Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

Lost in translation

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Thanks to Burr Deming (who has excellent taste in blogs) for bringing this to our attention:

The blog, “A Wayfarer’s Notes,” makes an interesting comparison of two translations of Homer’s Odyssey as a warning to readers. The Penguin Classics version, while it has an interesting history, is the Trojan Horse of the two choices.

(Yes, that joke works better if we are discussing the Iliad. Bear with me.)

The blogger, Vincent, gives a number of examples of the superiority of a more recent translation but I think two will do.

The Penguin Classics translation:

“The sun went down, night fell, and we slept on the sea-shore.”

The Martin Hammond translation:

“When the sun set and darkness came on, we lay down to sleep where the surf breaks on the shore.”

The Penguin Classics version:

“So we left that country and sailed on sick at heart. And we came to the land of the Cyclopes, a fierce, uncivilized people who never lift a hand to plant or plough but put their trust in Providence. All the crops they require spring up unsown and untilled, wheat and barley and the vines whose generous clusters give them wine when ripened for them by the timely rains. The Cyclopes have no assemblies for the making of laws, nor any settled customs, but live in hollow caverns in the mountain heights, where each man is lawgiver to his children and his wives, and nobody cares a jot for his neighbors.”

Hammond:

“So we sailed from there [the country of the Lotus-eaters] in distress of heart. And we came to the land of the Cyclopes, a violent lawless people, who do no sowing of crops or ploughing with their own hands, but simply trust in the immortal gods and crops of every sort grow there unsown and unploughed—wheat and barley and vines yielding wine from fine grapes—and the rain from Zeus gives them increase. These people have no assemblies for debate and no common laws, but they live on the tops of high mountains in hollow caves, where each man is the law for his own women and children, and they care nothing for others.”

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