Welcome fellow traveller… fellow maenad, fellow satyr, fellow lover of the dithyramb, lover of the high dance-kick, lover of poetry and of the unmixed wine; of merriment, of madness, of frenzy and of ecstasy; of the festival, of the flute, of the thyrsus, of the ivy and of the carefree mind, of the freely soaring immortal spirit and of the front row!
There was an altar devoted to Bacchus on the stage of the theatre of Dionysus, in Ancient Athens and a seat, in the front row of that theatre, reserved for his priests alone. I wish to take us all to the front rows of that theatre, the Fifth Century BC theatre and watch the goings on there, during the two annual festivals held in Bacchus’ honour, the Bacchic festivals, or as they’re better known, the Dionysian festivals. There, at the City Dionysia and the Lenaia, we can watch how four playwrights, three who wrote tragedies and one who wrote comedies dealt with the issues that troubled the lives of their fellow citizens and, at the same time, we can also listen to their good advice. And isn’t good advice also immortal?
Watch and be entertained. It is a stage where the lofty gods and the lowly mortals once wrestled fiercely for justice, where the serious word and the noble deed vied with the vulgar for the better recognition and for the higher dramatic prize. Where, to pay cautious homage to Nietzsche, the dark guts battled with the enlightened head: Bacchus’ mighty forces of dark desire against Apollo’s brilliant light of wisdom, of truth and of conscience.
Bacchus, Dionysus, Dionysius, Dionysos, God of fertility and desire, god of wine, Bromios (the noisy god), Eleutherios (the god who frees mortals from care) Enorches (the god with balls!) Lyaeus (the god who loosens the bands and shackles of everyday care), Oeneus (the god of wine), Liknites (the god who separates the wheat from the chaff) Aegobolus (the goat killer) Acratophorus (the god who won’t mix his wine with water) Dimetor (born of two mothers) Evius, Iacchus – his names and eponyms are many. The stage of the ancient Greek world was almost completely dedicated to him. All the plays we have in existence -tragedies, comedies and satyr plays- are plays written so as to be presented at the two festivals celebrated in his honour, one in Spring and one in Winter, with fierce competition for the first prize.
Though we can lament the disappearance of well over 300 plays written by these four dramaturges as well as a great many by others, we can, nevertheless be thankful for those that have survived for us because they still manage to give us a fairly good understanding of the immense talent as well as the character of that population, of the nature of the humours that flowed and mingled through their bodies; of the ways and the turns of their lives and minds and of the shape and weight of their concerns.
There is a surfeit of excellent translations of all these dramaturges already available both, here on the net and in the bookshops of the world and I know that my own efforts will only add to that surfeit as well as to the befuddlement of those who search for the definitive translation. Alas, the “befuddled” will remain so, no matter how many more translations are placed in the web and upon the book shelves because such a thing as a definitive translation can never exist. As language changes, as it evolves with the ever-tilling of its cultural ground; as the customs, the ethics, the morals and the philosophies of people are questioned, reformed, deformed, reconstructed and deconstructed, as History rolls one war upon another, one religious movement upon another, one Philosophy upon another, her pages ever-burgeoning and ever-falling like the leaves in a forest, so must any work that asks us to think, should be considered with ever-refreshed senses. New words, new notions, new imagination must be applied and translators should keep their eyes, ears and minds well awake to these changes and evolutions and must constantly revisit the original works.
Translating, without wishing to labour the metaphor or the act, is the art of cooking the same dish using, very often, vastly different ingredients. One can only try to convey with these new ingredients, as many of the effects the original had once conveyed: the flavour, the aroma, the look on the plate and that on the faces of those before it; and that, of course is the main thing, the faces on those before the dish: are they the same as those that were before the original dish? Are they as pleased to see it, to smell it, to eat it? That is the aim of a translator, an aim which he or she must pursue with the deepest, most heartfelt passion.
I hope I’ve been reasonably successful in doing that… Imagine cooking a lamb souvlaki using only vegetables and presenting it to the carnivorous epicureans in the hope that they don’t notice the difference! Of course they will, but the real test would be if they will still like it.
I invite my visitors to check these translations and to send me their comments, in all honesty and in the certainty that I shall pay them my fullest attention. More than anything else, I hope that the reader of these works will enjoy them as much as the audience of the 5th century BC, who saw them performed for the first time.
NOTE: For help with the pronunciation of most of the Ancient Greek names on this site go Here
The visitor will also find my efforts, along with those of Tony Kline (a fellow translator of polyglot proficiency) at: Poetry In Translation
Tony’s site is effusive with translations of some of the best works in Literature and effulgent with the thoughts of some of the best minds ever recorded.
George Theodoridis, B.A., M.A. (Prel.), Dip.Ed.(Univ. of Melbourne, Australia)
“Never shall you be able to make smooth the prickly back of porcupines!”
My profound gratitude to Warrigal Mirriyuula for the design of the header. May Zeus bless his generous, effusive, profuse, prolific and profanely artistic soul.
…And to my dear, playful daughter who unequivocally has the requisite genius to make me look far younger and far more good humoured than I am!
Copyright 2001 George Theodoridis.
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Last Update: 17th September, 2018
The Epidaurus Theatre, where an audience of up to 15,000 can hear the whisper of a single actor. 4thC, BC.