Dryden & Oedipus

In response to:

Aeschylus Pinioned and Grabbed from the November 27, 1975 issue

To the Editors:

Bernard M. W. Knox declares [NYR, November 27] that “Dryden, the translator-general of his age…never laid a finger on Aeschylus, Sophocles, or Euripides.” The critic-general has stumbled a thought or two. A hint: Oedipus, with Nathaniel Lee.

Earl Miner

Princeton, New Jersey

Bernard Knox replies:

Professor Miner has a point. But the Dryden-Lee Oedipus is in no sense a translation. In spite of Dryden’s claims to Sophoclean authority in his prologue, only a few short passages make even a faint pretense of reliance on the Greek original. Apart from “the underplot of Adrastus, Eurydice and Creon” (which winds up with three onstage killings one right after the other), there is a mad scene for Jocasta, a sleepwalking scene for Oedipus, and a mass incantation by Tiresias and black-robed priests which raises the ghost of Laius. “Charm! song! and show! a murder and a ghost!” Dryden’s epilogue runs: “We know not what you can desire or hope / to please you more, but burning of a pope.”