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The Three Theban Plays (Penguin Classics) [Paperback]

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Pages   430
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 7.76" Width: 5.11" Height: 0.77"
Weight:   0.65 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Mar 1, 2000
Publisher   Penguin Group USA
Age  18
ISBN  0140444254  
EAN  9780140444254  

Availability  0 units.

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Item Description...
Detailed notes accompany modern translations of the stories of Oedipus, a king who is unable to escape his tragic fate and ends his days in exile

Publishers Description
The heroic Greek dramas that have moved theatergoers and readers since the fifth century B.C.
Towering over the rest of Greek tragedy, the three plays that tell the story of the fated Theban royal family--"Antigone, Oedipus the King "and" Oedipus at Colonus--"are among the most enduring and timeless dramas ever written. Robert Fagles's authoritative and acclaimed translation conveys all of Sophocles's lucidity and power: the cut and thrust of his dialogue, his ironic edge, the surge and majesty of his choruses and, above all, the agonies and triumphs of his characters.
This Penguin Classics edition features an introduction and notes by the renowned classicist Bernard Knox.

Buy The Three Theban Plays (Penguin Classics) by Sophocles, Robert Fagles & Bernard MacGregor Walker Knox from our Christian Books store - isbn: 9780140444254 & 0140444254

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More About Sophocles, Robert Fagles & Bernard MacGregor Walker Knox

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Sophocles was born at Colonus, just outside Athens, in 496 BC, and lived ninety years. His long life spanned the rise and decline of the Athenian Empire; he was a friend of Pericles, and though not an active politician he held several public offices, both military and civil. The leader of a literary circle and friend of Herodotus, he was interested in poetic theory as well as practice, and he wrote a prose treatise On the Chorus. He seems to have been content to spend all his life at Athens, and is said to have refused several invitations to royal courts.Sophocles first won a prize for tragic drama in 468, defeating the veteran Aeschylus. He wrote over a hundred plays for the Athenian theater, and is said to have come first in twenty-four contests. Only seven of his tragedies are now extant, these being Ajax, Antigone, Oedipus the King, Women of Trachis, Electra, Philoctetes, and the posthumous Oedipus at Colonus. A substantial part of The Searches, a satyr play, was recovered from papyri in Egypt in modern times. Fragments of other plays remain, showing that he drew on a wide range of themes; he also introduced the innovation of a third actor in his tragedies. He died in 406 BC.

Robert Fagles (1933-2008) was Arthur W. Marks '19 Professor of Comparative Literature, Emeritus, at Princeton University. He was the recipient of the 1997 PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation and a 1996 Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His translations include Sophocles's Three Theban Plays, Aeschylus's Oresteia (nominated for a National Book Award), Homer's Iliad (winner of the 1991 Harold Morton Landon Translation Award by The Academy of American Poets), Homer's Odyssey, and Virgil's Aeneid.

Bernard Knox (1914-2010) was Director Emeritus of Harvard's Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C. He taught at Yale University for many years. Among his numerous honors are awards from the National Institute of Arts and Letters and the National Endowment for the Humanities. His works include The Heroic Temper: Studies in Sophoclean Tragedy, Oedipus at Thebes: Sophocles' Tragic Hero and His Time and Essays Ancient and Modern (awarded the 1989 PEN/Spielvogel-Diamonstein Award).

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Best Translation for Most  Mar 8, 2010
Though not a trilogy in the strict ancient Greek sense like Aeschylus' Oresteia and indeed written decades apart over a long life, Sophocles' three Theban plays are interrelated and ideally read together. They are immortal classics and essential for everyone; the real question is what translation to get. Robert Fagles' is undoubtedly the best for current readers. It is not that prior ones are inaccurate, but inevitable language changes have made them ever less readable; some may think them more stately, but they lack Fagles' flow and readability. All one need do is compare his renderings of the famous closing speeches in Oedipus the King and Antigone to prior ones; his are so much more immediate yet also more poetic. Dedicated Greekless readers will of course want several, but neophytes should start with Fagles, the only version most will ever need.

Oedipus the King has been an immortal world literature classic for nearly 2,500 years. Long considered the greatest Greek tragedy, it was hailed by Aristotle as the tragedy par excellence, and in the millennium plus since only Shakespeare's greatest work has even approached it. It remains a model of what tragedy should be; deftly plotted and perfectly executed, it has a sympathetic protagonist, a crushing climax, sublime poetry, and a wealth of meaningful themes. The play remains on the very short list of incomparably and undeniably great world literature masterpieces - one of the six or so best works ever.

Perhaps the aspect that has always spoken most strongly is the character of Oedipus. The archetypal tragic hero, He is one of literature's most thoroughly sympathetic personages. Whatever his faults, he is far more sinned against than sinning; his rise from humble background to king is matched only by his even more awe-inspiring fall. Arrogant, haughty, and somewhat impulsive, he has distinct flaws, but they only make him more human; we feel for him because we see his profound humanity. However ostensibly different from us, he has the indisputable human core necessary for a truly moving character. His downfall's pathos is near-unbearable; it is hard to see a man so truly broken and heavily suffering. The play is valuable for showing the nadir to which people can sink, bringing out life's inherent tragedy with incredible force and emotion.

