Literal translations

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jeidsath
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Literal translations

Post by jeidsath » Sat Aug 20, 2016 4:09 am

Rather than derailing the thread in the Latin forum, I wanted to quote this here. I came across it years ago when I knew less Greek, and think about the argument from time to time.
If I personally read Greek translation I'm always uneasy lest I'm reading the translator's ideas, not his author's, getting the translator's palette effects, not those of the original: if I have the Greek text en vis à vis I am at ease; I can colour up or down as the Greek indicates to my temperament that the translator has over- or under-coloured, raised or lowered the tone....I read a good deal of Greek in Latin-Greek, French-Greek, German-Greek and English-Greek texts as a constant suggestion of tricks of the translation-craft, so I consider myself quite an authority on this point: my total testimony would be that nothing could serve the classics more than superbly free translations—backed of course by the thoroughest knowledge—accompanied by the strict text. The original supplies the corrective or the guarantee; the reader, I find, understands the depths of his Greek or Latin much better for the free rendering—again, I think of a chaste freedom, a freedom based rigidly on a pre-servitude.

I constantly find myself unable to read, unable to understand, translations which would appear to satisfy the accepted ideas of "literalness": give me a free translation by a man of first-rate knowledge, and I'm quite often amused to find that out of the freedom I can reconstruct the Greek original almost verbatim. In other words, a good free translation can I think be proven to be much nearer to the original than most literal translations: it is paradoxical, yet it is truer than people would think who have not tried it. I would add—all this is from a long meditated and never written essay on translations from Greek—that I think it can be shown that the literal school

(1) necessarily by their principle exclude from the translator's use vast and important or even essential territories of the English language, idioms and words alike, and

(2) include hosts of words, idioms, and "attack" generally, which are no longer English.

So that "literal" English turns out to be (1) Liddell & Scott English or (2) a bastard English, a horrible mixture of Elizabethan, Jacobean, fairytale-ese, Biblicism and modern slang (not slang of word but, what is worse, of phrase or construction).
Source: http://laudatortemporisacti.blogspot.co ... ation.html
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Re: Literal translations

Post by Dante » Sat Aug 20, 2016 5:35 am

you dont mention who wrote that: Stephen MacKenna! Have you ever compared his Plotinus to the original, or to Armstrong's universally preferred Loeb translations?

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Re: Literal translations

Post by Dante » Sat Aug 20, 2016 6:04 am

besides, we need to distinguish between translations suitable for those who will only be reading the translation from translations that may be useful for those working on reading the original. The point that came up in the other thread was about the second kind. All I was saying is that I dont think free translations are all that useful if you are trying to read the original.

I would not describe the new Iliad translation by Caroline Alexander I mentioned there as "literal", but it is very close to the Greek, and not in an awkward way that would only be useful as a crib, but in a way that would give a greekless reader a good sense of the original.

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Re: Literal translations

Post by jeidsath » Sat Aug 20, 2016 6:26 am

MacKenna commits the sin of being a far better writer than Plotinus. He is mentioned in Ulysses, where Joyce calls his translations -- from French -- "wonderful prose poems." Preferring Armstrong to MacKenna is like preferring another English language Bible to the King James.

And having learned a couple of languages now by attacking texts in translation and original at once, I have to disagree about using literal translations. I have tried literal and free, and my preference for free comes from experience. I think that a person gets bogged down in words when using a literal text, while learning a language happens best at the phrase level. The words should fill in on their own.

On the other hand, I've seen people learn languages by attacking the grammar first and picking up the language like it's a body of knowledge in a textbook. They can do extremely well at it. I suppose that the human brain is a marvelous organ.

EDIT: I just took a look at the first pages of Caroline Alexander's Iliad on Amazon. For several minutes I thought that I had read it before, some of the phrases looked so familiar. Eventually I placed it. A particular translator of a certain prose version of the Iliad could sue. I don't see what the point of this sort of thing is.
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Re: Literal translations

Post by Dante » Sat Aug 20, 2016 1:43 pm

jeidsath wrote:MacKenna commits the sin of being a far better writer than Plotinus. He is mentioned in Ulysses, where Joyce calls his translations -- from French -- "wonderful prose poems." Preferring Armstrong to MacKenna is like preferring another English language Bible to the King James.
if you want to know what the language of the original is actually saying, almost any decent modern English language bible is preferable to the King James. Ditto for Armstrong over MacKenna.

So you're saying you would not find, for example, Jebb's translation that accompanies his notes on Sophocles of any use while studying the original Greek? Interesting.

And isn't it the policy of the Loeb series to try and provide translations that are designed to aid those attempting to read the original rather than the kind of free translations that are published for those who are not reading the original? Do you disagree with their policy?

