Posts Tagged ‘translation’

It’s been a quiet fortnight on Thucydides Twitter – if you discount the 2000-odd P.G. Wodehouse bots continuing to pump out incomprehensible adverts for something that may or may not be linked to World Cup betting. The Social Jukebox bots that used to offer dodgy quotations have vanished, either because they’ve been closed down or because they decided that Space Karen’s far-right takeover was bad for their image; one weight-lifting account announced that ‘We need a President who lifts’, with the inevitable result of a couple of people bringing out the ‘Scholars and Warriors’ quote, and a couple of far-right and/or bot provocateur accounts with Thucydides handles have been churning out ghastliness, but that’s about it – with one minor but interesting exception.

“Man is the most important thing, and everything else is the fruit of man’s labor.” (more…)

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The ending of Ulrich Ritzel’s most recent novel, Nadjas Katze, is quietly lovely. I’m planning to blog on the book more extensively in the near future, so won’t go into the full details of the plot here; the key point is that Berndorf, the detective, has uncovered the possibility that Nadja his client may actually be his half-sister (this depends less on utterly improbable coincidence than it might at first appear). He’s back home in Berlin; the phone rings, and it’s Nadja, whom he last saw storming off in fury. “Well,” she says – or something like that; the book is also in Berlin, and I’m not. “I guess you’ve heard that the test results are in.”

Leaving us hanging? Not in German (more…)

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In Übersetzung verloren

Some years ago, when my grasp of German was at a level of competent-but-not-idiomatic, I used the word Selektion – I can’t remember the exact context, but it may have had something to do with the British system of university admissions compared with the German – and was taken aback by the reaction of the people I was talking to. “You can’t used that word! Yes, it means ‘selection’, but that’s not what it means…” Because the Selektion of people into different categories is what happened on arrival at concentration camps; if you’re going to talk about dividing people into different categories, for example with admissions to university courses with restricted numbers of places, you definitely need to find a different word for it. (more…)

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It’s Complicated

I’m still awaiting my copy of Emily Wilson’s new translation of the Odyssey, but on the basis of passages circulating on social media and this New York Times Magazine interview it’s going to be well worth it. Certainly it’s already setting off some fascinating discussions of issues in translation: the particular choices that have to be made in trying to express concepts that don’t have an exact equivalent in the target language, and in particular words that have multiple senses and associations in the original. This is a problem in the very first line of the poem, with the word used to describe its main character, polytropos: (more…)

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See Part One here.

July A month of very conflicted emotions. On the one hand, back in Berlin; on the other hand, Brexit. On the one hand, the remarkable pleasure to be gained from the Ablehnung of a Ruf, and an opportunity to reflect on the sheer weirdness of German academic appointment processes; on the other hand, Brexit, and the thought that a job in Germany might be no bad thing. On the one hand, some actual research into cheap translations of Thucydides (though not in a REF-able publication, unless the rules change dramatically in the near future); on the other hand, my most-read post of the year on, you guessed it, Brexit(more…)

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How do people acquire their knowledge of Thucydides? It’s now well-established, I think, that academic readings (in whichever discipline) are far from the whole story; there are many different ways in which someone might encounter his name and (purported) ideas, from computer games to quotations on Twitter to Bob Dylan’s unreliable memoirs to newspaper articles and even to references in BBC radio comedy programmes, which is one reason why this blog collects and discusses examples of such Thucydideana at every opportunity (and I really must get round to recording a music podcast with songs that quote or reference Thucydides…).

One crucial influence on his reception – and this is true of many academic readings as much as of popular ones – is translation: assuming that most anglophone readers are relying on translation, which translation is it, how does this shape their understanding, and why is it so often Richard Bloody Crawley? (As Mary Beard has observed of his translation, the more readable and memorable it is – and Crawley does coin some memorable phrases – the less likely it is to be accurate or authentic). After all, there are plenty of other translations out there of much higher quality, offering different advantages and disadvantages: Hammond, Warner, Lattimore, Mynott, to say nothing of the older ones (Hobbes, Smith, Jowett) and the various new ones rumoured to be in preparation.

Part of the answer is The Landmark Thucydides, offering a modified version of Crawley, which has the enormous advantages of a nice friendly cover and lots of really excellent supporting material, maps etc., plus widespread availability. It feels as if you’re getting a lot more for your money than ‘just’ the text; purely subjective opinion, but if this had been available when I first had to read Thucydides as a teenager (learning Greek but also interested in wargaming, history etc.), it’s the one I’d have gone for, and I can easily imagine the appeal to a wide range of potential readers – if they have the money.

