Scholia Reviews ns 5 (1996) 23.

Astrid Seele, Roemische Uebersetzer. Noete, Freiheiten, Absichten: Verfahren des literarischen Uebersetzens in der griechisch-roemischen Antike. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1995. Pp. viii + 148. ISBN 3-534-12492-8. DM68.00.

Bernhard Kytzler
University of Natal, Durban

Today more than ever before multinational activities are carried out all over the globe, be it business or sport, education or entertainment, diplomacy or culture. Therefore, more than ever before there is need for translation internationally. No wonder then if Seele argues that 'for approximately three decades researchers have been struggling to establish general categories of classification in the field of translation and to create a proper theory of translation' (p. 1). No wonder also if a dissertation is devoted to the roots of this process as it manifested itself in classical European antiquity.

Astrid Seele's book covers the Roman theory and practice of translating Greek originals; it studies theatrical and philosophical texts, didactic and lyric poetry, remarks by translators on their own method and work as well as criticisms of the results of their rivals. In addition, as might be expected from a student of Manfred Fuhrmann, there are some interesting glimpses at later pertinent phenomena in the Italian Cinquecento, the French XVIIth and the English XVIIIth century, the German classical period: a broad panorama, which deserves praise and attention.

Seele's book is based on the categories of semiotics; it therefore falls into three parts, one portion dedicated to semantics (pp. 23-50), one to syntax (pp. 50-75), and one to pragmatics (pp. 75- 88). There is also a chapter on ancient discussions of methods of translation (pp. 89-101) and a summary (pp. 102-112).

Three of Seele's results should be mentioned here. One is that the use of the categories of semiotics, while not yielding new deep and sensational insights, nevertheless brings order and structure to the discussion and is therefore progress in the right direction. The second is a meaningful differentiation of the various aims of a translation, in relation to the genre involved: lyric poetry calls for translations that are equivalent to the original in respect of form, drama demands impact ('Wirkung'), and philosophy requires context. The third point is again a differentiation: the contrast of the role, aims and methods of modern as opposed to ancient interpreters. While in antiquity there was much more freedom to recreate the original text, even to change it considerably and to develop it further, the modern translator observes a much more rigid ethic; he does not so much recreate the original text as repeat it in a new medium, since he does not feel at all competent to restyle it in any way.

Hence the subtitle, which announces a discussion of the problems, licence and aims of Roman translators. One problem concerns the 'lexikalische Luecke' (lexical gap), which results from the often lamented egestas patrii sermonis (Lucr. 3.266; Sen. Ep. 58.1). Following Cicero (Fin. 3.15, but missing Orator 21.1), Seele discusses four options to remedy this problem (p. 35-40): the use of the Uebersetzungslehnwort (exprimi verbum verbo using neologisms), Bedeutungslehnwort (verbum, quod idem declaret, magis usitatum), Fremdwort (foreign word), and Paraphrase (paraphrase). On the other hand there are the 'Freiheiten' (pp. 40-45) granted more widely in antiquity; six are enumerated (p. 45) such as, for instance, the substitution of Greek ethical categories or political institutions by Roman equivalents. 'Syntaktische Noete und Freiheiten des Uebersetzens' are also discussed (pp. 51-75). This chapter is introduced by a well-presented survey of the differences in the structure of the Greek and Latin languages, particularly changes in paratactical and hypotactical word-order (pp. 65-69). Of special interest are the short profiles of different translators (e.g. the commentator, the rival, the swindler) and readers (e.g. in rhetoric, philosophy, drama, lyric) which follow. The summary at the end is enriched by a table (p. 105) showing difficulties and solutions systematically; it is burdened by some material (pp. 104 and 106), which should have been presented earlier in connection with the respective details in the notes. The results are classified under four headings (pp. 102-8): the first and the third concern the differences between ancient and modern methods of translation, the second looks at the theory, and the last summarizes Seele's observations -- that the difficulties ('Noete') in translating have not changed so much, whereas the options ('Freiraum') were considerably wider in antiquity than they are now.

The bibliography (pp. 137-144) is certainly helpful. One wonders, however, why for Horace the old Teubneriana of Klingner 1959 (third edition) is quoted, while there are two new editions on the market (Borsza/k and Shackleton-Bailey); why the German translation of J. Levy/'s book is cited rather than the original;[[1]] why some of the 'Wege der Forschung' volumes are indicated as such (e.g. W. Ludwig, L. Schmidt) but some not (e.g. H.J. Stoerig, W. Wills). I am happy to see that one of García Yebra's publications is included in the list, but unhappy that others names are missing.[[2]] A recent and interesting collection of articles edited by Degl' Innocenti Pierini, Orlando, and Pieri might be mentioned here.[[3]]

There are not too many minor mishaps such as duplications (e.g. the dictum of Dr. Samuel Johnson p. 16 and n. 62), over-loaded sentences (e.g. p. 71 bracketed remark within parenthesis), material more suitable for notes included in the text (e.g. p. 32), unsatisfactory discussions (of Cic. Fin. 1.7 [pp. 82-3 and p. 130 n. 254] for example), and missing translations (e.g. pp. 76-7 and the last sentence of p. 94). On the other hand, the list of Cicero's philosophical translations (p. 130 n. 253) and the summaries which conclude all the sections are useful (although the latter sometimes become too repetitious); not to forget the impressive cacophonic list of problems which confront a translator (p. 17).

Seele's book offers much stimulating information and fresh insights; it also opens up not a few new avenues. A fascinating complement to it could be a similar study of the latin poetic texts that translate (almost) verbatim Greek models -- phrases of Horace and Vergil, Augustan Elegy and Flavian Epic. This, however, is not a topic for a beginner's dissertation; it is a theme for a Habilitationsschrift.


[[1]] J. Levy, Die literarische Uebersetzung (Frankfurt-am-Main 1969).

[[2]] E.g. H. Juhnke, Homerisches in Roemischer Epik Flavischer Zeit (Muenchen 1972); 'Fides Interpres: The Theory and Practice of Translation in Classical Antiquity' Antichthon 23 (1989) 42-50.

[[3]] R. Degl' Innocenti Pierini, S. Orlando, M.-P. Pieri (edd.), La traduzione fra antico e moderno: Teoria e prassi. Atti del Convegno Firenze 1991. (Firenze 1995).