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Local Scholar's Translation of Aeschylus' 'Agamemnon' Makes Classic More Accessible

Dark Dwarf
The "Golden Party Mask of Agamemnon" at the Oxford: Ashmolean Museum in England.

Even people who didn’t major in the classics or theater history have some passing knowledge of the Trojan War.  Like any good epic story, it’s full of larger-than-life characters, revenge, lust and sacrifice.

Ever since Homer included it as part of his Odyssey, many of the stories have become fodder for other works of art.  Aeschylus is considered the first of the three great tragic dramatists of ancient Greece and his Orestia trilogy includes the story of the Trojan War. 

"It's the first Greek tragedy that gained the reputation of a great work of literature and it's just full of imaginative poetry," says David Mulroy, a professor emeritus of classics at UW-Milwaukee.

Mulroy recently translated the first play in the trilogy, Agamemnon, and will talk about his new verse translation Thursday evening at Boswell Book Company.

Though a classic and a favorite play among classical scholars, Mulroy admits the play is quite difficult and not as accessible to readers as other Greek stories.

"Greek tragedies evolved out of choral songs. They were originally more musical pageants than dramatic stories," he explains.

These songs are heavily present in Agamemnon, but Mulroy hopes that his translation clearly distinguishes the songs from the story, thus making it easier for all readers to understand. "I've taken kind of a radical step in translating the singing parts into rhyming stanzas," says Mulroy. "The Greeks did not use end rhyme, but I feel it clearly sets apart the musical parts of the play."

Despite the time it took Mulroy to translate the classic Greek story, he doubts that he will ever be completely fluent in the dead languages.

"Most of us (translators), no matter how long we've been at it, have a dictionary in one hand and a grammar in the other," he says.

Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.
Audrey Nowakowski is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.