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Re: Literal translations

Post by C. S. Bartholomew » Sat Aug 20, 2016 5:41 pm

*edited out all potentially distracting content*

When reading Sophocles or Thucydides I prefer a rendering that reflects the original but in the idiom of the target language. For Sophocles Lloyd-Jones meets the requirement.
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Re: Literal translations

Post by Ahab » Sat Aug 20, 2016 9:23 pm

jeidsath wrote:
EDIT: I just took a look at the first pages of Caroline Alexander's Iliad on Amazon. For several minutes I thought that I had read it before, some of the phrases looked so familiar. Eventually I placed it. A particular translator of a certain prose version of the Iliad could sue. I don't see what the point of this sort of thing is.
Care to share the name of this particular translator whom you claim Ms. Alexander is plagiarizing? That is a rather serious charge.
Why, he's at worst your poet who sings how Greeks
That never were, in Troy which never was,
Did this or the other impossible great thing!
---Robert Browning

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Re: Literal translations

Post by jeidsath » Sat Aug 20, 2016 10:20 pm

C.A.:
Prophet of evil, never yet have you spoken anything good for me,
always to prophesy evil is dear to your heart.

Fitz.:
You visionary of hell,
never have I had fair play in your forecasts.
Calamity is all you care about, or see,

L L M:
Thou seer of evil, never yet hast thou told me the thing that is pleasant. Evil is ever the joy of thy heart to prophesy,

Lat.:
'Seer of evil: never yet have you told me a good thing.
Always the evil things are dear to your heart to prophesy,

WHD Rouse:
“Prophet of evil, you have never had a decent word for me! It is always your delight to prophesy evil,

A. T. Murray:
“Prophet of evil, never yet have you given me a favorable prophecy; always it is dear to your heart to prophesy evil,
As you see, I was thinking of A. T. Murray. There are a dozen other examples that I could give in the short section that I read. While I can't see any way that she could have been unfamiliar with Murray and produce all of these lines, I wouldn't blame plagiarism. My comment was humor, and Murray long is past suing anyone. I would, however, blame an analytical approach to translation, as MacKenna talks about above. It can't help but be derivative. In this case, overwhelmingly derivative.

I think that someone reading this translation might come away with a fairly mechanical perception of Homer.
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Re: Literal translations

Post by Dante » Sat Aug 20, 2016 11:35 pm

jeidsath wrote:In this case, overwhelmingly derivative.
Caroline Alexander's and A. T. Murray's versions are similar because they are both, yes, deriving their translations directly from Homer's Greek. Most of the others are really not that different, but woe betide anyone trying to use the Fitzgerald translation as an aid to studying the Greek! :lol:

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Re: Literal translations

Post by Ahab » Sun Aug 21, 2016 10:34 pm

jeidsath wrote: As you see, I was thinking of A. T. Murray. There are a dozen other examples that I could give in the short section that I read. While I can't see any way that she could have been unfamiliar with Murray and produce all of these lines, I wouldn't blame plagiarism. My comment was humor, and Murray long is past suing anyone. I would, however, blame an analytical approach to translation, as MacKenna talks about above. It can't help but be derivative. In this case, overwhelmingly derivative.

I think that someone reading this translation might come away with a fairly mechanical perception of Homer.
Thanks for the information. I can see the humor now that I know you were referring to Murray.
I am somewhat sympathetic toward your criticism of the modern 'analytical' translation. Robert Alter makes some interesting criticisms of modern biblical translations in his translation of the Hebrew Bible, though I imagine you are already familiar with those.

C. Alexander's translation is based on the West edition. I think that a good thing. Though I haven't read all the way through her translation I do find it flows much better than some other modern translations. I certainly find it much preferable to B. Powell's.

Not sure I quite grasp what a 'free translation' is. Would Logue's "War Music" count? Or is that too free?
Why, he's at worst your poet who sings how Greeks
That never were, in Troy which never was,
Did this or the other impossible great thing!
---Robert Browning

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Re: Literal translations

Post by Paul Derouda » Mon Aug 22, 2016 8:24 pm

Alexander's translation seems to fight in the same league as Lattimore's – it aims to be poetry while remaining so exact that it can be used as a crib. I can't judge how good Alexander's poetry is, but she seems to be very accurate. Still, as a crib I think I prefer Loebs.

For a good free (prose) translation I'd recommend Walter Shewring's Odyssey. It's quite interpretative, but not in the sense that the translator is just trying to show how witty he is. His translation really gives new insights to what the text behind the epic formulas means.

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Re: Literal translations

Post by C. S. Bartholomew » Tue Aug 23, 2016 3:58 pm

Paul Derouda wrote:Alexander's translation seems to fight in the same league as Lattimore's – it aims to be poetry while remaining so exact that it can be used as a crib. I can't judge how good Alexander's poetry is, but she seems to be very accurate. Still, as a crib I think I prefer Loebs.
Lattimore's Homer is beginning to show its age. Less accessible to the current univ. student population.

Loeb is the ideal physical format. Preferable to interlinear. A. T. Murray, older than Lattimore. Probably not ideal for young readers.
Dante wrote:
So you're saying you would not find, for example, Jebb's translation that accompanies his notes on Sophocles of any use while studying the original Greek? Interesting.
I find Jebb's translation of Sophocles more valuable than his notes. His english is very old fashion but I can live with it.
C. Stirling Bartholomew

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