In the last year of his life, celebrated poet, critic, and translator Ted Hughes completed translations of three major dramatic works: Racine's Phedre, Euripedes' Alcestis, and the trilogy of plays known as The Oresteia.
The Oresteia—Agamemnon, Choephori, and The Eumenides—depicts the downfall of the house of Atreus: after King Agamemnon is murdered by his wife, Clytemnestra, their son, Orestes, is commanded by Apollo to avenge the crime by killing his mother, and he he does so, bringing on himself the wrath of the Furies and the judgment of the court of Athens.
Commissioned by the Royal National Theater, Hughes's "acting version" of the trilogy is itself a great performance, capturing the classical grace and authority of Greek drama at its greatest while also exhibiting an artful and contemporary agility. This Oresteia is quickly becoming the standard edition for English-language students, scholars, and other readers.
"Hughes's rendering of this appalling story has the hurtling momentum one assumes the playwright's original Greek had for his Athenian audience . . . To release the play's staggering power Hughes has transformed some thoughtful scholarly commentary into raw horror and agonizing ethical dilemma . . . Ferociously physical . . . like the best of Hughes's own poems"—Ron Smith, Richmond Times-Dispatch
"Evinces Hughes's wide range of interests and mastery of classic literatures. His nearly conversational rhythms produce an arresting mixture of colloquialism and formality, enlivened by strong imagery (as in the matricidal Orestes' declaration that 'This house has been the goblet / That the demon of homicide, unquenchable, / Has loved to drain') . . . An essential further installment in the always interesting oeuvre of a gifted poet who was also a diligent scholar."—Kirkus Reviews
"Aeschylus, the fifth-century BC Attic tragedian, is famous for his knottiness, his clotted images and riddling compound words. Ted Hughes, in his posthumously published translation of the Orestes trilogy, unties the knots and unpacks the compounded thoughts."—Gary Wills, The New York Times Book Review
"Hughes has made the ideal version of a primal dramatic masterpiece."—Ray Olson, Booklist
"Hughes's translation conveys a sense of the menacing strength of Aeschylus' poetry . . . Anyone who hears it or reads it will realize that there is much more to Greek drama than verbiage and literary virtuosity"—Mary Lefkowitz, Washington Times
"Notable for its poetic beauty and compassion, Hughes's superb lyric translation is a refreshing read for a contemporary English literary and theater audience."—Library Journal