The art of translation

A review article in the Times Literary Supplement discusses the art of translating poetry with particular reference to Ted Hughes.

Two excerpts:

When [Ezra Pound] translated a passage from Homer in the first of his Cantos, he turned the Greek hexameters – by way of a Latin translation in lineated prose – into something like the metre of Beowulf. In this case the metre was chosen as appropriate to his meaning: one that evoked an aspect of Homer which he shares with the author of Beowulf, a sort of barbaric fatalism. The classical hexameter, as innumerable attempts at it have shown, has no real equivalent in English. In this respect, Pound’s choice of alliterative verse might be compared to Pope’s of heroic couplets. In both cases the metre was adopted for what it signified to an English reader, not as an equivalent to the Greek. …

On balance, the engagements with classical poets – from Aeschylus and Euripides to Ovid and Seneca – are more convincing than those with Hughes’s contemporaries, though the omissions are also striking: Seneca’s but not Sophocles’ Oedipus, Homer but not Virgil. Could this be because neither Sophocles nor Virgil would prove responsive to the view of human nature Hughes ascribes to the Roman dramatist?

The figures in Seneca’s Oedipus are Greek only by convention; by nature they are more primitive than aboriginals. They are a spider people, scuttling among hot stones.

There is something in the serenity of Oedipus at Colonus that, like the formal perfection of Mozart or Racine, is outside Hughes’s range.

His triumph as a translator, though, if we exclude the fragmentary Sir Gawain, is surely the very popular Tales from Ovid. It is easy to see why Hughes looked to Ovid as his model of the shaman poet in a civilized society, yet it is possible to understand the success of these versions without recourse to mystical ideas. No doubt like any inspired poem – and Tales from Ovid really is inspired – it arises from engagements in Hughes’s inner life that are beyond comprehension, much as the Juhasz does. Unlike the Juhasz and much else in this fascinating book, however, it takes off from evident sources in English literature – from the fabulous Elizabethan translation by Arthur Golding and from Golding’s most resplendent beneficiary, William Shakespeare. Hughes was obsessed throughout his life with Venus and Adonis, and the Ovid is aptly represented here by the two sections Shakespeare drew his plot from. Reading the book through consecutively, one is struck on arriving at the Ovid by the ghost of Jacobean blank verse pervading the rhythm, much as it does in The Hawk in the Rain and Lupercal. If I am right that the versions of Ovid and Sir Gawain are the star turns of the book, I am pointing to poems with deep roots in Hughes’s own language and culture, and hardly at all in whatever it was we lost at the Tower of Babel.

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Every week a European Qultures E-newspaper is published, which I believe will have your interest. Qultures covers our European culture, both tangible culture such as castles, museums, festivals, and exhibitions, but also culture through ethics, identity, and values. Qultures also aims to present new research on museological and communicative issues in the general “heritage industry”.

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This up-coming week there will be several articles on Constantine and Mosella by Decimus Magnus Ausonius (With many thanks for a brilliant translation of the poem)

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Message from the Summer School Director

Gill Fyffe was to direct this Summer School but had to drop out last month, so I have just taken over. Unfortunately this has meant we have had a short hiatus with the arrangements but I have now been to Cambridge and checked things out. Gill's first-class preparatory work means that we have an excellent venue and programme, and my job now is to tie up the loose ends, ensure all the Speakers and Option Groups can run as planned, and make sure as many as possible know what a good Summer school it will be; so when 22nd July comes, all those attending will have an enjoyable, stimulating, and educationally profitable time.

Please check out the details and if you haven't applied yet, get your application in to Pauline Cox-Smith the Course Secretary pcoxsmith(at) post haste.

See you there.

Rob Soames
May 2007

Pretty Polymath

News @ Princeton introduces the graduate who is to give the Latin oration at Comencement on 5th June – with photo, which gave rise to my weakly punning headline.

Roman decay helps salutatorian to thrive
by Jennifer Greenstein Altmann · Posted May 28, 2007; 08:00 p.m.

Senior Maya Maskarinec majored in classics, but her Princeton education would have been incomplete without Math 214: “Numbers, Equations and Proofs,” German 306: “Topics in German Intellectual History” and Art 435: “The Arts of Pilgrimage in the Middle Ages.”

