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Sophocles: Oedipus the King

A New Verse Translation

David Kovacs

Publication Date - 23 June 2020

ISBN: 9780198854845

128 pages
7.7 x 5.1 inches

In Stock


Oedipus the King is the best-known play we have from the pen of Sophocles and was recognized as a masterpiece in Aristotle's Poetics, which cites the play more often than any other as an example of how to write tragedy.

The principal character is the king of a city ravaged by a mysterious plague, who consults Apollo at Delphi and is told that the plague will end only when those who killed the previous king, Laius, are found and punished. He launches an investigation, in the course of which he learns not only that he is himself the killer, but that Laius was his father and Laius' widow, whom he married, his own mother. As a result of this revelation Oedipus changes from being a respected king and conscientious investigator into a polluted and self-blinded outcast.

This volume presents a highly-polished English verse translation of Sophocles' powerful play which renders both the beauty of his language and the horror of the events being dramatized. A detailed introduction and notes clearly elucidate how the plot is constructed and the meaning this construction implies, as well as how Sophocles ably concealed the fact that his characters act in ways which differ from what we expect in real life. It also addresses influential misinterpretations, thereby offering an accessible and authoritative introduction to the play that will be of benefit to a wide range of readers.


  • Includes a lively and engaging introduction and detailed notes, elucidating Sophocles' masterpiece for students at both school and university level
  • Offers an accurate yet elegant and accessible English verse translation that seeks to capture and convey the formal beauty of the Greek verse while correcting important mistranslations
  • Sets out all the staging that can be inferred from what the characters say, allowing the reader to envision the actions and providing guidance on possible productions of the play

About the Author(s)

David Kovacs, Hugh H. Obear Professor of Classics (Emeritus), University of Virginia

After receiving his doctorate from Harvard University in 1976, David Kovacs joined the classics faculty at the University of Virginia, where he taught Greek and Latin language and literature for forty years.


"Kovacs, as is evident from his self-citation, focuses heavily on the religious context to Oedipus. The use of the introduction to lay out important background for novice readers, while simultaneously reflecting recent developments in scholarship is another elegant characteristic..." -- Cressida Ryan, Classical Review

"Kovacs' lively verse translation, with introduction and notes, of this seminal play, will be of value to students and lay readers alike." -- Michael Halleran, William & Mary, Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Table of Contents

    1. Sophocles and the great age of Athenian tragedy
    1a. What we know of Sophocles' life
    1b. How to avoid turning Sophocles into the wrong kind of classic
    2. The conditions of tragic performance in the fifth century BC
    3. The divine dimension: on not misunderstanding Sophocles' Oedipus the King
    3a. The role of Apollo in what happens before the play opens
    3b. Apollo at work within the play
    3c. Some general considerations in favour of an active Apollo
    3d. How much pure coincidence is there in Oedipus the Kinga
    3e. What was Apollo's reason for ruining Oedipusa
    3f. Justifying the ways of God to man
    4. A further source of confusion: Sophocles' manipulation of the plot
    5. The ending
    5a. The scene with the daughters
    5b. Why is Oedipus made to re-enter the palacea
    6. The translation: its aims and methods
    7. The Greek text: departures from Lloyd-Jones and Wilson, Sophoclis Fabulae (second impression, Oxford 1992)
    Works cited
    OEDIPUS THE KING, a verse translation
    Notes to the translation
    Suggestions for further reading

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