Rita Dove’s Roman Oedipus

Laura Marshall (Pennsylvania State University)

Rita Dove’s Roman Oedipus In The Darker Face of the Earth, Rita Dove retells the plot of Oedipus Tyrannus in the antebellum south and replaces Sophoclean fate with the “systemic violence of slavery” (Dove 2003, 177). But in spite of the play’s Greek origins, many of the characters have Roman names (Phebe, Augustus, Diana). By using Roman names in a Greek story, Dove reminds the audience of the classical tradition in the antebellum south, but she also prompts the audience to consider the long tradition of interpretatio Romana (identifying Greek divinities with Roman ones, such as Zeus = Jupiter) and the Roman tradition of aemulatio in translation (competition with, rather than fidelity to, the source text). Reading itself is problematized throughout the play (Carlisle), and Dove’s retelling of the Oedipus story using Roman names prompts the audience to consider the value and limitations of reading one culture through the lens of another.

Bibliography Carlisle, Theodora. “Reading the Scars: Rita Dove’s The Darker Face of the Earth.” African American Review 34, no. 1 (2000): 135–50.  Dove, Rita. The Darker Face of the Earth: A Play. 3rd ed. Ashland, Or: Story Line Press, 2000. Dove, Rita. “Language Is Not Enough.” In Conversations with Rita Dove, edited by Earl G. Ingersoll, 174–79. Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2003. McElduff, Siobhán. Roman Theories of Translation: Surpassing the Source. London: Routledge, 2013. Sexton, Danny. “Lifting the Veil: Revision and Double-Consciousness in Rita Dove’s ‘The Darker Face of the Earth.’” Callaloo 31, no. 3 (2008): 777–87.