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A comparative study of six English versions of Medea by Euripides as a problem in communication

1 August 1950


It is the object of the present study to compare six English versions of the tragedy Medea, by Euripides. These versions were uublished within approximately eighty years of one another, from the earliest in 1868 to the most recent in 1947. Three of them were written in prose, three in verse; they range from a translation claiming literal accuracy to a free adaptation of the original Greek. There is historical support for each method of treatment of the body of legends from which the substance of the tragedy Medea was taken. Since today's reader is at the mercy of the translator, how can the relative merit of each translation be established? An absolute norm is an impossibility, for an agreement among critics, even if it could be achieved, would still omit many intangibles for the individual reader, who desires to communicate with Euripides rather than with the translator, and who demands both faithfulness to the original and an opportunity to follow with a minimum of effort and a maximum of gain. For the purpose of discovering the extent in which each of these translators succeeded in opening the channels of communication for the readers of his own generation, each version will be discussed in relation to the framework of the Poetics of Aristotle, in which the Medea is cited as a piece of literature in a living language.


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