This is a recent book by Anne Carson, a poet and scholar of whom I’d previously never heard. The subtitle is “Four Plays by Euripides”.
I read about it in some magazine, picked it up since I’m a sucker for the classics, and I’m glad I did. The prefaces and interludes by Ms Carson are quirky and interesting and worth reading, but not nearly as good as the four plays translated between them: Herakles, Hekabe, Hippolytos, and Alkestis. They are tragedies, and three of the four are particularly tragic tragedies, with vengeful gods stirring a thick brew of incest, madness, and murder.
But the words are stripped down and stripped down and stripped down again, their edges left sharp as those on the swords that shed the blood, and there’s lots of that, albeit mostly offstage . Herakles and Theseus appear regularly, the profound ambiguity of their personalities and semidivinity milked frankly for all it’s worth by both Euripides and Carson. Suffice it to say that you would not want to have been a member of either’s family.
On top of the fine writing and translating here, the book is very beautiful; plays-in-verse give the typographer many opportunities for necessarily-careful exuberance, and the words are sprinkled on the paper sparely and very beautifully.
I’m sure I’ll be picking up a couple of Anne Carson’s books now. I already have enough Euripides.