“Taking those courses was more than just expanding my knowledge of different fields,” Maskarinec said. “They forced me to think in different ways. They broadened my perspective.”

That perspective — and her passion for the ancient world — led her to write a thesis that brought together architecture, literature and religion in a highly original way. Maskarinec has been selected as the class of 2007's salutatorian and will continue the Princeton tradition of delivering a speech in Latin at Commencement June 5.

“Maya is exceptional because she works in an interdisciplinary way putting things together,” said Harriet Flower, her thesis adviser. “She came up with something very sophisticated for her thesis, and designed the topic herself from scratch.”

Maskarinec's thesis examined how Romans in the late fourth century — when Rome was fading from power — regarded their city's past glory. The topic grew from a semester in Rome during her junior year, when she studied at the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies and spent hours walking the streets and exploring the ancient ruins.

“I was captivated by the layers of Rome,” she said. “The ruins are there, layered within the modern city. I became interested in the way people don't just keep the past, but invent ways to preserve it.”

Exploring the streets of Rome, Maskarinec stumbled on her thesis topic: the Temple of Saturn, built in the late fourth century using marble and other materials that were probably stolen from other buildings. She compared it with a text, Macrobius' “Saturnalia,” composed entirely of quotations and paraphrases, to discuss how Romans reused their past.

Writing the thesis was a revelation for Maskarinec. “I wouldn't have thought Roman decay would be fascinating to me,” she said. “But professors in the classics department were willing to show me where I could go with my ideas and to spend time engaging with my ideas.”

Maskarinec grew up in Honolulu, where her German mother spoke to the young girl in her native tongue, giving Maskarinec an early start on learning languages. Reading Homer in high school spurred an interest in Greek.

“It was so beautiful in English,” Maskarinec said, “that I wanted to read it in Greek.”

She studied Latin and Greek on her own with a tutor, since they weren't offered at her school, and then took a class in Greek at a local university, where her professor encouraged her to apply to Princeton. The University's academic reputation and generous financial aid package drew her to matriculate. During her Princeton career she was awarded the Shapiro Prize for Academic Excellence in 2005 as well as the 2005-06 Charles Steele Prize in the classics department.

Next year Maskarinec will be studying the culture of late antiquity and the early Middle Ages at the University of Vienna on a Fulbright grant. Eventually she plans to pursue graduate studies in the field of late antiquity.

And someday soon, she would like to spend more time in Rome, wandering the streets and exploring more of the city's history and architecture.

“People say that a math problem or a literature class makes you think,” she said. “I think walking in a complex city — especially Rome — makes you think.”

US City Mayor in the running for an OBI

Reactions to a campaign to correct a mistake in a city's Latin motto show a regrettable philistine attitude on the part of the present mayor and members of his council. From the Courant.

Lone, Latin Cause: `L' Is On His Mind
Ex-Mayor Wants Logo Fixed
May 28, 2007
By MONICA POLANCO, Courant Staff Writer

NEW BRITAIN — Sometime in the 1800s, Elihu Burritt coined a motto for the city.

The phrase, “Industria implet alveare et mele fruitur,” is on city business cards, the city website and on banners along city streets. It boasts that “Industry fills the hive and enjoys the honey.”

Whether Burritt was distracted at the time or just a bad speller of Latin will never be known, but one of the words in the motto, “mele,” doesn't exist. The correct word is “melle.”

Former Mayor William McNamara first noticed it about 25 years ago. But in a town where Spanish and Polish sometimes eclipse English, McNamara stands alone in his concern about the rightful place of an extra “l.”

“Bill's a very intelligent guy, but he's got too much time on his hands,” said Mayor Timothy Stewart.

McNamara, who once issued an unheeded mayoral edict to fix the motto, has asked Stewart to take up the cause.

“Would you humor this old pedant, and in the future, should the city order any merchandise with the city's motto, specify that it be printed, engraved, or whatever, correctly,” he asked in a letter to Stewart. “It should be …melle as Maecenas, and his friends Livy, Cicero, and Vergil would have spoken and written it, during the time of Augustus.” Another possible spelling is “mel,” but McNamara and scholars agree that “melle” is the better choice.

The motto will only be changed, Stewart said, if necessary.

