Further discussion


Here is a link to this week’s presentation.


Lorna Hardwick’s essay, The Theatrical Review as a Primary Source for the Modern Reception of Greek Drama – a Preliminary Evaluation, did most of my job for me this week. The framework she sets out for critically engaging with reviews should leave you in good stead for your archive visits. The main issues that I pulled out of the essay were:

  • The two-fold function of the theatrical review, as both primary (data gathering e.g., cast list, venue, music) and secondary source (critique).
  • Who is the review for? Where has the review been published? Does the reviewer know anything about ancient drama?
  • Cases where the review is more useful as a historical source/ a comment on the values of the receiving culture, than as a record of performance itself.


Thanks to Lorna’s excellent discussion, I felt able to devote the majority of the workshop’s time to issues of translation and adaptation. For all of you, the commentary that you write on your practical piece will form a significant chunk of your portfolio (55% for L2, 50% for L3). Engaging critically with issues of translation in your written work is a great way to score higher marks as, when done well, it gives you the opportunity to express the dynamic relationship between your practical piece, your chosen play’s performance history and the reception of Athenian drama in general: pretty much what this module is all about.


By the very fact that you are putting on an ancient Greek play in English, you are, at the very least, one step removed from the original play. As such, you need to bear this in mind when it comes to thinking about and eventually writing about your practical piece. Your access to the ancient text has been mediated by a translation (and therefore a translator) which, to a lesser or greater extent, will shape your experience of and govern your access to the ancient play.

Translation (in the sense of transcribing from one language to another) is often described as the archetypal act of reception. What you may think of as a straightforward rendering of words from one language to another, in which the content of the source text remains unchanged, is anything but. For a variety of reasons, some intentional others unavoidable, translation is never just an act of cross-language cloning. The source text always changes in its transmission from one language to another. The
fact that idioms are, by their nature, not replicable in another language and
that certain words can have multiple meanings are some of the purely linguistic reasons why translations differ.


Even without the linguistic skills to analyse translation, there is still plenty of analysis that you can do with regards to your translation. We thought about how audience, agenda, culture and context can shape a translation and looked at Lorna Hardwick’s vocabulary for reception studies (available through my presentation). The relationship between translation, adaptation and version is an especially interesting one and throws up questions such as:

  • Whose play is this – the ancient playwright’s or the translator’s?
  • Does the translator/adaptor see themselves as a translator or a poet or both?
  • How and where do you decide to draw the line between a translation, a version, an adaptation?

What is more, this whole discussion is complicated further by the specific context in which ancient drama was produced and has been disseminated through millennia. Ancient dramas were composed for performance, after all, not written down as literary texts. Their transmission to us has been a complicated process, with multiple manuscript traditions meaning that there has been several versions of any one play through its history.


I looked at a key scene from Euripides’ play, Iphigenia in Aulis, and demonstrated, with the help of a couple of different translations, how easy it is to come up with some really interesting and engaging avenues for further discussion.

You can see how translation in the literal sense and translation in the metaphorical sense work together in situations where an ancient term, institution or practice has no modern equivalent, as with the supplication scene in Iphigenia. How do you a) translate this linguistically (because while supplication is a recognisable word today, it doesn’t carry with it the same connotations as its ancient usage and as such you need to….) b) translate it culturally?


We looked at J. Michael Walton’s seven types of translation and thought about the type of intertextual relationships that are at the heart of ancient drama but that cannot be described with the vocabulary of reception. For example, Iphigenia in Aulis has a clear relationship to the Oresteia and it is not unreasonable to expect the audience of Euripides’ play to be familiar with Aeschylus’ trilogy as it continued to be extremely popular well after its initial performance. However, both these plays draw on a shared mythic vocabulary and it is unclear to what extent Euripides’ Iphigenia is indebted to Aeschylus as opposed to the general myths concerning Troy and the House of Atreus. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that the ancient audience would have recognised Euripides’ plot as setting in motion what would result in the murder of Agamemnon by Clytemnestra upon his return from Troy.


Other things you may want to consider when thinking about the performance of Iphigenia: why, in modern productions, is Iphigenia in Aulis often performed alongside other dramas? What agenda could this be indicative of on the part of the director? How does this affect our reception of certain characters?

  • Iphigenia and other daughters which groups both Iphigenia plays with Sophocles’ Electra (and from looking at the cast list includes Chrysothemis the other daughter of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon)
  • The Iphigenia Cycle (1997) brings together both of Euripides’ plays. Think about how the ambiguous ending of Iphigenia in Aulis is rendered unambiguous is coupled with Iphigenia in Tauris.
  • The Greeks is a trilogy made up of Part 1 The War: Euripides’ Iphigenia in Aulis and Trojan Women, and scenes from Homer. Part 2 The Murders: Euripides’ Hecuba, Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, and Sophocles’ Electra. Part 3 The Gods: Euripides’ Helen, Orestes, Andromache, and Iphigenia in Tauris.
  • Ariane Mnouchkine’s Les Atrides: Iphigenia in Aulis followed by The Oresteia trilogy.

What is especially interesting, to me, is the coupling of Iphigenia in Aulis with either the entire trilogy or plays from The Oresteia and how this is perhaps indicative of a change in the reception of Clytemnestra.


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