A Whiter Shade of Pale

Bacchae Robin Robertson

Bacchae by Euripides: A New Translation by Robin Robertson (Ecco, $19.99, 128 pages)

The final work by one of the three greatest Athenian playwrights and poets might have been on the list of required reading assignments for a serious 19th century student. Not so for this mid-20th century university student whose classics exposure was confined to the statues, temples and artifacts of the era in which Euripides lived.

Bacchae: A New Translation arrived in the mail unbidden, a slender advance review copy that proclaimed its relevance in today’s world. Feeling a need to round out my classical education with a sampling of literature, I worked my way through the book, devoting ample time to the play as well as the most helpful ancillary material.

The book’s elements included a well-developed preface written by Daniel Mendelsohn that provided ample contextual and historical information for the novice reader of Greek tragedies. The introduction by Scottish writer and translator Robin Robertson further set the reader on a path toward comprehending the play. A family tree of the main characters set forth the relationships in a graphic. And lastly, a glossary complete with pronunciation guide appeared after the body of the text. It is assumed that these key elements remained as parts of the final, published version.

As to the take away, alas, most of the insightful and relevant themes touted on the cover flew over this reviewer’s head. Perhaps the extreme drama and graphic nature of the violence contained in the play was just too much. Alternatively, the silent statues, temples and painted vases of the same era held immense appeal nearly five decades after the captivating lectures presented by Dr. Crawford H. Greenewalt, Jr. have nearly faded from memory.

Recommended for students of the classics.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by Ecco/HarperCollins.

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