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This review is taken from PN Review 94, Volume 20 Number 2, November - December 1993.

STAGE FRIGHT DEREK WALCOTT, The Odyssey: A Stage Version (Faber and Faber) £6.99 pb
BRENDAN KENNELLY, Euripides' The Trojan Women: A New Version (Bloodaxe Books) £6.95 pb
DAVID FERRY, Gilgamesh: A New Rendering in English Verse (Bloodaxe Books) £6.95 pb

How do you persuade modern audiences reared on television soap operas and advertising soundbites that the classics - Homer, Euripides, Aeschylus and the like-can be engaging and relevant to their own experience? How do you make such texts, with their panoply of gods and portrayal of human beings as victims of a fate beyond their control, accessible to a generation for whom faith and all its associated value-systems is becoming increasingly meaningless? It's a dilemma tackled in very different ways by Derek Walcott, Brendan Kennelly and David Ferry in their translations, or perhaps I should say 'transformations', of Homer, Euripides and the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh.

Walcott, the Nobel Prize-winning poet from St Lucia in the Windward Isles, has produced for the Royal Shakespeare Company a stage version of The Odyssey that is an odd blend of cod Greek, Caribbean sing-song and south London demotic. Kennelly was inspired to write his own version of Euripides' The Trojan Women by the hard-working, long-suffering women of his home village of Ballylongford in County Kerry (or so he says). He focuses on the plight of the women, captured by their Greek conquerors and carried off as 'the perks of war'. But in doing so he creates a 'classics by numbers' version of Euripides, leaving out the subtle irony to highlight just one aspect: the subjection of the women to a band of male chauvinists. Only Ferry, in his 'new rendering' of the story of the heroic warrior of Uruk, Gilgamesh, ...


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