Friday, October 19, 2007

Daughters of Troy (The Trojan Women)

When I studied in London a few years ago I took a class called "Modern Drama in Performance." In which we went to see Hecuba (pictured at left). Clearly my professor meant "modern" loosely. But as she pointed out, Greek tragedies were popular that year. And surely it was no surprise for Euripides, who lived and wrote during the Peloponnesian War, to be in vogue.

The production we saw was certainly modern, from the set to the translation, which I tend to think is a necessity when it comes to Greek tragedy. Or if not a necessity, an enormous help. It's true that the stories these plays tell, and the messages they convey, still hold power millenia later. But I think that, as viewers from a radically different culture, it helps to have some kind of entrance into that world.

Which brings me to the dramatic reading of The Trojan Women, henceforth referred to as Daughters of Troy since that's what this translation titled it, I went to last night. I saw a flier for it in McNally Robinson (the bookstore where the reading was held) and, since I do like Greek tragedy and the translation and reading were both the work of Mark Rudman who is a former teacher of mine, I decided to go. I'm glad I did too, because the translation, by Rudman and Katharine Washburn, is one that really lends itself to being read aloud or performed: The language is simultaneously poetic and colloquial.
She died her own death; she met
a fate that is sweet compared to my life.

Child, to see the light of day
is to be alive.
Death is nothing. In life, one harbors hope.

Mother, who gave me life, hear now
an argument to warm your heart.
Cancel the walk from cradle to grave--
better to be dead than live in anguish.
For whoever has exhausted hope
is numb to further pain,
but whoever knows good fortune,
when he is fallen in misfortune,
is distraught with the memory
of lost happiness.
Polyxena . . . she no longer sees the light
and is severed from these evils by death.
But I, who aspired to be well-thought-of,
I, who enjoyed some good measure of success,
have met disaster.
It's a taut and effective translation and it was a pleasure to hear it read. Daughters of Troy is thought of as Euripides antiwar play, although he certainly has more than one play that shows the horrors of war: not only the ways in which war destroys the lives of those who do not fight and are left to pick up the pieces but the way in which it dehumanized victors and conquered alike. I imagine though, that it is Daughters of Troy which is particularly difficult to translate or perform, because it is a play in which virtually nothing happens. A series of speeches. So it was a nice surprise to find the reading and translation as engrossing as they were.

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