OFF TO PHTHIA!

This Bookends piece from the Oct. 8 NY Times Sunday Book Review features Daniel Mendelsohn and Dana Stevens discussing translation; the theoretical points are sometimes interesting, but I’m afraid what grabbed me was the parade of horribles. Mendelsohn says “When David R. Slavitt chose to pepper his 1997 translation of this titanic masterpiece [Aeschylus’ Agamemnon] with phrases like ‘learning curve,’ ‘stress-related’ and ‘Watch what you say, mister,’ he was not only cheapening the diction but hamstringing the play’s larger meanings,” and both he and Stevens have a whack at poor Barry Powell’s new Iliad—Mendelsohn singles out his calling Chryses “a praying man” rather than a priest (“for English readers, ‘a praying man’ is a devout individual, not an officiant at a religious ritual, which is what Chryses is”), and Stevens reports on his having Achilles say to Agamemnon “O.K., I’m off to Phthia.” Mind you, that kind of thing can work in a completely reimagined Iliad, but you pretty much have to be Christopher Logue to pull it off.

Comments

  1. Barry Powell believes that the Greek alphabet was invented by a single individual who, feeling a burning need to record the poems of Homer for posterity, sat down one day in the eighth century BC and devised a writing system for that express purpose. Wikipedia says that this theory “has been influential outside classical philology”, but unfortunately doesn’t stress the “outside”.

  2. A really up-to-date translation of the Iliad might have some appeal for college students, though.
    Then Agamemnon lost his shit and totally flipped it.
    “Quit vegging out in your tent while we take shit from the Trojans.
    Bros before hoes, dudeski!” Said totally awesome Achilles,
    “Give me a fucking break here, douchebag. I’m s’posed to fight so
    You can get all of the pussy?” So all of the bitchin’ Achaeans
    Were like “Oh SNAP!”…

  3. @TR: Well done! Can you keep that up for the whole Iliad?

  4. Dmitry Prokofyev says:

    Well, Shel Silverstein’s Hamlet As Told on the Street comes to mind, and I think it was absolutely brilliant. And, speaking of the Iliad, here’s another wonderful piece, but only for those who read Russian:
    http://ivand.livejournal.com/1575966.html

  5. ” I’m off to Phthia.” Well be sure to stay of the Phthith.

  6. A really up-to-date translation of the Iliad might have some appeal for college students, though.
    Thanks

  7. Sir JCass says:

    “a praying man” would be a pun of sorts if Powell was translating the Greek mantis (but he isn’t).
    I dipped into Slavitt’s translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses once and it was pretty kooky. At one point, he starts berating Ovid for not telling the whole of the Jason and Medea story. This rant doesn’t appear as a footnote, but as verse in the body of the poem. Slavitt obviously forgot Ovid did deal with the subject at length, in his tragedy Medea, which is perhaps why he skipped over the details in the Metamorphoses. It’s not Ovid’s fault his play has been lost.

  8. Sir JCass says:

    but you pretty much have to be Christopher Logue to pull it off.
    I strongly agree. Hat, have you come across Alice Oswald’s Memorial yet? She translates or paraphrases all the deaths in the Iliad in chronological order, as well as all the similes. There are one or two scattered modern references, but IMO they work.

  9. That was great, TR.

  10. David Marjanović says:

    Christopher Logue

    I’m deeply impressed.

    @TR: Well done! Can you keep that up for the whole Iliad?

    Thirded!
    (And a stark reminder of how little the misogyny has changed.)

    She translates or paraphrases all the deaths in the Iliad in chronological order

    Like this?

  11. Sir JCass says:

    Like this?
    Not quiiiite…
    I think we’ve found the big flaw in Greek strategy. Had Agamemnon signed up Django, it looks like Troy would have fallen in ten minutes rather than ten years.

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