“We'll do it in due time,” he said, chuckling. “I have to go to a Latin teacher and figure it out.”

Yelena Baraz, an assistant professor of classics at Trinity College, and Roger Travis, an associate professor of classics at the University of Connecticut, agree that the correct form of the word is “melle.”

Lou Salvio, a common council member and retired teacher, borrowed from his specialty in entomology to try to figure out where the motto went wrong.

“A honey bee is an insect, and the Latin name for the honey bee is Apis mellifera,” Salvio said.

Seeking further clarity, Salvio consulted his old yearbook, which has a picture of a beehive, but found no words around it. He inspected the city seal on a lapel pin, but couldn't read the Lilliputian writing. He pledged to try to read the motto on the city flag.

Still, academic pursuits have their limits.

“I would say that the controversy over the spelling of honey or honey bee is probably more of a scholar's controversy than it refers to the city of New Britain,” Salvio said. “As far as I'm concerned, it's not worth making all those drastic changes.”

Over at the Texas Lunch diner, Peter Oshana, a former common council member, drew a blank when asked about the city's motto. Oshana, who studied Latin in school and used to attend a Catholic Mass in Latin, doesn't remember the language anymore.

But he did remember one thing: his Latin teacher.

“Mr. Gurski – he'd throw an eraser at you when you fell asleep,” said Oshana, who has since overcome his somnolent days.

“And he was loud.”

The city, he said, should translate the Latin phrase into English.

“We don't sit around reading Latin,” he said.

School plays prove Latin isn't dead

Good news from Grand Rapids Press that two Plautus comedies are bring performed tomorrow, but if they are being given a simultaneous translation by the actors they surely can't be performed complete. It would take far too long.

Never mind. ArLT used to have a great tradition of performing greatly shortened versions of Plautus at the end-of-Summer-School entertainment. I rather wish I had met Plautus much earlier in my career, because his language seems to me the nearest we have to the common speech of republican Rome.

This year's Summer School includes – yippee! – an option group reading Plautus with Prof Jonathan Powell. Do come to Cambridge and enjoy delights like this. See the details here.
School plays prove Latin isn't dead

Monday, May 28, 2007
By Beth Loechler
The Grand Rapids Press

Latin isn't dead.

It's spoken daily in Deb Stakenas' classroom at East Kentwood High by students who aspire to be doctors or veterinarians or linguists.

On Tuesday, those same students will perform — in Latin — two comedies written about 2,200 years ago by Plautus, a Roman pioneer of musical theater.

Amid columns of cardboard, plastic armor and togas made from bed sheets, 20 students in Stakenas' advanced Latin class rehearsed their lines, sang a few notes and did their best to immerse themselves in the culture of the ancient Romans.

“Why did they have such complicated clothing,” wondered junior Alexandria Mitchell as she draped a white sheet across her shoulder.

The juniors and seniors in “Amphitryon” and “Pseudolus” are likely the only ones in the country performing musical comedies in Latin, said Stakenas, who is chair of the Michigan Junior Classical League and in charge of the 140-student Latin program in Kentwood, the largest one around.

For the non-Latin crowd, the performers say most of the lines in both Latin and English.

Junior Nate Johnson, who plays the wealthy and powerful Ballio, is finishing his third year of Latin. “It's started to grow on me now that I've been taking it for a while,” he said.

He continues because Latin class provides “a sense of community” and because the language will provide a boost to his transcripts.

College admissions officers like to see Latin on a transcript because it indicates the student is a high achiever and perhaps a bit of a risk-taker, Stakenas said.

But not too risky. Her students get defensive regarding rumors of Latin's demise.

Most public high schools no longer teach Latin, although many private and parochial schools do. Among the public districts that teach it are Kentwood, East Grand Rapids, Holland, Zeeland and Spring Lake.

“It's fun,” junior Liz Creager said of the Latin performances. “You get to learn all these phrases. But I'm a nerd and I love this stuff.” She's fond of asking her friends, “Quid tu ergo insane?” Translation: Are you insane?

In addition to providing a glimpse into the culture of the ancient Romans, the plays — to be performed 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Freshman Campus cafeteria — give the students a break from conjugating verbs and translating phrases, said Stakenas, who has been teaching Latin at East Kentwood for seven years.

