BMCR 2002.03.15

Euripides’ Hippolytus: Translation with Introduction, Notes, and Essay

Euripides., Michael R. Halleran, Euripides' Hippolytus. Foucus classical library. Newburyport, MA: Focus Pub, 2001. xxv, 79 pages ; 22 cm.. ISBN 0941051862 $7.95.

Michael Halleran’s translation of the Hippolytus should prove to be very helpful for those teaching classical literature in translation and is excellent value for the money. It is derived from his 1995 Aris and Philips edition, which contained a Greek text as well as translation and detailed notes and was geared towards a more advanced audience with some knowledge of Greek. For this edition for Focus, Halleran (hereafter H.) has revised his earlier translation in “hundreds of places” (preface, ix) to produce a more idiomatic rendering of the play for those who have no Greek. He also provides interpretative material which will be useful both for beginners in Greek tragedy and for somewhat more advanced students. The book is extremely well-organised and clear in its assembly and discussion of most, if not all, of the central topics connected with this play and Euripides’ work, although naturally a work of this kind omits some of the more technical problems of the play (e.g. there is no mention of the textual problems surrounding the gender of the Chorus at 1102ff.)

H’s introduction and short concluding essay manage to be both concise and thorough. The introduction is composed of sections of 2-5 pages apiece on the following topics: Euripides and his times, locating him in the context of fifth-century Athenian political and intellectual life; the Hippolytus in performance, which in a very short compass covers the main ground well; Hippolytus in myth and cult, and lastly the first Hippolytus. My only criticism of this last section is that a reader coming to the play for the first time would be led by H. to believe that we know rather more about the lost play than we actually do, and I would have welcomed an acknowledgement at least that Seneca can sometimes influence our assumptions on the nature of the lost Euripides.

The text is clearly printed and well laid out. Stage directions are included in the text and sometimes given further explanation in the notes that sit at the bottom of each page. These notes are generally helpful and are directed both at those who cannot be assumed to know, for example, that Cypris is Aphrodite (note on l.2) and at those who need more sophisticated comment (e.g. the note on l.17 explaining the potential sexual connotations of Hippolytus’ “consorting” with Artemis.) Any translator of the Hippolytus must contend with Phaedra’s notoriously tricky words about αἰδώς and whatever it is that is δισσαί and H. renders them thus: “There are many pleasures in life, long conversations and leisure — a delightful evil — and respect; and there are two kinds, one not bad, the other a burden on the house.” The translation neatly replicates the uncertainty as to whether the respect or the pleasures are of two kinds. (In his note, H. opts for the pleasures, which is, of course, not uncontroversial, but also notes that by its emphatic placement and thematic importance, respect stands out among those pleasures that can be both good and bad.)

In general, H.’s translation itself is very good, managing to combine smoothness with a close rendition of the Greek. I found very few jarring infelicities, although to this ear, “O you most evil one” (959, 1316) for ὦ κάκιστε σύ, or 1372 “Let go of wretched me” ( μέθετέ με τάλανα) sounded awkward. The text is not written in continuous prose, but the varying lengths of the lines are intended to replicate the lines of the Greek as far as is possible: H. disclaims all pretensions to poetry, however. The edition ends with a very useful essay on the interpretation of the play, which partly expands some of the material in the notes. H. covers plot structure and design; human characters and the gods; speech, silence and deception; reputation, shame, and honor; sophrosune; passion and reason; and ignorance. It is pretty clear that with these he covers the major themes of the play well — I might have added a brief section on Euripides’ interest in dualities — and all of these sections are well worth reading for the way in which they sum up recent opinion on the play and offer introductions to Greek concepts such as αἰδώς and σωφροσύνη which are fundamental to the understanding of the play. His introduction and final essay would be a very good first port of call for an undergraduate coming to this play for the first time, before moving to articles and books designed for a more advanced audience. Some more advanced articles are cited in a brief, but well-chosen couple of pages of suggestions for further reading.

There are a few minor problems. I am unpersuaded by H.’s view that “much is made in the play of [Phaedra’s] Cretan past” (xxii) which seems an exaggeration, and I do not think that we must assume that Phaedra’s Nurse was a figure in the first play (p. xxiv.) I also felt that H. could perhaps have done a little more to emphasise the repeated language in the text: though his note on 806-7 points out the visual reversal between Theseus tearing off his garland and Hippolytus offering a garland to Artemis at 73, he does not point out, for example, that Hippolytus and Theseus both use the same phrase of dismissal πόλλ’ἐγὼ χαίρειν λέγω (113, 1055) with equally disastrous results, or that Theseus in his diatribe against Hippolytus sarcastically uses some of the vocabulary that Hippolytus uses of himself (948-9~17, 85, 73, 76). I also disagree with his claim in the note for 403-4 (cf. p. 69) that Phaedra’s wish not to be seen doing evil is purely equivalent to a wish not to do evil, given that the disjunction between appearance and reality is such a major theme of the play. I noticed no misprints, although C.A.E. Luschnig’s Time Holds The Mirror: A Study of Knowledge in Euripides’ Hippolytus is cited as Time Holds A Mirror. In conclusion, however, this is an excellent little volume that I shall probably use next time I teach Euripides in translation.