Scholia Reviews ns 11 (2002) 27.
Peter France (ed.), The Oxford Guide to Literature in English Translation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Pp. xxiii + 656. ISBN 0-19-818359-3. UK£65.00.
University of Stellenbosch
For Classicists, whose undergraduate teaching brief consists largely in teaching tyros how to translate from Latin before they can begin to explore the joys of literary appreciation, this book elicits a feeling of surprised delight 'How could I have got on so long without it?' At the same time it offers the traditional 'desert-island' compendious fare that will lure even the most dedicated Classicist into surreptitious dipping into the joys of learning about not only the more predictable Indian literature (in Sanskrit, Classical Tamil and the modern Indian languages) but also about literature in African, Central European or East Asian languages (Chinese, Japanese and Korean) as well as the literatures of West Asia, from ancient Mesopotamian literature to works in Arabic, Turkish and modern Persian. This is beside useful sections on the Bible as well as on modern Hebrew (and Yiddish) literature, and the literature of Italy, Spain, Russia, France and Germany (as well as the literature of its Germanic forebears and Nordic and Dutch kin) and also on Celtic literature (Irish, Gaelic and Welsh, both ancient and modern).
The sections on Latin and Greek will be treated in more detail below. First some observations on the general set-up of the book. Some twenty-two pages of praelegomena cover aspects such as 'Advice to Readers' (which clearly explains the set-up), followed by a short list of 'Further Reading' (usefully listing works on the theory of translation, as well as other encyclopaedias of translation studies, some general anthologies and four journals devoted to the topic of literary translation). Four pages list the initials and provenance of a total of one hundred and eleven contributors from around the world (ranging from Hong Kong and Seoul to Toronto and Riverside, California), among whom I counted one South African (Alet Kruger, a linguist from the University of South Africa in Pretoria) and three Classicists (Ronald Martin, formerly of the University of Leeds, Alison Sharrock of Keele and Richard Stoneman of Exeter). A four-page introduction by Peter France explains the scope of the work and intention of the collaborators (he was advised by a panel of seven of these).
The first quarter of the book comprises a section on the theory and history of translation into English, divided into three sections ('Theoretical issues,' pp. 3-38, 'Historical development,' pp. 39-88 and 'Text types,' pp. 89-112) plus an extensive bibliography (pp. 116-23). These three sections are made up of seventeen individual articles by a range of scholars, covering topics such as 'Norms of Translation', 'Gender in Translation', 'Varieties of English', different eras and areas (from the 'Middle Ages' to 'Translation in North America'), with 'Theatre and Opera', 'Sacred Texts' and 'Children's Literature' as special categories. Such a wide range of topics results of necessity in a rather brief treatment of each, but the use of the Harvard method of referencing enables the reader further to pursue individual interests by referring to the ample bibliography.
The rest of the work ('Part II', pp. 127-619) comprises discussions or critical descriptions of translated literature, again in seventeen sections, covering individual languages of origin, or, in the case of all except the main-stream languages of Western Europe, groups of languages. A thirty-page index as well as cross-referencing enables a reader of 'Part I' to navigate the translation of particular works that illustrate particular aspects of the theoretical and historical overviews. The editor explains that a single method of treatment has been avoided. Some writers in a particular language of origin have been treated individually (Aristophanes, Vergil, Ovid, Pushkin). In other cases a particular genre (Attic oratory, Greek lyric, pastoral and epigram as a unit, Latin Silver epic, Latin history) is deemed worthy of individual treatment. Other entries may discuss the whole literature of a language or even a group of languages (the African languages of South Africa merit just over two pages of double columns, including a closely-spaced bibliography of 'Translations and Studies'; translation from Afrikaans merits slightly less, of which the major part is devoted to André P. Brink, with stress on his translations into English of his own works, deemed 'texts in their own right'. From this it may be deduced that the book in no way sets out to be encyclopaedic in its coverage of topics. It is not an encyclopaedia, but a literary reference book that reflects the tastes of its compilers.
In the case of the Classics, ancient Greek literature shares forty-six pages with modern Greek. The latter merits three pages, including a bibliography, which starts with a brief discussion of when 'modern Greek literature' can be considered to have begun, and what 'Greekness' meant for the citizens of the defunct Byzantine empire before the Independence of 1821, but also before the rise of the modern Greek state. The introduction to this whole chapter (by Stuart Gillespie, of the Glasgow University's English Department) begins with an overview of available translations from ancient Greek literature, starting with Trypanis' compilation of ancient and modern translations in the Penguin Book of Greek Verse, and ranging from the eight-volume Dent Library of Greek Thought to Michael Grant's Greek Literature in Translation, Grene and Lattimore's 'Chicago' tragedies and thematic collections of, for instance, erotic poetry that includes various Greek poets.
