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Apogeee

Is there a case for new translations?

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I think that there is a case for each generation to interact with the material from our patrimony, so I think that is at least one reason why new translations are a good idea. While Latin isn't really changing, vernacular languages certainly are. English is not the same as it was ten, twenty, fifty, three-hundred years ago.

What do you think?

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I wholeheartedly agree with your point about changes in english. Every once in a while, those changes seem to me great enough to necessitate a new translation. Maintaining a Victorian Vergil would only serve to keep the text feeling distant and obscure. While you can never wholly get the feel of the Latin in a translation, you can certainly come a lot closer when reading a translation from your own age than one written by someone in the time of your great great grandparents. Outside of that, I don't think I could say that there is a need for new translations. Most new translations seem to add little, but every once in a while a brilliant translator creates something that would be a shame to lose. Of course, every would-be translator imagines themselves to be the latter rather than the former. 

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I'm especially an advocate for frequently updated translations of Catullus, every few decades or so. I studied Catullus as an undergraduate and my prof was pretty "hip" - her approach to translating him was great and also made us realize how hilarious (and raunchy!) his work is... 

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I think that freshness of translation is what keeps students interested. They read a translation and say, "Well, no, that's not quite what it says." And then they want to do better. And then they're hooked!

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12 hours ago, Petros said:

While we're on the subject: Classics’ elitism should be lost in translation

 

I do think that when we limit ourselves to only what happened before 200 AD or so, we are pandering to that elitism, because everyone has to scramble for some new angle, and keep others from finding out before we can eke out a publication. Maybe that's not a good way for me to be looking at the issue.

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It is a bit maddening whenever I hear of a 'fresh' translation of a well-known text. As Agrippina rightly noted above, there are countless texts from late antiquity (my area) without translation into any modern language. Unfortunately, classicists working in late antiquity are incredibly rare and those of us who do work in the period are usually not in classics departments. This means that many of us do not have the philological training required to translate texts efficiently or effectively. I have located myself in one of these disciplines at some point (classics and religion) and it seems that in those subfields associated with late antiquity and/or religion the expectation is you should have a broader understanding of the period, all its religions, and languages. I'm not saying classicists are not expected to have a very broad understanding of, say, Greco-Roman history more broadly. But in late antiquity (and this almost certainly means Christianity) so many damn texts survive. This means that many of us don't have the time to focus purely on Greek and/or Latin. In addition, we are often expected to study 'East' and 'West': they want us to do Hebrew, Aramaic/Syriac, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopic, and so on. This is all complicated by the fact that few of us learn an ancient language (no less learn Coptic!) before college.

/rant

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On March 17, 2016 at 9:22 PM, Agrippina said:

I think that there is a case for each generation to interact with the material from our patrimony, so I think that is at least one reason why new translations are a good idea. While Latin isn't really changing, vernacular languages certainly are. English is not the same as it was ten, twenty, fifty, three-hundred years ago.

What do you think?

 

What do you mean by "our patrimony"? Not everyone in the U.S. has European ancestry. "Our Patrimony" sounds very Euro-centric, and it sounds like you dismissed the diversity of different non-European cultures.(For example, it is hard for Native Americans for recognize the Western classics as their patrimony).

 

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Wait--somebody posting something eurocentric in a Classics department thread! *drops monocle in tea* Despite all the undergrad rage mustered at this concept, the US for the most part is a very Western country (as is every country in America, since the majority or official language of every one is indeed European), and as a result Western Culture is viewed as patrimony. If you're upset about this, a Classics thread doesn't seem like a place to hang out.

23 minutes ago, historicallinguist said:

 

What do you mean by "our patrimony"? Not everyone in the U.S. has European ancestry. "Our Patrimony" sounds very Euro-centric, and it sounds like you dismissed the diversity of different non-European cultures.(For example, it is hard for Native Americans for recognize the Western classics as their patrimony).

 

 

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10 minutes ago, heliogabalus said:

Wait--somebody posting something eurocentric in a Classics department thread! *drops monocle in tea* Despite all the undergrad rage mustered at this concept, the US for the most part is a very Western country (as is every country in America, since the majority or official language of every one is indeed European), and as a result Western Culture is viewed as patrimony. If you're upset about this, a Classics thread doesn't seem like a place to hang out.

 

I am not upset about this. 

Suppose you are right and the U.S. is pretty much a Western country. But how about the classics of the Nordic and Germanic countries? Shouldn't these classical works written in Runes be also considered part of the patrimony of European peoples or Americans with European ancestry? 

There is nothing wrong to do Greek/Roman classics. But I think it is problematic to assign cultural prestiges to these two cultures. This is because, when you assign a label of "being prestigious" to a certain culture, you underlying connotation is that there are some other "inferior cultures" that are inferior to the one you assign prestige to.