“It's hard,” Lisa Wilmore, also a junior, said of learning Latin. But she wants to be a veterinarian and the language gives her a head start on the terminology.

Jobs on a bank holiday

A suitably light-hearted piece to reproduce on a bank holiday Monday, from Courier News. The spell-checker seems to have done damage to the nomenclator.

Some jobs stretch back to ancient Romans, Greeks

May 27, 2007
BY Jackie Farwell Associated Press

When they weren't busy founding modern civilization, the ancient Greeks and Romans spent their free time much like we do — shoe shopping, rocking out at concerts and gossiping at parties.

Behind the scenes were workers and slaves whose jobs prove remarkably similar to many modern-day occupations, according to Vicki Leon, author of Working IX to V: Orgy Planners, Funeral Clowns and Other Prized Professions of the Ancient World .

Among them was the sandaligerula, who made sure her mistress was wearing the proper shoes at all times, not unlike the personal stylists of today.

A locarius was the ancient equivalent of the ticket scalper, buying up tokens to theater and athletic performances to hawk at a profit.

“While all the gladiators were making a killing inside the arena, the scalpers were making a killing outside the arena,” Leon said.

Similar to Miranda Priestly's assistant in The Devil Wears Prada , a nomenclature stood behind her boss at parties and whispered guests' names as they approached.

Then there's those orgy planners — no doubt a popular topic of conversation around the aqueduct.

Another review here.

Carl Linnaeus – tercentenary article

Those who argue for Latin as the universal language find support in Linnaeus and his naming of species. He was born in May 1707, so articles about him have been appearing.

One such was in the Independent this week. A useful paragraph:

Take the emblematic bird of the Tower of London, for instance. The raven: Corvus corax. Unnecessary, you might think, a waste of time. Why not just call it a raven and have done with it? Until you remember that in France, a raven is a grand corbeau. In the Netherlands, it's a raaf. In Germany, it's a kolkrabe, while in Linnaeus's own Sweden it's a korp, never mind what it's called as you travel across Eurasia through Finland and Russia to Japan and Korea and China. Yet a biologist from any one of them can talk about a raven to a biologist from any other, and know they are referring to the same organism, because they both accept that this member of the crow family, for which they each have a different common name, is also universally known, scientifically, as Corvus corax, the name that Carl Linnaeus bestowed upon it two-and-a-half centuries ago.

This thought is developed in the paragraphs following (Use the link above). I quote two more short paragraphs:

It works for two reasons. Firstly, it's in an international language. You might think Latin is dead, but in biodiversity, it's very much alive, and it offers a worldwide level playing field, without any taint of cultural imperialism. If you believe that scientific names should be in English because English is taking over everything else, try telling that to a botanist from Brazil. You'll get a dusty answer.

Secondly (and this is its brilliance) it consists of just two words, which enable the subject to be designated precisely, and in the most succinct way possible.

Wry comment on the Ancient History protest

From the 'Spy' column in the Daily Telegraph on Wednesday.

Boris, an icon of protest?

When the deputy chairman of the Belarus Popular Front came to Britain this month, he wanted to see politics at work in a democracy.

But Alaksiej Janukievic – a leading opponent of the Lukashenko regime in Belarus – has returned to the troubled former Soviet Republic with a rather curious view of what constitutes a student protest in this country.

“Protests are illegal in Belarus under the Stalinist dictator Lukashenko, so I was excited when I heard that I would be witnessing a demonstration outside Parliament,” he told me shortly before returning to Minsk.

However, the protest in question was last week's public call from Boris Johnson for the Ancient History A-Level to be retained.

“I was expecting to see riot police and a rabble, but all I saw instead was a man dressed up as a Roman addressing school students in Latin,” said a clearly disappointed Janukievic.

Round-up Sat 26 May

A couple of mentions of the influence of particular Latin teachers, and a review of Oedipus Rex by Stravinsky.

  • Obituary of Jill McGown, crime writer. Her Latin teacher was Colin Dexter.
  • Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Latin teacher was an accomplished cook.
  • With Latin making a comeback in the classroom, Stravinsky's opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex could now conquer spheres beyond the concert hall, which is where it now resides as one of the greatest works of all time. So opens a review in the Independent. (Some teachers may remember singing part of this work at a recent ArLT Summer School.)