That may be an important point, and I’m slightly embarrassed that it took me a while to think of it (about six months ago, but I haven’t had time to work on this until now); because it’s not just a matter of £15-20 for the Landmark rather than £5 for Hammond, but also the potential competition from much cheaper electronic versions. After all, if you’re the sort of person who has a Kindle or other eBook reader, how likely are you to spend substantial amounts of money on one of these editions if you’re just a casual browser who’s heard something about Thucydides and wants to dip your toe in the water, when Amazon offers a load of much cheaper options?

A quick search on the Amazon website threw up ten cheap electronic versions of Thucydides in the first couple of pages; since these are the ones, I imagine, that a standard normal punter will encounter first, this analysis is focused on them. Top of the list: Richard Crawley, completely free, currently at #4,028 in the list of Free Books on Kindle. Second up is the Color Illustrated edition (ca. #60,000 in Paid-For Kindle list), clearly a contender for most staggeringly inappropriate cover picture ever (see below), which purports to offer the Rex Warner Penguin Classics translation – but is actually Crawley.* Of the next eight, I wasn’t able to check one as my Kindle isn’t working properly here in Berlin (and I’m also reluctant to spend actual money on any of these), one had the Jowett translation (and wants £1.40 for it, despite the fact that the Perseus online version is free and much easier to search; ca. #110,000), and the other six were Crawley. It’s obvious that these editions are not selling huge quantities – the majority hang out in the #1,200,000-#1,500,000 places, but have jumped up and down quite substantially in the course of the three hours I’ve spent working on this on and off, suggesting that in this neck of the woods a single purchase can make a huge difference to the placing. But evidently people are buying them…

Thucydides explosion

Basic conclusion: Crawley rules, followed by the Henry Lord Havell paraphrase version, Stories from Thucydides (free, around #23,500 in the Free Kindle list), which also gets incorporated into a couple of the editions of Crawley. The positive view of this is that Crawley is indeed accessible, in language and in price, so this helps broaden the reach of Thucydides beyond the academy. The bad news? Well, partly that depends on one’s view of Crawley’s translation and how far it is actively misleading – but at any rate, no one is going to learn how to spell ‘Peloponnesian’ correctly…

*I assume the Warner translation is still in copyright, so Penguin would come down on them like a ton of bricks if they actually copied it – one major reason why Crawley is so popular for this sort of reprint, of course – but this looks like actionable mis-selling…

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There was an interesting interview in Saturday’s Grauniad with the translator Michael Hofmann, that I rather wish I had seen before doing the final revisions to the latest iteration of my adaptation of the Melian Dialogue (just published in Disclaimer magazine). Of course, my piece isn’t a translation in the conventional sense, but an attempt at a distillation, trying to capture and intensify the essense of the original.* This means I don’t have quite the same fear (experienced by most translators, but bullishly dismissed by Hofmann) of criticism for introducing anachronistic language – that’s actually part of the point, and I would *love* to hear the Melian Dialogue converted into a rap battle or similar contemporary idiom (any classically-inclined MCs out there, feel free to get in touch…). (more…)

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One of the reasons I enjoyed the film Bridge of Spies – others include Mark Rylance, the sights of 1960s Berlin like Friedrichstrasse and Tempelhof, Mark Rylance, Tom Hanks being much less Tom Hanks than usual, and Mark Rylance – was the way that the German and Russian characters spoke German and Russian most of the time: no subtitles, no Denglish with terrible accents (“For you, Tommy, ze Kalte Krieg ist over. Now you are schlaflos in Berlin, oder? Komisch!”).* A really neat bit of alienation; Tom Hanks doesn’t know what the hell is going on, and the audience isn’t going to be any the wiser either, having to rely on tone, facial expressions and body language until the characters/director decide to include him/us in the conversation again by switching to English, not necessarily being completely frank or open. It’s a counterpoint to the shiftiness and duplicity of the CIA bunch, achieving similar effects in plain English through evasion, omission and patriotic rhetoric.

Of course, by this point I had disqualified myself as the intended audience for the film (more…)

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There’s a new Thucydides quotation out on the streets, or rather the internet, bringing him into debates about the candidacy of Donald Trump, and it seems like a good, if probably pointless, idea to try to nip this in the bud.

To get the really pedantic bits out of the way first (more…)

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Welcome to the world of Thucydides! It’s a world that is broad, deep, rich and complex, bringing together the ancient Greek past and the global present with the claim that understanding the former can help make sense of the latter. It’s not to everyone’s taste – indeed, Thucydides makes a big thing of the fact that many readers will be unimpressed with his work and will fail to grasp what he’s doing – but if this does turn out to be your sort of thing, then there is a lifetime’s worth of ideas to be uncovered here. (more…)

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