Elevated OedipusDecember 9, 1993
Both William Butler Yeats and Paul Roche have translated Oedipus Rex to English. Because they both came from the same original text, one would assume they would be the same also. The two translations show many differences. One such difference is that Roche's translation portrays a more powerful Oedipus.
Roche's Oedipus uses a more active, definite voice than Yeats'. Roche's "You pray!" is in the active voice instead of Yeats' passive voice, "You are praying." Roche's is also emphasized by the exclamation mark.
Yeats' "it may be that your prayer will be answered" is less powerful than Roche's "what you pray for you can have" because it uses "may," which is less definite than "you can." Yeats' "that if you ... may" is less powerful than Roche's inverted "you can have ... if you'll."
Yeats' Oedipus only says the person shall have "a reward and my thanks," but Roche's will "heap rewards on him," a more direct action. "Heap" connotes a large reward, while "a reward" seems small.
Roche's "I dare proclaim .. the following" is a forceful personal action, instead of Yeats' "This is my proclamation," which is only a passive statement.
Roche's Oedipus poses a direct question, "Then is any man aware the murder was committed by another from another land?" Yeats' Oedipus stumbles through this, "If on the other hand there be one that knows that a foreigner did the deed, let him speak."
Roche's uses a strong action in the first person, where Yeats' only says vague things about everybody. "I, this country's king, will cut off ..." as opposed to Yeats' weak "no one from this land shall speak to him, nor offer ..." "Cut" is a violent action, instead of passive declaration.
Yeats' Oedipus is not as harsh as Roche's when he says, "let them be wasted" instead of "the present plague can burn them up and worse," in which "burn" sounds worse.
Roche's Oedipus sounds more powerful with, "I now call down a life" than when Yeats' says, "and I pray the murderer's ..." "Pray" is a passive action.
Roche also shows Oedipus' pure purpose by writings, "I shall not rest until I've tracked the hand that slew the son of Labdicus." Yeats shows none of this.
Yeats' Oedipus is often long-winded and unclear. He is awkward in the statement, "Whoever among you knows by what man Laius, son of Labdicus, was killed, must tell me all he knows." It looses power by its length. Roche's Oedipus, on the other hand, uses a direct question, "Does any man among you know who killed Laius, son of Labdicus?"
Yeats' Oedipus does not communicate clearly when he says, "If he fear for himself and being guilty denounce himself, he shall be in the less danger, suffering no worse than banishment." Roche's Oedipus concisely says the same thing with, "If self-incrimination keeps him silent, let him be assured he fear nothing worse than banishment."
Roche's Oedipus is also more clear when he says, "For even without a sanction so divine how could you find it in you to neglect a monarch's death." Yeats' Oedipus obfuscates the message by saying, "And even if the God had not spurred us to it, it were a wrong to leave the guilt unpurged." Roche's Oedipus also uses "you" to personalize the question.
Roche's Oedipus again is more concise with, "And those who disobey ...," as opposed to Yeats' Oedipus, who says, "And if there be any who do not obey me in it."
Roche includes stage directions which show Oedipus' impatient waiting. Oedipus gets angry when no one responds to his questions. He exclaims, "What! Still silent?" Yeats includes none of this frustration in his translation.
Roche's Oedipus uses a direct, personal threat where Yeats' uses only a general one: "He'd better listen to the penalties I plan," as opposed to, "hear all what I will do to that man."
Yeats' Oedipus often starts statements with "and." This reduces the overall effect by making the speech seem like a list instead of discrete statements aimed at the citizens. He says, "And in this ...," "and on you I lay it," "and even if the God," "and now since," and "and if there be any."
Roche's Oedipus is more authoritative; he says, "This every jot and tittle I enjoin on you." Yeats' Oedipus only says, "on you I lay it to make." "Enjoin" means to impose with authority.
Roche's Oedipus is more specific than Yeats' when he says, "for the god Apollo" instead of "for the God's sake."
Roche invokes visions of power and authority by using "scepter" and "King," instead of just "power."
All translations are not equal. The original connotations, meter, and poetic devices cannot be easily converted between languages. In this example, Paul Roche portrayed the more ironhanded Oedipus.