The story itself is also key. The original audience knew the Oedipus story well, and it has continued to be so famous that most will know a lot before reading, but Sophocles portrays it with such skillful mastery that it affected Athenians with mesmerizing power and continues to do so. A tighter plot or more perfect execution could not be conceived; no one has ever made better use of foreshadowing or dramatic irony, and the breathtaking climax has rarely even been approached. The story is put together with almost mathematical precision, and the close is simply devastating. The totality of bitterly ironic events that comes down on Oedipus is so crushingly malevolent that it shows the absolute worst that can happen to a person. For this reason among many others, the play remains the consummate tragedy.

The work's lasting value may be due primarily to its extraordinary dramatization of numerous weighty themes. All Greek tragedies were broadly philosophical in a way later plays - to say nothing of current ones - rarely are, but this is again the top example. It most famously deals with fate and has indeed never been matched for showing fatalism's dark possibility and potentially fatal consequences. However, this has also been exaggerated, because a close reading clearly shows that Oedipus himself inadvertently caused his downfall; this is what makes him a tragic hero. Denying the conventional depiction may seem strange, but it after all makes him more relatable. As far as we know, we are not victims of venomous fate but are fragile beings suffering from limitations we are unable to overcome. The play in any case has other important themes: the creation and enforcement of taboos, questions of political succession and family relations, pride vs. humility, etc. That Sophocles was able to do all this in a work of less than two thousand lines - not even half of Hamlet - is a testament both to his genius and to ancient Greek art's essential concision.

As in Oedipus the King, the character of Oedipus is perhaps the most immediate strength. He is one of literature's most thoroughly sympathetic personages, and the truly pathetic depiction of him here as a broken old man near death - blind, seemingly at least partly senile, and dependent on his daughters for even the simplest tasks - may be even more moving than his downfall in Oedipus the King, powerful as that was. Here he is reduced to the most abject misery possible to humanity - a state so pitiful that even reading of it is nearly unbearable. Though he had clear faults even in his prime and caused his own decline, it is virtually impossible not to sympathize with him; he is truly more sinned against than sinning. He has flaws even here; his impulsiveness has increased, his temper has shortened, and he lashes out at people - including his own sons - with little provocation. Yet he remains sympathetic; such things if anything make him even more human; we feel for him because we see his profound humanity. His state is indeed so low that he is forgiven by Zeus and allowed to die not only with dignity but with some satisfaction at a return of his importance after decades of pained exile. On top of everything else, the play is a thoroughly moving depiction of true compassion and noble forgiveness. Despite many dark moments, it is uncharacteristically optimistic for ancient Greek drama - indeed no tragedy at all, though ostensibly styled one. It suggests that there is always a possibility of at least partial redemption and underscores the profound significance of empathy and mercy. Sophocles' nearing death may have brought on such thoughts, but their universality makes them timeless; the play continues to speak at least as powerfully as the tragedies to those willing to listen, and its greater palatability makes it potentially more relatable.

Unlike the prior two Theban plays and Greek drama generally, Colonus has very little action. It is essentially an emotional drama that works via dialogue, but there is also substantial philosophical dramatization. The grand themes and monumental speculation of Oedipus the King and Antigone are mostly gone, but it does handle important issues like the responsibility of parents toward children and vice versa, questions of political succession, society's treatment of outsiders, the significance of ritual, etc. Those who value the first two plays for taking on weighty issues more grandly and overtly may be somewhat disappointed, but this still has a good amount of weighty themes, and its elegiac aura is in its way even more emotional. Unlike them, it does not stand well on its own, but this edition thankfully makes the point moot; it comes off much better in context, adding considerably to the book's worth.

As in Oedipus the King, the title character may be the most stirring aspect. Though not a tragic hero in Oedipus' strict sense, Antigone has fundamentally human thoughts and feelings that make her supremely relatable; we feel with and for her because we see ourselves in her. She may be extremely high strung, and her actions and emotions may be highly wrought, but she is an extreme case of what the dark, often contradictory emotions at humanity's heart can lead to if followed to the logical conclusion. Whatever her faults, she does not deserve her dark end, and the depiction of her doomed love and tragic end are profoundly moving; few portrayals are more pathos-drenched. However superficially different from us, she has the indisputable human core necessary for a truly moving character. Whether or not we agree with her, we sympathize strongly, and her determination and resilience are truly admirable.

