Recent treatments of the politics of modern versions of Greek tragedy have given pride of place to their capacity to act as vehicles for protest by drawing attention to social and political problems.  In this paper, I show how the Irish playwright Frank McGuinness, in his rewritings of two Euripidean tragedies set after the Trojan War, conforms to this stereotype in his use of anachronistic contemporary references.  More significantly, I also point to the limitations of this analysis by showing how he moves beyond it by demonstrating the transformative power of drama in laying claim to (in the case of Euripides’ Hecuba) literature’s capacity to mediate past experiences and (in the case of Euripides’ Helen) its capacity to teach.

I then consider how these political functions relate to the texts’ statuses as translations of their Greek originals.  Often, modern versions of Greek tragedies are viewed as distortions rather than translations of the political effects that their source texts had on their original audiences.  I suggest that this perception may not be altogether fair.  Drawing on the work of Nida and others, I argue that the ways that I have identified in which McGuinness’ versions respond to contemporary political concerns may be understood as achieving ‘dynamic equivalence’ according to particular interpretations of their source texts.

Finally, I ask whether this articulation of the effects of tragedies comes at a price.  In laying claim to particular possible original political effects of tragedies, McGuinness’ versions seem to to direct or to close down our possible responses.  But how does this relate to modern scholarship’s emphasis on the diverse range of emotional and intellectual reactions that original audience members (presumably) had to ancient tragedies?  What does it mean, and does it matter, if we find in McGuinness’ Hecuba not the catharsis that it seems to advertise but didaxis?

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