Venetia Ansell (who “read Classics and Sanskrit at Oxford and is currently working in Bangalore, India”) has a blog, Sanskrit Literature (“Bringing Sanskrit literature to a wider global audience”), that aims to “revisit Sanskrit classics through novel media and interpretations,” to “reinvigorate an interest in and love for Sanskrit and its authors,” and to “serve as a hub where like-minded people can share ideas.” The About page says:

Sanskrit has a tradition of literature richer and more diverse than anything produced by its sister languages in Greece and Rome. […] There are stories here to rival the Trojan War, beauty to outshine the tender couplets of Sappho, and drama to challenge Oedipus’ self-revelation. Such literature deserves to be read, watched, heard or experienced. For those of us who are unable to digest Shakuntala in the original, this means a translation, interpretation or adaptation into English, the language most accessible to audiences worldwide. […]
This forum is intended to act as a stimulus, to provoke translators, authors and artists of every type into looking to Bhatti, Bana and Vedanta Deshika as well as Valmiki, Somadeva and Kalidasa for inspiration, and to awaken an appetite in audiences for the poems, prose and plays of ancient India in whatever form.

Ansell has been writing a Seasonal Poetry series of posts about plants that appear in Sanskrit poetry, like malati (jasmine) and mango; each presents quotes from Sanskrit poetry (devanagari, transliteration, and translation), with discussion of the plant itself and its literary use. (Via MetaFilter.)


  1. Dave Lovely says

    In relation to Sanskrit, wondered if you’d seen this article from the NYRB: Chess and Sanskrit: Persian Jones in Old Calcutta”: ” By the time of his death at age 47 he had a working knowledge of twenty-eight languages, including Tibetan, Middle Persian, Hebrew, Bengali, and Turkish. He was actually a colonial judge but in his spare time he translated from Sanskrit and founded the field of historic linguistics.”

  2. No, I hadn’t, so thanks!

  3. Now I’m wondering how the hat is going to do with the more sophiscated spammers…
    As a personal feeling, I feel that Sanskrit poetry is like most Chinese poetry: they look bad in English. I have once bought a bilingual Ramayana, where the English part feels quite boring, with the same boringness that translations of Chinese poetry give to me. As the Chinese original is an absolute delight for Sinophones like me, I guess there’s a similar situation, then, to Sanskrit poetry.

  4. Yes, exactly. I learned enough Sanskrit to be able to appreciate poetry in the original to some extent (and can still recite a couple of lines with verve), and it doesn’t seem to translate well, although I imagine if it (somehow) got popular enough that a bunch of different poets took a whack at it, someone would figure out a way to make it work in English.

  5. In which case, respect must be paid to hat’s prowess in language learning. Chapeau !

  6. I enjoy Chinese poetry in translation; Witter Bynner is one of my favorites, for example. I like Waley too and many of the old stand-bys. Strangely, I get little out of translations of most Russian poetry, for example, even from reputedly good translators. This must vary a bit from reader to reader, and with the expectations one brings, so I’m not sure it’s a valid generalization to say Chinese poetry doesn’t translate well.
    Of course, if you know the original language enough to read the poetry, that might make translations seem worse. Here I’m talking about translations for people who actually need the translations.
    I have no opinion about Sanskrit yet.

  7. I think Chinese poetry translates tolerably well (sometimes very well) compared with Japanese. Thanks to grammatical differences (virtually reverse word order, and the preposing of relative clauses) and different prosody, a Japanese poem translated into English bears little resemblance to its original.

  8. And as Japan didn’t win the WW II, Japanese makura-kotobas doesn’t say much as “rosy-fingered Dawn” to English-speaking folks.

  9. I think Japanese also translates tolerably well, being an avid reader of both Japanese and Chinese poetry in translation with equal measure of enjoyment. Since I know a tiny bit of Japanese too I know my aki no kaze.

  10. Translating the Orient, which I’ve been reading and whose main topic is directly relevant to this post, mentions in passing that Oriental Jones translated some Shakespeare into Greek. Looking around to see if this survives, I wasn’t able to find it mentioned elsewhere in his biographies. I know such things were not all that unusual, and so wouldn’t rate as one of his major accomplishments, but I was curious how good (or bad) it was. The footnote just says that it’s Henry IV, Part 2, Act 3 and nothing more. It isn’t even clear whether it’s the whole act or maybe just the insomnia speech.

  11. mentions in passing that Oriental Jones translated some Shakespeare into Greek.

    I thought I’d try to find out more about this, but hit the same dead end as MMcM. Surely someone has mentioned this somewhere!

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