Each section of this chapter has its own compact bibliography. The sections devote individual attention to 'Homer and other epics', the four best- known dramatists, and genres (other than the lyric, pastoral and epigram mentioned above) such as philosophy, oratory and historiography, ending with five pages of elucidation of 'Biography, fictions and other prose', a catch-all that includes mention of translations of Plutarch's various generic excursions (a generous part of this section is devoted to him), Chariton, Xenophon of Ephesus, Longus, Heliodorus and Dio Chrysostom (taken together and meriting three and a half columns), Aesop (starting with Caxton's fifteenth century English version of a French translation of a Latin collection of fables, and ending with the Loeb edition and three versions from the nineteen-sixties). This section ends with half a column on Theophrastus. The comment here on Jebb's 1870 rendering of the Characters is a good example of Richard Stoneman's pungent, aphoristic style: '[It] aims to reproduce the Greek in plain decent English-more than a crib, less than a work of literature.'
A longer discussion of the section on Homer will give a taste of what the book as a whole manages to achieve. Homeric translation, starting with Chapman, is discussed by Felicity Rosslyn of the Department of English at Leicester. Her long discussion of the work that so inspired Chapman's English readership is illuminating and entertaining. The following brief extract (from p. 351) gives a glimpse into the strengths or otherwise of both Chapman's and Rosslyn's styles:
'Chapman's great strength is his enthusiasm for Homer, amounting to 'idolatrie'. What the translator needs is the same largeness of spirit: 'Poesie is the flower of the Sunne, and disdains to open to the eye of a candle' (Preface to the Reader, p. xxii). He writes with drive and conviction, his excitement spilling over into marginal glosses ('a simile most lively expressive') and with a wealth of hyperbole. Chapman is entirely at home in the Iliad's world of extravagant power and clashing princes, and he identifies unreservedly with Achilles . . . He deals boldly with the quiddities of Homeric Greek, relishing compound epithets (Vulcan is 'heaven's great both-foot-halting God'), coining many new words, and resolving textual problems to his own loud satisfaction. His fourteen-syllable line has room for all Homer's figures of speech and plenty of new ones, as well as explanations and parentheses. At its best, as in Achilles' rejection of the embassy in Iliad 9, it has great rhetorical power. The defect of all this energy is its disorderliness. Chapman's figures of speech often overwhelm their subject: they develop into mixed metaphors or contort themselves into word-play (a quarrel is a 'wreathing of words'). It is difficult to read many lines without getting diverted from the narrative thread . . .'
Chapman merits more than a double columned page, but it is Alexander Pope who is taken as the terminus ante et post quam, and he likewise merits a page, with appreciation for his style, criticism of his shortcomings and a discussion of his position as literary critic and his engagement with other critics: '[T]he footnotes amount to some of the finest close criticism of a major text in the 18c' [p. 353]. Of the moderns (in the 'post-Pope' third of this rubric, which starts with Cowper and glances at Butler's idiosyncratic views of the authorship. of the two 'Homeric' epics), A. T. Murray's Loeb translation is seen as the 'last archaizing version'. The epoch-making Rieu translations -- his Iliad was the first of the Penguin Classics series -- are dismissed as 'more tolerable to read at length' (p. 354) and Hammond's Iliad is denoted 'fusty' (p. 355). Of American translators, Fitzgerald is commended as 'lively' and 'flexible', whereas Lattimore's translations (which this reviewer likes because of its faithful adherence to the line divisions of the original Greek) are described as 'turgid'. Rosslyn closes her rubric with the commendation of two 'rogue translations which might stimulate any reader to a sharper sense of what goes missing' (the perennial problem when rendering verse into a different language and translating its characters into a different era), Robert Graves' prose Iliad, which 'breaks into poetical 'ballads' at high points', and Christopher Logue's 'reconstruct[ion of] underlying epic concepts' (p. 355). She ends with reference to an anthology of Homeric translations 'and many other works based on Homer'.
A column is devoted to translations of other Greek epics, from Chapman, Shelley and Thelma Sargent on the Homeric Hymns, to Parnell's version of the Batrachomyomachia, to Chapman again on Hesiod, the prose paraphrase of Hesiod by M. L. West and the 'clear and fluent version in blank verse by D. Wender', and, finally, a thumb-nail sketch of Marlowe and Chapman's combined rendering of the Hero and Leander of the somewhat mysterious 'Musaios', ending with E. Arnold's 'mildly charming' version of the same, dedicated to Browning (p. 355).
