Friday, September 14, 2012

Sophocles (496-406BC):  Looney chases a ghost.

What got me going was a quote from a classical Greek play, Antigones:

"A stubborn daughter of a stubborn sire, this ill-starred maiden kicks against the pricks" - Antigones, line 471-472

In this case the maiden is Antigones who just got through talking back to the king of Thebes, Croesus.  As a Bible student, I immediate recognized the expression "kicks against the pricks" as coming from the Bible and is where Jesus speaks to Paul through a vision:

"And he said, Who art thou, Lord?  And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." - Acts 9:5 (KJV)

It would seem obvious that the "kick against the pricks" expression is a reference to the story of Antigone, which was written 500 years before.  But just as I was getting over confident and started to document this, I happened to pick up a different English translation of Antigones.  The same passage reads thus:

"The maid shows herself passionate child of passionate sire, and knows not how to bend before troubles." - Antigones

The "kicks against the pricks" isn't in this translation.  What to do?  Obviously the solution is to go back to the Greek and sort things out.  On going to my Greek Bible, however, I found that the Greek version of Acts 9:5 was truncated.  Going to my New Testament Text & Translation Commentary, I found that there is some scholarly dispute since not all Greek manuscripts contain the complete version, so the NIV simply has "'Who are you, Lord?' Saul asked.  'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting, ' he replied".  No pricks or kicks here.

Anyway, there seems to be no dispute regarding the second occurrence of "kicks against the pricks" in Acts 26:14.  Now admittedly I am a pre-novice at Greek, but with this I was able to do a comparison with the online Greek text of Antigones that is here.  I can't be sure what the proper rendering is of Antigones, but I am quite certain that the words are different from the Biblical Greek expressions.  Thus, the conclusion is that "kicks against the pricks" wasn't part of the original Antigones, but something that a modern translator invented while doing some creative translation.

The moral of the story is that we need to know our classical languages.  The other moral to the story is that if we don't stick our nose into all kinds of things we don't understand, then we won't make so many mistakes.


Ursula said...

Thank you so much for reminding me to phone my father. Now.


Looney said...

Indeed, bad things can happen if we neglect our fathers. But don't talk back to him!

Dee Ice Hole said...


Max Coutinho said...

Hi Looney,

Excellent analysis. I would conclude that "kicks against the pricks" is the result of creative translation as well (many translators seem to forget that one of the rules of translation is to keep it simple; because embellishment may alter/add to the original text).

I utterly agree with you: we need to know our classical languages (one more and I am done covering all of them).


Looney said...

Max, now I am very curious which classical languages you have studied and what the missing one is.

Max Coutinho said...


I studied Latin (in school) and Classical Hebrew, (some would consider Italian a classical language) and I am still to learn Greek.

Have a great weekend.

Max Coutinho said...

One more thing: when I said "one more and I am done covering all of them" I should've added "in the context of European classical studies", because my first statement would only be true if I had learnt Chinese, Sanskrit and Arabic - which I haven't (although I plan to learn at least one of these three).


Looney said...

Max, keep up the studies!

I would put Arabic more to the middle ages, with Aramaic being a classical language. But Sanskrit and classical Classical Chinese would be fun to study also.

Max Coutinho said...


Thanks, I will :D.

Although I agree with you on Arabic. Aramaic is a bit complicated but the other two you mentioned would be nice to study as well - I still have time, so...will see.