Lauritsen, John (editor). “Oresteia: The Medwin-Shelley Translation”, Pagan Press, 2011.
A Forgotten Masterpiece
I am changing direction a bit with this review as we go back in literary history to have a look at a masterpiece. This book by John Lauritsen is a look at a translation of a classic text by Percy Bysshe Shelley and his cousin Thomas Medwin. For about four months is 1820-1822, Shelley and Medwin studied and worked at translating the writings of Aeschylus and here we look at “Oresteia”.
Author Lauritsen maintains that that while the translation is not word-for-word, it is a rendering and recreation of Aeschylus wrote. The two men were able to totally capture the wit, pathos and irony of the original. Shelley, as a poet, was able to use intricate verse forms (some familiar and some original) in the translation. This is perhaps the most acclaimed translation that exists yet it was not published until 1830 after Shelley’s death. Surprisingly, this is a neglected translation. Dramatically this is a powerful translation and the language is poetic and beautiful. Shelley’s skill at writing dialogue is seen and while the language is at times idiomatic, it is very readable.
The relationship between Shelley and Medwin is not completely clear. The men were friends for a long time and would go off together and this upset Shelley’s wife, Mary. I doubt they ever reached the same kind f closeness as Orestes and Pylades. It is interesting that Medwin waited until Shelley died to publish the translation and to me that is suspect. Lauritsen claims that Shelley did most of the work but reaped no benefits from its publication.
- Posted in: Uncategorized