On the Shelf Now: Get Him to the Greek

Article by corby

Don’t save the drama for your mama—go on and get yourself some Greek tragedy! At Brazos, we read a lot of contemporary fiction and nonfiction, but sometimes we lust for a bracing dose of the classics to give us that vertiginous sense of tradition and (let’s be honest) for all the gory family dysfunction, death, and destruction. Most of us know the cliches (incest! eye-gouging!) but not much else, which is a pity because Greek tragedy offers fascinating insights into the politics, philosophy, religion, and society of classical Athens. For this week’s Brazos Book List, we’ve assembled five paperbacks that animate these ancient marble masterpieces. The poetry is so tempting you might feel compelled to lash yourself to the mast and stuff wax in your ears. Don’t do it, sailor! Submit to the siren song and dive in, before it’s too late!

The Story of the Iliad: A Dramatic Retelling of Homer's Epic and the Last Days of Troy Cover Image
ISBN: 9780871408907
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Liveright Publishing Corporation - February 16th, 2015

I know what you’re thinking: wait a minute—the ILIAD is an epic poem, not a tragedy! True, but that’s what makes this new play by award-winning British poet Armitage so compelling—it’s a hybrid (or many-headed Hydra?) marrying the best plot points and themes of Homer’s military epic to the compressed time-frame and dramatic arc of tragedy. (As it happens, Aristotle said Homer was really the father of tragedy anyway, so we’ve got our bases covered.) Marvel at the hero Achilles and feel his accursed wrath; despise the deer-hearted Agamemnon; and indulge your love-hate relationship with Helen in this full-blooded modern adaptation that played at the famous Globe Theater in London just last year.

Bacchae Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062319678
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Ecco - August 18th, 2015

Never even dipped a toe into the bloody puddle of Greek tragedy? Then this is the play for you! All you really need to know about Euripides’ masterpiece is one ancient Greek word: “sparagmos,” which means “ripping something limb from limb.” Intrigued? You should be. This play’s got it all—an evil, repressive king; Jedi-style mind tricks; LOTS of cross-dressing; drunken all-night ragers; vindictive divinities; and, of course, sparagmos. Beyond all the jaw-dropping action, BACCHAE also shows a lot about Greek ideas of politics, religion, and gender norms. This new translation from acclaimed Scottish poet Robertson (who also has a wonderful translation of poems by Swedish Nobel-laureate Tomas Tranströmer) is light and nimble like Hermes, but when it needs to, it thunders like Zeus.

The Oresteia (Penguin Classics) Cover Image
By Aeschylus, Robert Fagles (Translator), W. B. Stanford (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9780140443332
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Penguin Books - February 7th, 1984

Fagles is probably the most loved, best-selling, and all-around strongest modern American translator of ancient Greek poetry (and Latin; his AENEID is incredible). Let him be the Vergil to your Dante as you step with trepidation into the dark underworld of Aeschylus’ ORESTEIA, which is hands down the richest, grimmest, most aesthetically magnificent example of tragedy in existence. THE ORESTEIA—which takes its name from Orestes, son of Agamemnon—is the only surviving three-play set (trilogy) from ancient Greece; in the ancient world, all three plays would have been performed on a single day, outdoors in the spring sunshine on the slope of the Athenian acropolis. The poet Aeschylus manages to generate such suspense (the famous carpet scene!) and such dynamic characters (you’ll have nightmares about Clytemnestra and Cassandra, believe me) that you’ll be tearing your hair, rending your clothes, and begging the Furies for a shred of mercy.

All That You've Seen Here Is God: New Versions of Four Greek Tragedies Sophocles' Ajax, Philoctetes, Women of Trachis; Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound Cover Image
By Bryan Doerries (Translator), Sophocles, Aeschylus
ISBN: 9780307949738
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Vintage - September 1st, 2015

These brand new translations from Bryan Doerries are beautiful on the page, but like a magic spell, their deep power lies in being spoken out loud, both in the study and on stage. Doerries (who will probably win a Genius Grant in the next couple of years) produced these direct contemporary versions in conjunction with his Theater of War project, a truly unique enterprise that brings together ancient texts, famous actors (including Paul Giamatti, David Strathairn, and Dianne Wiest) and audiences of real soldiers. By experiencing the trauma of war as represented in these ancient Greek tragedies, contemporary veterans have found an avenue for talking about their own traumas, leading to more dialogue and the potential for more healing. All of this is explained in riveting detail in Doerries recent, acclaimed memoir THE THEATER OF WAR: WHAT ANCIENT GREEK TRAGEDIES CAN TEACH US TODAY (published by Knopf, also on our shelves now).

Antigonick Cover Image
ISBN: 9780811222921
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: New Directions Publishing Corporation - May 29th, 2015

Antigo…who? You may think you know the story of Antigone—that ancient Theban Katniss Everdeen whose unwavering loyalty to family brings her to a bad end—but groundbreaking poet Anne Carson will open your eyes with this slim, challenging retelling which puts the Sophoclean original in dialogue with its many historical admirers like Hegel, Heidegger, and Brecht. The publisher—New Directions—is one of our absolute favorites here at Brazos; they also published Carson’s phenomenal NOX, an ode to her dead brother based on Catullus which took the form of an oversized, accordion-style facsimile scrapbook. This translation/adaptation is not for the timid—but lovers of Greek literature will find new ideas in Carson’s encounter with what Hegel called the confrontation of “right and right.”

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