Essentially, assigning prestige to a certain culture is in itself a discriminatory act of judgment. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3 hours ago, historicallinguist said:

 

What do you mean by "our patrimony"? Not everyone in the U.S. has European ancestry. "Our Patrimony" sounds very Euro-centric, and it sounds like you dismissed the diversity of different non-European cultures.(For example, it is hard for Native Americans for recognize the Western classics as their patrimony).

 

I don't think it has to be a matter of literal ancestry. America and Europe have been heavily influenced by Greece and Rome, so I think that you could speak with some justification about a cultural/intellectual patrimony relevant to all people in those places, whether or not their ancestors came from Europepr not. 

ETA: those residents of America or Europe of other descent could also certainly have *other* patrimonies as well. I don't mean to exclude that at all

Edited by pro Augustis

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2 hours ago, historicallinguist said:

Essentially, assigning prestige to a certain culture is in itself a discriminatory act of judgment. 

Sure, but I'm fine with this--Since at least the Renaissance (if you don't want to start with Ancient Rome), Western Culture has been privileging Roman and Greek culture (or what they imagine those cultures to be) over all others. It may be unfair that Mayan or Bantu or Norse culture has had less of a cultural impact on the West, but that's how it is. (Personally, I study a tiny culture very few people are interested in.) I don't mind that Oxford calls Latin and Greek "the greats," when Chinese culture is pretty great too. It makes sense in context. And I am sorry I was being rude--it just seems to me like going to a Native American studies conference and pointing out to Leslie Marmon Silko that when she mentions "our ancestors" those ancestors probably don't include me, since I'm not a Pueblo Indian. Again--context.

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Oh, and on the matter of translations--original texts are static, but since language constantly changes then new translations are always welcome and interesting. Each translation will carry different interpretations and readings (as well as appealing to different audiences) so they are always worth doing. The only real issue in my mind is figuring out which works to translate--would it be better to spend your time translating the Chronica Boemorum into English since nobody has (well finally one person did) instead of Tacitus? 

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18 minutes ago, heliogabalus said:

Oh, and on the matter of translations--original texts are static, but since language constantly changes then new translations are always welcome and interesting. Each translation will carry different interpretations and readings (as well as appealing to different audiences) so they are always worth doing. The only real issue in my mind is figuring out which works to translate--would it be better to spend your time translating the Chronica Boemorum into English since nobody has (well finally one person did) instead of Tacitus? 

On the matter of translation, essentially you are mapping one form to another.

Suppose we got a Latin text. Let's call this Latin text X.

Suppose we had a English translation of X in 1800s. Let's call this english translation of x in 1800s Y.

Now we want to make a new English translation of X in 21st century English. Let's call this translation we want to do Z. Let's call 21st century English "21E".

Potentially, we could map X to 21E in order to create Z, or we could map Y to 21E to create Z.

Mutatis mutandis, if we have other earlier English translation, we will have more possible mappings.

The real question would be which way of mapping will achieve the best balance between accuracy and efficiency.

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3 minutes ago, historicallinguist said:

The real question would be which way of mapping will achieve the best balance between accuracy and efficiency.

Since most translations of Classical texts are of literary texts, then accuracy and efficiency are probably not the most important goals. At least they aren't to me or the other translators I know. Power and beauty are as important as fidelity.

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8 hours ago, historicallinguist said:

 

What do you mean by "our patrimony"? 

 

By "our patrimony" I mean the extant Latin literature from the last 2500 years. Didn't I post this in Classics? Sorry if I misfiled it.

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4 hours ago, heliogabalus said:

would it be better to spend your time translating the Chronica Boemorum into English since nobody has (well finally one person did) instead of Tacitus? 

Is there room for more works from different eras? Do classicists have to choose one era over the other?

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4 hours ago, heliogabalus said:

Since most translations of Classical texts are of literary texts, then accuracy and efficiency are probably not the most important goals. At least they aren't to me or the other translators I know. Power and beauty are as important as fidelity.

Ouch. I think if it's not a faithful rendering, then that makes it a derivative work, not a translation. Am I off base here?

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45 minutes ago, Agrippina said:

Ouch. I think if it's not a faithful rendering, then that makes it a derivative work, not a translation. Am I off base here?

I'm an archaeologist, so this is definitely not my area of expertise, but I think I agree with heliogabalus. What are you defining as a "faithful" translation? Sometimes (especially in literary texts) sticking too closely to a word-for-word translation loses the tone or feeling of the text, which you could argue makes it less "faithful" despite being a more literal translation. 

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"Fidelity" in translation studies usually depends on the intended audience. So, a 'faithful' translation of Homer for middle schoolers is going to look different than one intended for graduate students. 

