Friday, 27 December 2013

The Library at Herculaneum

Salve! I noticed an interesting short article on the Library of Scrolls at Herculaneum on the BBC News website here . The article gives a tantalising sense of mystery as to what the rest of the as-yet unexplored library and other rooms of the extensive villa may contain.
It is worth bearing in mind that we only have about 10% of the Classical Corpus...that's a lot of lacunae in our knowledge...perhaps some more pieces of the picture await us beneath the mosaic...a lost Roman epic set in Britannia perhaps..the travel journals of Epicurus...during his sojourns in the Buddhistic Kingdoms...or even a Roman senator's disputations with a Hebraic shaman known as the Christus! Look forward to seeing you all this weekend.         Vale!

Friday, 13 December 2013

The Final Vision - Xerxes and the Phantom

We end the series of visions with a scene from Book VII (Polymnia) during the night following that day’s council of war in which Xerxes has rebuked the advice of Artabanus and boldly announced his intention to invade Hellas.


I. Tauta men epi tosouto elegeto. Meta de euphrone te egineto kai Xerxen eknizde e Artabanou gnome: nukti de boulen didous pangku heuriske oi ou pregma einai strateuesthai epi ten Hellada. Dedogmenon de oi autis touton katupnose, kai de kou en tei nukti eide opsin toiede, hos legetai hupo Perseon: edokee ho Xerxes andra oi epi stanta megan te kai eueida eipein. ‘meta de bouleueai, ho Persa, strateuma me agein epi ten Hellada,proeipas halizdein Persas stratov;oute ov metabouleumenos poieeis eu oute ho sungnosomenos toi para: all’ hosper tes hemeres ebouleusao poieen,tauten ithi tov hodov.’



Thus far was it spoken then; but afterwards when darkness came on, the opinion of Artabanos tormented Xerxes continually; and making night his counselor he found that it was by no means to his advantage to make the march against Hellas. So when he had thus made a new resolve, he fell asleep, and in the night he saw, as is reported by the Persians, a vision as follows:-Xerxes thought that a man tall and comely of shape came and stood by him and said: ‘Art thou indeed changing thy counsel, O Persian, of leading an expedition against Hellas, now that thou hast made proclamation that the Persians shall collect an army? Thou dost not well in changing thy counsel, nor will he who is here present with thee excuse the for it; but as thou didst take counsel in the day to do, by that way go.’

De Sélincourt:

So ended the speeches at the conference. Later on that evening Xerxes began to be worried by what Artabanus had said, and during the night, as he turned it over in his mind, he came to the conclusion that the invasion of Greece would not, after all, be a good thing. Having reached this decision he fell asleep; and the Persians say that before the night was over he dreamed that the figure of a man, tall and of noble aspect, stood by his bed. ’Lord of Persia’, the phantom said, ‘have you changed your mind and decided not to lead and army against Greece, in spite of your proclamation to your subjects that troops should be raised? You are wrong to change; and there is one here who will not forgive you for doing so. Continue to tread the path which you chose yesterday.’

Again, De Selincourt seems the more fluid, but here I can see that Macaulay, in staying close to the Greek has managed to leave in more of the detail that matters.  In the first comparison, we have the verb eknizde rendered as merely worried in De Selincourt, where it is more accurately translated in context as tortured ( although it can also be taken in some contexts to mean troubled - its literal meaning is to purge or wash out so the aorist here would imply going through the mill as opposed to being a bit concerned) by Macaulay. This is where I think that Macaulay has the occasional edge and that while De Selincourt is possibly better paced, the accuracy is sacrificed and this example is a meaningful case in point.

The text of Macaulay is in other places a tad too Biblical for our tastes with its thees and hasts but does manage to give a more vivid impression of the troubled night Xerxes has and the appearance of the mysterious figure (his father’s spirit? A God? His conscience? Or the embodiment of Fate?). De Selincourt manages to conjure up a bed in his version where there is none in the original and Macaulay’s translation  is again more accurate and straightforward rather than a gloss for the sake of ‘continuity’

The last sentence also demonstrates a certain license that De Selincourt displays with the original Greek and even though it is less clunky perhaps than our Victorian scholar, there is a certain loss of accuracy. Translation has this constant tightrope trick to pull off, stage management versus dry accuracy, content and form, pace and flow and which elements of the architecture that need to be sacrificed in order to effect that pace. I hope I have managed to give you a little insight into how Herodotus is approached in translation by different scholars and the decisions that they have made in order to render the best possible vision of the Greek historian for the audience of their own time.

I haven’t read theTom Holland translation but it would interesting to find out (if there is a preface of any sort) why he thought it was time for a new translation of Herodotus and what exactly his approach was in making the historian newly relevant and alive to a new generation of readers and perhaps future scholars.

I look forward to seeing you all on the 29th of this month for further musings on the revered Halicarnassian.

It might be a touch early but…

A Merry Saturnalia to all!


Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Further Visions - The Anger of Xerxes

As per previous post, I will start off with presenting an excerpt of the Histories in the form of a transliteration of the original Greek, followed by Macaulay’s take on it and then De Sélincourt with some comments on the passage to round off the excerpt.

Here then we have an excerpt from Book VII Polymnia (7.11.1) where Xerxes reacts in fury to the advice of his father’s brother Artabanus, who has just prior to this passage advised in a rather eloquent speech against such an ill-starred enterprise as the invasion of Greece.

‘Artabanos men tauta elexe, Xerxes de thumotheis ameibetai toiside. ‘’ Artabane, patros eis tou emou adelphos: touto se rusetai medena axion misthon labein epeon mataion. Kai toi tauten ten atimien prostithemi eonti kakoi kai athumoi, mete sustrateuesthai emoige epi ten Hellada autou gunaiksi: ego de kai aneu seo hosa per eipa epitelaea poieso.’’