We must not overlook the significance of a female protagonist in an ancient Greek work. Greek society was truly a man's world; women were oppressed to an extent that has long been unthinkable in the Western world. They were not considered unequal so much as hardly thought of at all; indeed, they seem not to have been allowed at dramatic performances - a true irony here. Antigone has thus unsurprisingly been the focus of much feminist criticism. Calling it proto-feminist would be too much, but having a female protagonist - much less a sympathetic one - was indeed notable. Though lacking Greek male heroes' attributes, she is a far cry from the wily but essentially frivolous goddesses and women in Homer and elsewhere, to say nothing of helpless damsels like Helen. The play vividly showed that, however insignificant women were, their wishes could not simply be ignored - and that tragic consequences may result if they are. It was not until far later - perhaps the mid or late Victorian era - that literature had another heroine of comparable strength.

Yet she is not the only interesting character; indeed, strictly speaking, Creon is the true tragic hero. Much like Oedipus, he has tragic flaws - arrogance, narrow-mindedness, impulsiveness - that lead to his downfall. It is hard not to hate him at first, especially considering the story's background, but at least as hard not to be moved by the truly pathetic picture of the broken man he is at the end. He may have deserved punishment, but few would say he deserved the catastrophe he got, which is one of the most vivid and deeply stirring illustrations of how a rash act done quickly with little thought can lead to fatal conclusions. As important as Antigone is to the play's core emotion and thought-provoking aspect, Creon is also essential.

The story itself is a fundamental part of the play's greatness also; only Oedipus the King even rivals it for plot tightness and perfect execution. Superb handling of grand themes are also again important, including family relations, questions of political succession, private vs. public loyalty, pride vs. humility, etc. Perhaps all that need be said, though, is that this is nearly as great as Oedipus the King.

One can of course purchase these plays separately, but they are ideally read together, and getting all three Fagles translations at once is too good of a bargain to pass up. Anyone wanting to read them for the first time or searching for a new edition need look no further.

The Best of Both Worlds  Mar 23, 2009
To anyone who cares for classic theatre, the Theban plays by Sophocles are among the best to be found. And to anyone who reads the classics of Greece or Rome -- regardless of genre -- the translations of Robert Fagles are the absolute best. Here we have the best plays by the best translator. The introduction by Bernard Knox should be of special value for those not terribly familiar with the trilogy, and his notes should be useful for all readers.
Translation isn't transliteration  Dec 16, 2008
I try to reread Sophocles every few years, both because I enjoy him and because I find him a moral tonic. Since I can only haltingly stumble through his Greek, I always read translations, and I read a different translation each time.

When one reads a translated literary work, one is reading a piece of literature that, in a manner of speaking, is "co-authored." Translation isn't, can't, and oughtn't to be a mechanically isomorphic transliteration of the original text. Translators--good ones, anyway--are artists in their own right. The choices they make in deciding how best to render the original text reflects not only their own creative sensitivity, but also their cultural context. Different translators, because of the variability of their temperaments, talents, and times, focus on different inflections. (In this regard, they're not unlike stage directors, who also "co-author" the plays they present.) So one never reads Sophocles, unless one reads the original Greek. One always reads Fagles' Sophocles, or Fitzgerald's Sophocles, or X's Sophocles.

I think Fagles and Sophocles make a marvelous collaboration. In fact, I like this translation better than any other I've read over the past half-century (and I've liked some others very much). Fagles has the soul of a poet (his volume of poems, I, Vincent, is very good indeed), and his rendering of "Antigone" and "Oedipus the King" are especially fine. Like all translators, he has a spin that mirrors the fears and hopes of his own time. In Fagles' case, it's what the existentialists would call nausea or anxiety over the absurd contingency of existence. For example, Oedipus the King [1442], after learning of his unhappy fate:

...the agony! I am agony--
where am I going? where on earth?
where does all this agony hurl me?
where's my voice?
winging, swept away on a dark tide--
My destiny, my dark power, what a leap you made!

What more could one ask of a translator than that s/he remain loyal to the ancient text being interpreted while rendering it in such a way as to speak to contemporary readers? For translators aren't transliterators or transcribers. They're not secretaries. They're artists.
Must Have for Serious Study  Jun 19, 2008
No one can study the greek classics without these titles; a spring board to other works. Page layouts are easily read (numbered and indexed with referent notes). Each offering is accompanied by its own introduction loaded with connections!
DRAMA  Jan 1, 2008
The three Theban plays are a great way to introduce high school student into classical Greek literature. While the introductions can be lengthy, and give away the story, the plays are quite short and good for students like myself with the attention span of a infant. Both plays a very dramatic and filled with scandal which is something that the tens of today can relate to. The first play, Antigone, tells of a woman who fights for her right to give her brother a proper burial, and even though she is dating the son of the king she is sentenced to death. This causes uproar within the royal family eventually showing that the king's rash actions and need for power leads to the dismantling of his own household.
The second play, Oedipus the King, tells the tale the grown son of the king of Thebes that had been given away at birth, in an effort to avoid a prophecy by a blind prophet. Everything that they tried to avoid comes true in the most unfortunate of fashions. For those who enjoy the modern media it can be compared to a celebrity sex scandal.

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