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Holderlin's Sophocles: Oedipus and Antigone

Published by Bloodaxe Books

ISBN: 9781852245436

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Friedrich Holderlin (1770-1843) was one of Europe's greatest poets. David Constantine's Selected Poems of Holderlin won him the 1997 European Poetry Translation Prize. Now he has turned to Holderlin's versions of Sophocles, seeking to create an equivalent English for these extraordinary German recreations of the classic Greek verse plays.

Holderlin translated all his writing life. Through translation he reached a poetic language of his own, so that much of his best poetry reads like a strange and beautiful translation from elsewhere. He was intensely occupied with Sophocles in the winter of 1803-04. His versions of Oedipus Rex and Antigone (he worked at but never finished Oedipus at Colonus and Ajax) came out in the spring of 1804 and were taken, by the learned, as conclusive proof of his insanity.

He was by then very near to mental collapse, but no one now would dismiss his work for that. He translated in a radical and idiosyncratic way, cleaving close to the Greek yet at the same time striving to interpret these ancient, foreign and ñ as he thought ñ sacred originals, and so bring them home into the modern day and age.

Constantine has translated Holderlin's translations, carrying as much of their strangeness as possible into his English. The plays themselves need no introduction or apology. These double translations, links in literature from land to land and from age to age, demonstrate the vitality of ancient and modern poetic tradition.

"Constantine goes for an "equivalence of spirit" in a more familiar idiom. This is at once a bold and humble undertaking, and has produced poetry of a remarkable luminosity and intensity, written in rhythms and cadences which recreate, both in their extremities of grief and their urgent hope, the immediacy of the original."
Karen Leeder, Oxford Poetry
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