 ‘Artabanos thus spoke; and Xerxes enraged by it made answer as follows: ‘’ Artabanos, thou art my father’s brother, and this shall save thee from receiving any recompense such as thy foolish words deserve. Yet, I attach to thee this dishonour, seeing that thou art a coward and spiritless, namely that thou do not march with me against Hellas, but remain here together with the women; and I, even without thy help, will accomplish all the things which I said.’

De Selincourt:
‘Xerxes was exceedingly angry. ‘Artabanus, ‘he replied, ‘you are my father’s brother, and that alone saves you from paying the price your empty and ridiculous speech deserves. But your cowardice and lack of spirit shall not escape disgrace: I forbid you to accompany me on my march to Greece – you shall stay at home with the women, and everything I spoke of I shall accomplish without help from you.’

De Selincourt, as I noted in the previous post is characteristically lean and taut, and here even lops off the framing device of ‘Artabanos men tauta elexe’ getting straight to the essence of the text, leaving nothing important out but definitely trimming the frills. Macaulay clearly comes from an age when frills were not only left in; they were enjoyed for their own sake as part of the poetry and grandeur that was no doubt felt to pervade the texts of the revered ancients.

 Perhaps we have become a bit less precious as each decade ‘ups the ante’ and modernises (‘soups up’ even) Herodotus, but are we in danger of losing something when we trim and sharpen up the resolution for a modern palate? Could there be an argument for leaving some of the Victorian/Edwardian paintwork in?’ What I am hinting at is where the endpoint of translations might be – if there can be such a place- is there a point where like an elastic band the ancient text can be stretched until it risks breaking any link of resemblance to the original. Of course, to a certain extent a translation can be regarded as a separate work in its own right but there should still remain some link, however tenuous, to the original. I don’t think that by any means with the two visionaries presented here that we are anywhere near that point, but with, say War Music of Christopher Logue one could start to make the argument that it’s no longer a version of an ancient text. For the non Greek or Latin reader does it or should it really matter anyway?

To be sure, each successive epoch possesses its especially peculiar textual/literary foibles of which its embedded inhabitants can never be fully cognisant. That this is both a curse and a blessing can be in no doubt. The Macaulay text, paradoxically (due to its usual faithfulness and accuracy) often partially redacts or bowdlerises passages that offended the moral sensitivities of his day. The notorious fart of the Egyptian rebel Amasis in Book II (162.3) (as a reply to the summons of Apries his erstwhile master), perfunctorily dealt with in De Selincourt, is glossed over by our Victorian scholar as an unmentionable act, ‘When this Patarbemis came and summoned Amasis, the latter, who happened to be sitting on horseback, lifted up his leg and behaved in an unseemly manner,’.

De Selincourt, for the record renders this as ‘Amasis however, in answer to Patarbemis’ summons, stood up in his stirrups (for he was on horseback at the time), broke wind and told him to take that back to his master.’

Finally, A.D.Godley in the 1920 Harvard Loeb Series translation has this as 'When Patarbemis came up and summoned Amasis, Amasis (who was on horseback) rose up and farted, telling the messenger to take that back to Apries'

 I wonder how future ages will view the De Selincourt (which has already started to fade a little) or the most recent effort of Tom Holland.

By way of conclusion, there are certainly many good things to be said about both visions and they also have quite different potential applications; Macaulay is better (marginally) when working on the original Greek. His prose is much more faithful to the original word order, grammatical constructions (he often seeks out and provides exact equivalents) and the style despite (or possibly because of) its archness plays a certain and not altogether unpleasant cadence upon the ear. It may also matter depending on how you initially experienced Herodotus – As a student I read parts of the Greek first, then the De Selincourt translation (When reading at speed for Ancient History essays) and then much later on the Macaulay when looking at the texts comparatively.  Therefore I have a soft spot for De Sélincourt but that does not lessen my admiration in any way for Macaulay’s masterful if somewhat ornate to modern ears rendering. ‘It’s all good’ as the Classics geek might say!


Sunday, 1 December 2013

Travels with Justin

I got hold of a book I had been on the hunt after for some time. I finally managed to track it down in Marylebone Public Library up near Regents Park, which for a lunchtime mission from my workplace in Mayfair was no mean feat - there and back in under an hour on foot.

The Tome in question is 'The Man Who Invented History - Travels with Herodotus' by Justin Marozzi. I had seen some decent reviews of this 2008 publication and wanted to find out what all the fuss was about. Its early days yet as I have only just started it but I immediately noted and approved of his reference to the Plutarch essay (De Malignitate Herodoti). Here is a brief quote where Justin is talking about the essay:

' With every page of this fantastically unpleasant little volume, Plutarch plunges the dagger further in. 'The Malice in Herodotus is certainly less chafing and gentler than that in Theopompus, but it takes better hold and bites deeper, like winds that come as draughts through cracks compared with those that blow in the open.' With an entertaining if unintentional irony, Plutarch launches repeated broadsides against a dead man he accuses of 'mean and partisan attacks'.

I have a feeling that Justin might approve of my previous efforts to right the balance!

By the way next week will be the last of this first years LEGENDUM and I was thinking of getting together to celebrate. I know it hasn't been a year exactly but it feels as though we have all made it work together and we should all give ourselves a libation of something nice to drink and a pat on the back. I was thinking of the Inn at the top of Norman Road..let me know if you have any interesting suggestions and perhaps we can finalise something when we meet next Sunday.

Until then

Hail Herodotus!