Let’s face it Ancient Greek drama isn’t easy. With its metrical schemes and structures, the confusing chorus paradoi interludes, deus ex machina and stasimons (to name but a few) it’s often difficult to plough through to the often frustrating conclusions. This is a pity because Greek Drama is much more than an exercise in bombastic academic rhetoric purveyed by ‘expert scholars.’ The plays are full of incident and excitement – a mother who slays her children; a son who kills his father and marries his mother; a group of Athenian women who ban sex until peace is declared! It’s all fascinating and enthralling stuff!
i-witness Publications seeks to go beyond the theory and the hypothetical to present versions of some of the most famous ancient Greek texts that are easily understood and relevant to the Twenty-First Century.
Our version of the Ancient Greek texts are adaptations rather than direct translations. Translators are hard to pin down when it comes to exactly what they have translated, given that there is no complete manuscript, remaining from ancient times, for anyone to translate. Academic authorities have relied on the fragments of parchment or papyrus still extant (those that have survived the many fires that destroyed the library at Alexander, for example) and put faith in contemporary mores and social history to fill in the gaps. Manuscripts have been copied from manuscripts copied from manuscripts – some of them, translators are proud to tell us, reproduced from Byzantine texts!
Many of the translations have been distorted, it seems to us, into plodding, literal, painstaking renditions of Classical Greek verse (and let’s face it most of the translators are not poets, not by any stretch of the imagination) – turgid enough for anyone to dismiss them as ‘irrelevant,’ ‘antique’, ‘highbrow’ and suchlike. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth, but it’s the impression that you will gain from many translations – with too much emphasis on following what experts believe to be the required structure, or the exact function of the Chorus or the relationship between parode, episode and stasimon. Academia at its worst!
Because we cannot nowadays understand the special rapport the Classical Greek dramatists had with their audiences, an adaptation rather than a mere translation is essential. We wanted to take the Greekness out of the plays. Those audiences were not, after all watching a Greek play and in matters of theology and myth (geography too) Greek references are virtually meaningless to us (well they are to us!)
As such, a contemporary bill of fare seems more suited to modern theatrical palates and, consequently, only portions of the pies are in metre although there are the compulsory ingredients of tragedy – chorus, song and dance. We have also taken some liberty with the linear structure of translations – Classical Greek dramas were penned by playwrights who would, surely, not dream of bringing one character on stage and allow that character to exit without being able to interact with her fellow protagonists. Drama is about conflict after all.
We shall in the next few blogs offer an outline of Ancient Greek drama – and the plays we have published. Meanwhile we encourage you to take a look at our version of MEDEA by Euripides – that most famous of Ancient Greek tragedians.
Our ‘adaptation’ was first performed by EYEWITNESS THEATRE COMPANY in 2000 both in the UK and the USA and has won a number of awards.
Euripides is believed to have written 90 plays, 18 of which have survived, including Medea, Hercules and The Trojan Women. He was often that criticized for the way he questioned traditional values on stage and he explored, for the first time, the psychological motivations of his character’s actions. His plays were used as a template for authors for many years after his death.