Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex” (lit. “Oedipus Rex” by Sophocles (lit. This Ancient Athenian story is not only a collection of plays, but a variety of translations that each have added their own twist to the timeless tale. Thomas Gould and J.E. are just a few of the translations. Thomas, Francis Storr and J.E. Thomas: These accounts are almost identical but reveal intriguing nuances of theme and character when you read them line-by–line. These nuances are what reveal the individual interpretations of each translator’s original Greek text.

The play “Oedipus Redux” is known for its lengthy dialogue between Oedipus with Tiresias. Tiresias must reveal the murderer of Laius or the source of the plague. Oedipus is the prophet. Oedipus is initially gracious and reluctant to criticize the prophet. But he soon gives up on his arrogance and divulges the truth. Oedipus makes a claim at this point. This is a translation from Gould. Gould’s Oedipus is sarcastic in this instance, repeating “I” as a personal pronoun followed by an uncharacteristic self-deprecating epithet. He passively criticizes what he perceives as the falsity of the seer, and possibly also prophecy’s false nature. This is a particularly base criticism, given the high reverence Sophocles gave prophets and gods among his Ancient Athenian audience. The king continues his insult to the prophet by referring to his own success in solving the Sphinx’s riddle with “thought” rather than augury. If you are familiar enough with Ancient Greek customs to recognize augury’s importance in Ancient Greek culture, your arrogance is evident. The dialogue continues with a false accusation against Creon, his uncle/brother in law. Gould’s choice of words (“plot’s conspirator”) portrays Oedipus as almost paranoid. He conveys the king’s view of the prophecy and establishes a very ironic victim complex. Gould adds to the victim complex and a negative vindictiveness by making Oedipus declare that Tiresias would be his “victim” if he wasn’t so old. The monologue ends with a jab at the seer’s aging. This reinforces the protagonist’s disrespect and also reminds him of his own youth in comparison to Tiresias’. Gould has portrayed him as arrogant and full of hubris. Thomas’ translation gives us a different Oedipus. Thomas’ Oedipus says, “I, Oedipus the idiot, stopped her, working with intellect, not learning form birds./ I think you both will regret/ your urges to cleanse the land. But if you/ weren’t so old, you would learn now what such terms earn.” (418-423). This Oedipus looks softer than Gould and is likely to be more popular with readers. The opening epithet is self-deprecating. However, he does not repeat the pronoun. This slightly reduces the sardonic tone. His story of the Sphinx reveals a familiar arrogance toward prophecy. However, he uses the pronouns in a more subtle manner. The words that follow (“I think”) continue to soften Thomas’ tragic heroine. Although they may appear insignificant, the verbs “think” and “think” give Thomas an important touch of humility. It suggests a degree in which there is uncertainty. This in turn subconsciously prompts readers and critics to praise Thomas for his unpredictability. His monologue rests mostly in a straightforward fashion and lacks much of Gould’s Oedipus’ negative emotion and passion. Thomas’ Oedipus’ speech has a calm pace, and he uses no interjections or exclamation. His descriptions are more direct and incisive. Creon becomes, for example, an implicit “concocter” and a more ambiguous” “one who framed those things”. The threat to Tiresias is present in this translation as well, but this idea “earn[ing]” helps to alleviate its harshness. The story is so familiar that the reader won’t be able to identify with any Oedipus. But, they will feel more compassion for Thomas, his tragic hero, than for his translational counterparts.

Storr’s Oedipus is a middle ground. He takes on his own life. The equivalent excerpt from this last translation is: “I, Oedipus the simple, stopped her mouth with mother wit, untaught off auguries/ My plot to drive you out./ I thank thy gray hairs that thou hast not yet to learn the chastisement that such arrogance merits.” (399-404). This Oedipus opens in a subtler way, using a less jarring descriptor (“simple”) that still conveys a bit of humor. While disrespect and arrogance continue as expected in relation to the Sphinx’s fate, Storr’s now uses a more subtle descriptor (“simple”) to describe his success. Since Oedipus’ real mother is not the same as success, his irony may be able to elicit sympathy, or at most a laugh from his readers. Storr’s Oedipus is a good example of this. He uses the verb “methinks”, which is archaic for “I think”, to express an admirable amount of uncertainty. You can also see a hint of the anger and emotion that Gould used to translate him. He said Creon’s “plot” was wrong and Tiresias must regret it. He then described his disputants as “arrogant” and concluded the monologue brilliantly. This captures the almost absurdity of what the tragic hero appears and does. He is, in fact, the one who is hindered and will be punished for his arrogance.

The three differently-translated excerpts above-in addition to the countless other translations of “Oedipus Rex” yet to be analyzed and compared-each contain a world of new emotion, insight, and humor buried within a paradoxically constant narrative. These worlds not only reveal the incredible flexibility of language, perception, and the extraordinary prerogative of a translator to bring his own perspective to the translation.


  • rhysgraham

    Rhys Graham is an educational blogger and professor who writes about topics such as literacy, mathematics, and science. He has written several books, including one on the history of science. He is also the co-founder of the website Learn Out Loud, which helps educators create and share classroom activities.