The Oresteia, by Aeschylus, as Translated by Ted Hughes is quite ball-tightening

It occurs to me that in my post on Euripides, I used the word “electrifying”. This word refers to a quite specific physical sensation that I first noticed when I was reading a book of great speeches around the age of eighteen. It is a shiver that begins in the pit of my elbows and continues up, over my shoulders, and sometimes terminates somewhere in the messy vicinity of the heart. It is a hard, physical signal that what I am reading is something that is really special, and magical. It occurs in response to things that happen in “real” life as well…but much more rarely.

I just finished reading this edition of the Oresteia. It is an extremely cute book. It’s tall and thin and the lines of verse are kind of oversized and fit so neatly within the page. Too often, in books of verse, there is so much blank space to the right of the words…there is no good reason for it to be like that.

I did not like it as much as I liked Euripides. It was too tragic. There was nothing of psychology in it. It was all images. But there were some brilliant parts, like the lines of Clytemnestra’s that end the first play:

The lives of all the people in Argos

Dangle on our word

Whatever word we speak, that is the law.

At last, the throne of Argos is ours

These words made me realize that there is another, somewhat rarer literary sensation that sometimes calls upon me. It is a slight twitch of the scrotal skin. It’s not a sexual thing. It’s just a momentary sensation, one not nearly so protracted as the electrifying sensation, though it means somewhat of the same thing. Anyway, yes, this whole post was more of an excuse to talk about the ball-tightening feeling.

Oh, Ted Hughes’ translation of the Oresteia was very good. I see now how much better my reading of Euripides could have been and it makes me sad. Well, next time I revisit the latter, I will find the very best translation.

Comments (



  1. Eli

    Check out Anne Carson’s “An Oresteia”

    Carson herself admits it may not be a valid amalgamation, but the translations are wonderful. Simultaneously very contemporary in language, yet at the same time not shying away from the ways in which ancient Greek culture is strange and foreign to a contemporary reader/audience. I feel like her command of the greek original allows her to render the language (on a word-by-word level) new in ways that perfectly capture the sense and tone of the source material without lapsing into the stilted rigidity that dooms some works in translation. Somehow, for example, when she has Electra call Helen a “weapon of mass destruction” one has the sense that it’s very nearly exactly what Sophokles meant there, even with the topical overtones.

    I’ll have to check out the Hughes, though. I like him as a translator. After reading several translations of Spring Awakening (the fin de siecle play by Wedekind that the recent musical is based on) I settled on his as far and away the best available in English.

    1. R. H. Kanakia

      This is the second recommendation I’ve gotten for a translation of Carson’s. I’ll definitely have to check it out.

      1. Eli

        Her essays, poems, and novel, too. I’m a total Anne Carson fanboy.