My (limited) experience suggests that these issues are not part of the normal discourse in classics/classical studies departments. In religious studies, however, they are always looming, as many translation projects are aimed at 'common' folk (viz. non-academic) who deem these texts sacred. What's the background of somebody interested in reading, say Cicero or Plutarch, in English? I would imagine such a person is quite different than the average person interested in a 'fresh' translation of a work by Augustine or Jerome. 

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11 hours ago, Agrippina said:

Ouch. I think if it's not a faithful rendering, then that makes it a derivative work, not a translation. Am I off base here?

It would only be a derivative work if you really change the text and try not to serve the original author--for adaptations, I'm thinking something like  Brandon Brown's The Poems of Gaius Valerius Catullus.

When I say fidelity, I guess I mean a slavish devotion to the meaning of every word in a Classical text--and I think that's what most classics' students and scholars think, but I feel it is changing. Walter Benjamin says that the ideal translation is an interlinear gloss--great if you're learning a language; awful if you want to read a beautiful translation; Nabokov's ideal was something more along the lines of google translating a text. But if you're trying to carry over the effect of a literary text, you often have to pay attention to things other than simple 1-to-1 meaning. For example, I think Sarah Ruden is the only person who ever tried to capture Apuleius' alliteration in English. Is it a good translation if the meaning is essentially the same, but the writing misses out on the sound-play that makes Apuleius so different from other Roman writers? Or what about the translations of the Iliad--Lattimore is probably the most faithful, and my favorite, but does that mean that the liberties taken by Lombardo to make it more colloquial mean that it is no longer a translation? (And as Sacklunch points out, even when you prefer one translation over another, you have to think about your audience. I would choose Lombardo over Lattimore if I were teaching 14-year-olds.)

You shouldn't just make stuff up, but for good translators--and I think it's changing but I don't think most 20th century translators of Latin and Greek were all that phenomenal (they tended to be scholars rather than writers)--a major concern is 'how does this sound in English'?

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12 hours ago, rjyjate said:

I'm an archaeologist, so this is definitely not my area of expertise, but I think I agree with heliogabalus. What are you defining as a "faithful" translation? Sometimes (especially in literary texts) sticking too closely to a word-for-word translation loses the tone or feeling of the text, which you could argue makes it less "faithful" despite being a more literal translation. 

If we have tried to attempt "word for word" then it will be no translation at all, except for a really small area where the two languages happen to overlap in idiom. A faithful translation, to me, gets at "idea for idea" while maintaining the integrity, and where possible, the structure of the original. Mars puellam amat. "Mars loves the girl" is faithful. "Mars fell in love with the girl" is not. "Mars thought she was hot" isn't a translation: it becomes a derivative work, to my mind.

Edited by Agrippina
typo

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12 hours ago, sacklunch said:

My (limited) experience suggests that these issues are not part of the normal discourse in classics/classical studies departments.

In religious studies, however, they are always looming, as many translation projects are aimed at 'common' folk (viz. non-academic) who deem these texts sacred.

What's the background of somebody interested in reading, say Cicero or Plutarch, in English? I would imagine such a person is quite different than the average person interested in a 'fresh' translation of a work by Augustine or Jerome. 

In the program where I am now, attention to the meaning and Latinity is highly important, although our Latin work doesn't involve much, if any, translation to English - it's all in Latin. In our Greek translation work, we pay careful attention to fidelity to the text, whether we are translating Greek to Latin or Greek to English, or any other language.

To the second point I quoted, very often, when you read any translation of, say, the Bible, you find that words and ideas are taken so far out of their original cultural context as not to serve the meaning they had at the time they were originally written.

To the third point I quoted, I am sure that it is a very specialized audience who wants to read Augustine or Jerome, and a much wider audience who would want to read Cicero or Plutarch. Would that change someone's translation, do you suppose?

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1 hour ago, heliogabalus said:

I don't think most 20th century translators of Latin and Greek were all that phenomenal  (they tended to be scholars rather than writers) -- a major concern is 'how does this sound in English'?

I think you can have phenomenal scholarly work, and you can have phenomenal literary work, but a literary translation not done by a scholar is going to be missing substantially more (and worth significantly less) than a scholarly work not done by a "writer". "How does this sound in English" should be, in my opinion, a significant consideration of anyone who is trying to render someone else's ideas into English! But "what did the original author actually say?" has to get at least equal weight. The movie "Troy", for example, is not a movie version of the Iliad. It's a derivative work: another story that covers some of the same ground covered in the Iliad. Such is a work that doesn't cleave closely to the original author's intended meaning - just another telling of a similar story, but not a translation, in my opinion.

Fun conversation everyone. Thanks!

 

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