cover image Bakkhai


Anne Carson. New Directions, $16.95 (96p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2710-0

Multidisciplinary poet-scholar Carson (Antigonick) unveils a stripped-down and faithful “new version” of Euripides’s classic tragedy. Though she has been known to take liberties with her interpretations of classical Greek literature, here the Dionysian “desire/ before the desire,/ the lick of beginning to know you don’t know,” appears much in the vein of her previous translations of classic dramas. The dialogue is imbued with a minimalist, almost rustic conversationalism that’s countered by gripping and dramatic choral odes, a slithering Bakkhic entrance song, and the crazed fragmentation of Agave’s awakening from the Bakkhic spell. At times, Carson puts forth a kind of affectless droll, a mode that might serve the dialogue but falls flat in the work’s opening and closing moments (“Here I am./ Dionysos.”; “That’s how this went/ today.”). Otherwise, this rendition is a hilarious and razor-sharp romp full of sex, violence, and drink-guzzling (Dionysos: “They say he gave the gift of wine to men:/ why, without wine we’ve no freedom from pain./ Without wine there’s no sex./ Without sex/ life isn’t worth living.// [exit Herdsman].”). In traversing the eternal pull between what humans call reason and what that reason deems primal, Carson’s trademark simplicity allows this work to feel simultaneously ancient and contemporary. (Dec.)