Short version:

I am reading The Complete Plays of Sophocles, translated by Robert Bagg & James Scully. In both of Scully's translations (Aias and Philoktetes), though none of Bagg's, sections of text are center-aligned. Why?


When I discussed this with my literature class TA in office hours, he suggested that centered text represented when speech was directed at the world, as opposed to fellow characters in the scene. However, he wasn't sure himself, and I'm not sure I agree with that explanation. In defense of my TA's argument, there is this (center-aligned text put in double quotes, all other formatting original):


Nooo! We'll never get home!
Lord you've killed us too,
your own comrades! And you,
poor woman.

AIAI! his very name, Aias, cries out of us!

Who had a hand in this?

Himself alone. He planted the sword
he fell on. The sword stands witness.


And I saw nothing!
Blind, dumb, and you by your own hand
in your own blood
with no friends to watch over you!
Where now is Aias
relentless as the grief sounding his name?

Aias 1069-1082

The non-centered chorus line is directed at Tekmessa, while the centered chorus lines are not. (The first block is possibly directed at Aias but he's dead so I'm not sure that counts). But, then we also have centered lines like these:

Sir, pity him.
He's told all
the sufferings he has struggled with,
not to be wished on any friend of mine.
Philoktetes 565-568

Shsh! It's unspeakable
how brutal the sons of Atreus
will be to you in your grief.
Pray the gods stop them!
Aias 1115-1118

Here, the centered speech seems to be directed at other characters in the scene, addressing them directly. Additionally, there is center-aligned text where the chorus is talking among itself, e.g. the divided choral groups which search for Aias after his suicide.

I am aware that this translation is attempting to be “playable”. Perhaps the center-alignment indicates something to the actors, then? The audience would not know how the script is typeset when they are watching a performance.

There are some things I have already noted about center-aligned text. The largest proportion of centered lines go to the chorus and its leader. Only titular characters and chorus members ever are centered, but then they also have a lot of lines in general. Usually but not always centered speech is a long block of text, all centered, without back-and forth between characters. (A counterexample: Philoktetes’ complaints after Odysseus and Neoptolemus leave, which are interwoven with non-center-aligned responses by the chorus leader)

What's the pattern here? What does it mean when Scully's translations of Sophocles use center-aligned text?

Appendix (all center-aligned sections):

This section of the question is intended to allow those lacking The Complete Plays of Sophocles to still get the full context. Since Scully's translations are not public domain, I've cross-referenced them with translations by Ian Johnston: Ajax, Philoctetes. These are free to legally access and have line numbers from the original Greek text alongside the translation’s numbering. Note that, in the tables, "Speaker" refers to names from Scully's translation.


Speaker Scully Johnston
Aias 484-508 464-481
Aias 512-530 485-498
Chorus & Leader 740-782 717-763
Chorus & Leader 845-873 821-856
Chorus & Semi-Chorus 1 & 2 1038-1048* 1035-1045*
Chorus 1050-1060 1048-1059
Chorus 1069-1072** 1069-1072**
Chorus 1077-1082 1079-1084
Leader 1096-1106 1100-1111
Chorus 1115-1118 1122-1125
Chorus 1124-1129 1131-1137
Chorus 1363-1398 1431-1466


Speaker Scully Johnston
Chorus 187-208 206-230
Chorus 436-452 468-482
Chorus 565-574 707-719
Chorus & Leader 745-796 922-986
Chorus & Leader 919-932 1098-1110
Chorus & Leader 937-956 1119-1144
Philoktetes 1227-1241 1426-1439
Philoktetes 1252-1263 1447-1460
Philoktetes 1270-1286 1466-1482
Philoktetes 1295-1308 1489-1505

* Yes, that excludes 1049 / 1046-1047
** Yes, these are the same


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