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Monday, Sept. 28, 2009

An Oresteia (Faber & Faber), translated by Anne Carson

Book Review

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Since our ideas of drama and melodrama originated in ancient Greece, it’s no wonder new translations of 2,500-year-old Athenian plays continue to appear. Not all hit the mark as well as others. An Oresteia, a fresh rendering of a trio of thematically related tragedies (Agamemnon, Elektra, Orestes), veers from brilliant to “huh?” by vividly rendering the strangeness of archaic dialogue, only to lapse into contemporary TV-speak. A “weapon of mass destruction” in Euripides? That’s so 2003! As Ann Arbor comparative literature professor Anne Carson writes in her introduction, two of the plays were translated expressly for contemporary staging, “to get the plays performed more.” Let’s hope it works. And her translations, occasional odd word choices notwithstanding, don’t sap the plots of their energy. Orestes, in particular, could still bring audiences to the edge of their seats. (David Luhrssen)