Space precludes detailed discussion of any other rubric on the Greek side. Latin literature is served by forty-seven double-columned pages (pp. 503-50), with rubrics ranging from Lucretius through Virgil (the preferred spelling here), Lyric poetry (which includes Roman elegy), Horace and Ovid and then various genres ('Satire and Epigram' as a unit, 'Silver Epic', 'Drama', 'History', '[other] Prose Authors'), to, finally, 'Late Latin and Post- classical Latin').
As the focus of this compendium is translation into English, it is to be expected that experts from various English Literature departments should predominate as contributors. The eight writers of the Latin section include two Classicists (Sharrock and Martin, on drama and history respectively), five from British English Literature Departments (of the universities of Glasgow, Stirling and Bristol) and an American scholar of comparative literature (Jan Ziolkowski of Harvard, on late Latin). Their discussion of the various topics in their rubrics shows an admirable familiarity with the Latin texts, yet their focus is very much on English literature. The diversity of early English translations (most often from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries) that they treat reads like an idiosyncratic overview of the major protagonists of any mainstream history of English literature. When they move on to the twentieth century, one is struck by several omissions of what could be considered major contributions by Classicists to the Latin translation scene. The omission of P. G. Walsh's 1999 translation of Boethius' Consolatio Philosophiae can perhaps be excused on account of its late appearance (shortly before this 'Oxford Book' was published). The omission (by David Hopkins, Bristol) of any mention of Peter Green's 1994 Penguin translation of Ovid's The Poems of Exile with its admirable introduction and notes seems less excusable, as also the omission of his 1982 The Erotic Poems and Guy Lee's translation of the Amores. As a devoted Ovidian, this reviewer feels that the major poet of Roman nequitia is rather hardly done by, although Hopkins does give a more complete picture of the history of the englished Metamorphoses. Hopkins undertakes the next rubric as well. Peter Green's translations of Juvenal are dismissed as 'comprehensible and racy but vulgar' (p. 526), which is, probably, fair criticism in the context of any search for true literary equivalence, including tone, in a translation.
Let us next turn to a contribution by a Classicist, to see whether the balance of focus is weighted more toward the Classics themselves. Of course the exigencies of compression may account for any number of omissions, but Alison Sharrock manages to rise above such limitations in a very satisfactory four- page overview of translations of the whole of the Roman dramatic genre, with, for instance, interesting and readable discussions of Heywood's sixteenth- century rendering of Seneca's Thyestes versus that of Slavitt from the late twentieth century. She epitomises the appeal of Senecan drama today with 'The grim violence and despairing horror of Senecan tragedy and of the Neronian age resonate forcibly with the anxieties of the modern world' (p. 532). Ted Hughes' translation (for an Old Vic production) of Seneca's Oedipus is compared with various others, and a substantial quotation from it conveys to the reader a sense of the power of Hughes' translation in 'disjointed prose-verse'. This section ends with reference to Don Share's Penguin anthology, Seneca in English (1998), which offers a range from which the reader may 'experience the flavour of English translations of Seneca', closing with 'As reflects Seneca's fortunes, the collection is concentrated in the Renaissance period, and includes examples that might be called 'imitations' rather than 'translations', such as two passages of stichomythia from Shakespeare's Richard III' (p. 533).
Sharrock rounds out her overview of Latin drama with about a page on Plautus, and slightly less on Terence, applauding, for instance, Erich Segal's alliterative word-play in imitation of the earlier Latin playwright and ending with an appreciation of Betty Radice's Penguin version of Terence, which is 'neat, and, in an appropriately understated way, bordering on the colloquial, without being too quickly dated' (p. 534).
From all of the above it may be deduced that, for this reviewer, speaking from a Classicist's point of view, the Greek and Latin sections of the Oxford book of literature in English translation would have benefited from the inputs of more Classical scholars, but at the same time one should concede that it is an extremely useful vademecum to a particular aspect of English literature. Even those rubrics that do not perhaps reflect the very latest in Classical scholarship give enough solid information both on the ancient sources and modern English versions to stimulate the reader to further research, and, perhaps, to going back to the original for verification.
As stated at the beginning of this review, the book has a very ambitious aim, that of demonstrating the accessibility of world literature to English speakers, and in that it admirably succeeds. Quantitatively, at almost a hundred out of a total of some six hundred and eighty pages, the Classics do not at all fare badly.