topics such as Euripides and Athens and Euripides and religion. The bibliography, which includes both general works on Greek tragedy and on Euripides and a reading list specific to each play, is wide-ranging and diverse but appears to have been idiosyncratically compiled. T.C.W. Stinton’s Euripides and the Judgement of Paris (London, 1965), which surveys Euripidean treatments of the Judgment myth, is fundamental for all three plays; surely it deserved star billing in the general bibliography instead of being buried in the reference list for Trojan Women. The same is true of Malcolm Heath’s classic study of Euripidean reception ( BICS 34 [1987] 40-68), here mistitled “Iure principium [sic] locum tenet: Euripides’ Hecuba” and relegated to the reference list for Hecuba. I do not understand why Michael Halleran’s Stagecraft in Euripides (London, 1985) appears under “General Books on Euripides” instead of under “Production and Performance Context,” nor why my own Euripides and the Instruction of the Athenians (Ann Arbor, 1991) is listed under “Euripides’ Life and Biographies” instead of under “General Books on Euripides.” Finally, Ra’anana Meridor’s “Plot and Myth in Euripides’ Herakles and Troades” ( Phoenix 38 [1984] 205-15) hardly belongs in the Hecuba bibliography.

Morwood’s notes transmit interpretive comments culled from other scholars as well as occasional critical or staging suggestions of his own. Their emphasis, however, is very properly on information. The identifications of mythological and geographical names are lavish, generally useful but sometimes overdone; do students really need to be told, for example, at the opening of Trojan Women, that “Poseidon is the god of the sea”? I am bothered by an inconsistency in the glossing of unfamiliar concepts; for example, the notes to Hecuba offer explanations of ξενία and supplication but not of χάρις or πείθω, which are equally important to the play. On the other hand, I applaud Morwood’s decision to illustrate stylistic tropes by means of parallels from English rather than Greek literature. Thus, when Peleus predicts that Andromache’s son will grow up to avenge his mother’s wrongs, “even if he is three times a bastard,” ( Andr. 636), Morwood adduces Hamlet’s “We shall obey, were she ten times our mother” ( Hamlet III.ii.326). Such parallels offer double educational dividends to students reading the play.

The translations are based on Diggle’s Oxford text. Morwood allows himself a very few textual comments in the notes; for example, he rightly expresses suspicion of the emendation by Verrall which makes Polymestor compare the Trojan women to “octopuses” rather than to “enemies” (the reading of the manuscripts) at Hec. 1162. While his versions are less literal than those that accompany the bilingual Loeb or Aris and Phillips editions of Euripides, they are faithful enough that an instructor can introduce points based on the original in the confidence that they will be reflected in the English version. The medium is prose throughout, entailing an inevitable loss of tonal variation, but at least students can be aware of what they’re missing when they’re missing it, since lyric passages are marked as “sung” and anapestic passages as “chanted.”

Morwood has a flair for plain, straighforward language; for example, he renders κυνὸς ταλαίνης σῆμα ( Hec. 1273) as “Poor Dog’s Tomb,” rather than succumbing with other translators to “bitch” or “hound,” both of which have distracting connotations in English. He seems to be particularly attuned to certain Euripidean characters—often the unsympathetic ones, who are perhaps the easier to characterize in translation. For instance, he conveys the awkwardness with which Agamemnon assures Hecuba that he would like to help her bring Polymestor to justice, but “there is an aspect of the situation that nonplusses me” ( ἔστιν γὰρ ᾗ ταραγμὸς ἐμπέπτωκέ μοι, Hec. 857), and the hypocritical complacency with which Polymestor urges Hecuba to tell him “how I in my good fortune must help my friends in their distress” ( τί χρὴ τὸν εὖ πράττοντα μὴ πράσσουσιν εὖ φίλοις ἐπαρκεῖν, Hec. 984-85). I noted a scattering of mistranslations. For example, when Hecuba in Trojan Women warns Menelaus that “there is no lover who does not always love,” Menelaus replies not, as Morwood has it, “That depends on the attitude the lover adopts,” but “That depends on the disposition of the beloved” ( ὅπως ἂν ἐκβῇ τῶν ἐρωμένων ὁ νοῦς, Tro. 1052). And at Andr. 1066-67 Peleus does not suggest mildly, “Won’t someone go to Apollo’s shrine…” but issues a peremptory order to that effect. Overall, however, the level of accuracy is high. This is a translation that I shall definitely be ordering for my classes.