Why Do Greek Plays have Latin Titles?

Katherine McDonald

Chorus of Agamemnon, The Cambridge Greek Play 2010

One of the most famous Greek tragedies is called Oedipus Rex. Well, sort of. Its original Greek title is Oidípous Týrannos, but usually everyone calls it by its Latin name. Even the English title Oedipus the King is heard much more rarely. And it’s not just this play that’s the problem. Ancient Greek plays are called by all sorts of names – the system is a hotch-potch of naming conventions, and it can be off-puttingly complicated to understand when you first start studying.

In some cases, the various possible names are so similar that there’s no issue. Lysistrata by Aristophanes is just the name of the play’s leading character, and would be the same in any language. Similarly, Aeschylus wrote a play called Pérsai (in Greek), Persae (in Latin) or Persians in English – those names are not going…

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