Following her experimental translations of Euripides in Grief Lessons (2006), Anne Carson’s recent dialogue with Euripides is amongst her boldest. The Trojan Women (2021), a graphic ‘comics poem’, and H of H Playbook (2021), an ‘explosion of thought’ in the shape of a playbook with illustrations and notes, are a feast to the imagination for readers of Euripides and Carson. Through a combination of scholarly and creative formats, Classical Antiquity‘s special issue “Anne Carson’s Euripides” sheds light on the contribution that Anne Carson has made to the reception of Euripides in textual and visual form. Conversely, it illuminates several aspects of Anne Carson’s oeuvre, not least the increasing interest in Anne Carson Studies. We asked Classical Antiquity‘s guest editor Laura Jansen to tell us more about the special issue.

“H of H before the palace doors” H of H Playbook (2021) by Anne Carson. Credits New Directions

Why is “Anne Carson’s Euripides” the title of this special issue?

“Helen” from The Trojan Women (2021) by Anne Carson, with illustrations by Rosanna Bruno. Credits New Directions

Of all the ancient Greek tragedians, poet and classicist Anne Carson (Canada 1950) has engaged with Euripides (c. 480-406 BCE) the most. Between 2006 and 2015, Carson translated six of Euripides’ plays—Herakles, Hecuba, Hippolytus, Alcestis, Iphigenia in Tauris, and The Bacchae, all of which render Euripides as distinctively Carson’s: bold, electrifying, ambitiously modern yet timeless. Already in Grief Lessons: Four Plays by Euripides (2006), a translation that received rave reviews in non-academic publications such as The New Yorker, The Los Angeles Times, Publishers Weekly, and The New York Sun, one can detect the presence of a creative strand. In what may at first appear to be translations exclusively targeted at university students and academic researchers, the collection features a variety of details that broaden their appeal to audiences at large: playful omissions; transliterations of onomatopoeic sounds; alternative spellings; a distinctive use of colloquial, everyday English; and unorthodox distributions of lines, of which the zig-zagging choruses in her rendering of Herakles are an example. In 2021, Carson adds two more items to this list: H of H Playbook and The Trojan Women: A Comic, which together represent her most ground-breaking dialogue with the ancient playwright to date. Carson’s translations of Euripides in these new works become even more experimental, to the point that they could be regarded as “transcreations.” In the former, a translation-collage housed in playbook form, Euripides’ Heracles is now H of H, the mysterious central character wearing an overall as he returns to Thebes after his twelve labours. In the latter, meanwhile, the captive women of Troy take the astonishing shape of speaking animals stepping in and out of the individual frames of a graphic comic designed by New York-based artist Rosanna Bruno. It is no exaggeration, then, to characterise the Canadian author’s engagement with the Greek tragedian as “Carson’s Euripides.” Yet we can also say that, in reading her Euripides, we get even closer to Carson’s own artistic cosmos, as well as translation praxis and thought. The issue offers food for thought both for readers of Euripides and Carson herself.

What themes does the collection explore?

Several and from multiple angles! It considers the books in relation to Carson’s and Euripides’ “chemical” poetics, art of (self)repetition, art and design, graphic art and narratology, neurodiversity, comedy, “chimeric” form, and soundscapes, amongst others. We have approached these topics from varied and inclusive perspectives and practices, since the issue offers contributions by artists, poets, theorists, and scholars.

“H of H’s overall” from H of H Playbook (2021). Credits New Directions

What motivated you to edit this collection?

A variety of factors, I would say. I had been writing on Anne Carson for a while when the wonderful Mario Telò, editor of Classical Antiquity, suggested that I organise an international event that would lead to this publication. I’m so grateful to Mario for coming up with this idea! The themes that underpin “Anne Carson’s Euripides” were central to this event, held in late April of 2022, under the auspices of the University of Bristol Poetry Institute, Critical Theory at UC Berkeley, and Poetry and Poetics at UChicago. The gathering afforded the opportunity to discuss Carson’s then recently published H of H and The Trojan Women through a series of short 10-minute takes by colleagues with interests in Carson and Greek antiquity, but also in modern languages and literature, translation, poetry, performance, materiality, critical theory, art, design, and architecture. Each speaker turned a spotlight on the two illustrated translations, drawing attention to inflections, motifs, comparative contexts, audience diversity, formats, and practices. The result is “Anne Carson’s Euripides.” For the issue, we deliberately preserved the sense of immediacy of the event’s format and delivery, with minimal, strategic revisions and expansions of the oral takes for their publication form. In one case, we even reproduced verbatim the “viva voce” style. We have also included new commissions from participating audience, such as award-winning doctoral student at King’s College London, Gina Prat Lilly, who offered the essay-interview with Rosanna Bruno. At the heart of the “live” approach was our interest in producing readings of H of H and Trojan Women that speak closely to the breaking down of categories and boundaries one finds in Carson’s oeuvre and thought. We combined our own academic and non-academic interests with forms of criticism that, we believe, illuminate her artistic processes and philosophy of composition more capaciously. The whole process was immensely enjoyable from beginning to end, not least for the expertise and caring support I received from Mario Telò at UC Berkeley and Sarah Nooter at UChicago. Warmest thanks to both!

Subscriptions and single copies of Classical Antiquity—including the special issue “Anne Carson’s Euripedes” (issue 42.2)—may be purchased online at the journal’s website.