Show Notes

Episode 188: Why Translation Matters with Dr. Anne Phillips

On The Literary Life podcast today we are pleased to bring you a special episode focusing on the importance of a good translation when reading works originally written in other languages. Angelina, Cindy and Thomas are joined for this conversation by Dr. Anne Phillips, who has a BA in Latin and Greek and a Doctorate in Classical Studies and teaches Latin at the House of Humane Letters. They start out with the question of basic principles for determining what makes a good translation. Angelina brings up C. S. Lewis’ review of Fitzgerald’s translation of The Odyssey and the principles he sets forth. Anne shares her experience with reading classic works in their original languages and how much richer and more enjoyable it is for her. Another topic they cover is the challenge of translating poetry.

Angelina, Thomas, and Anne both share some of their least liked translations of classical Greek and Latin works, as well as some recommendations for better translations. They also talk about finding good translations of Old English and Middle English works.

Thomas is also teaching a webinar along with Michael Williams on the modern poets W. H. Auden and T. S. Eliot on September 28th. You can now register at House of Humane Letters.

Listen Now:

Commonplace Quotes:

He had the successful portrait painters essential gift and saw men, with few exceptions, as they liked to see themselves.

C. V. Wedgwood

In my opinion value-judgements in literature should not be hurried. It does a student little good to be told that A is better than B, especially if he prefers B at the time. He has to feel values for himself, and should follow his individual rhythm in doing  so. In the meantime, he can read almost anything in any order, just as he can eat mixtures of food that would have his elders reaching for the baking soda. A sensible teaching or librarian can soon learn how to give guidance to a youth’s reading that allows for undeveloped taste and still doesn’t turn him into a gourmet or a dyspeptic before his time.

Northrop Frye

A good translation is one that lets Homer sing.

Thomas Banks

There is a sense in which everything is untranslatable. A man may write what is as good or even better than the original, but from the nature of the case it cannot be precisely the same thing. There are even moments when one feels it is something of a desecration to translate at all, but that is surely over-scrupulous, a weakness which, if all had yielded to it, would certainly have left the world poorer.

Walter Headlam

Ode 5, Book 1: To Pyrrha

by Horace, trans. by John Milton

What slender youth, bedew’d with liquid odors,
Courts thee on roses in some pleasant cave,
             Pyrrha? For whom bind’st thou
             In wreaths thy golden hair,
Plain in thy neatness? O how oft shall he
Of faith and changed gods complain, and seas
             Rough with black winds, and storms
             Unwonted shall admire!
Who now enjoys thee credulous, all gold,
Who, always vacant, always amiable
             Hopes thee, of flattering gales
             Unmindful. Hapless they
To whom thou untried seem’st fair. Me, in my vow’d
Picture, the sacred wall declares to have hung
             My dank and dropping weeds
             To the stern god of sea. 

Books Mentioned:

Velvet Studies by C. V. Wedgwood

The Educated Imagination by Northrop Frye

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg

The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler

The Children’s Homer by Padraic Colum

The Odyssey trans. by Richmond Lattimore

The Iliad trans. by Richmond Lattimore

The Aeneid trans. by Sarah Ruden

A. E. Stallings

Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis

Beowulf trans. by Burton Raffel

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight trans. by Burton Raffel

Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, trans. by Burton Raffel

The Landmark Heroditus trans. by Andrea L. Purvis

The Landmark Thucydides trans. by Richard Crawley

The Landmark Xenophon trans. by John Marincola

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