Category Archives: Opinion Posts

Why I translate Ancient Languages

μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος
οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί’ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε’ ἔθηκε,
πολλὰς δ’ ἰφθίμους ψυχὰς Ἄϊδι προί̈αψεν
ἡρώων, αὐτοὺς δὲ ἑλώρια τεῦχε κύνεσσιν
οἰωνοῖσί τε πᾶσι, Διὸς δ’ ἐτελείετο βουλή

Wrath—sing goddess, about the wrath of
Achilles, son of Peleus, a destructive
wrath that brought unbearable grief to
the Achaeans, and which sent many brave
souls of heroes to Hades, and left their
bodies as carrion for dogs and vultures,
the will of Zeus was carried out.

These first five lines of the Iliad are, to me, some of the most profound, beautiful, emotional and simple lines in all of classical literature. When I mentioned on Twitter that I was translating Homer, someone commented, “The field is already populated with several translations. What are they missing and what is new yours is bringing to the table?”

First, “several” translations is an understatement.  Homer has been translated by countless people since Ancient Greek was rediscovered in the Middle Ages!  I have no intention of sharing a full translation of my work because, for me, translation is a very personal matter. I oftentimes print out the text and make notes or jot down bits of translations on a notebook or scraps of paper. Oftentimes I translate silently to myself, or out loud when I ask one of the other two people I know who also know Ancient Greek what they think of a particular translation.  My translations, I guess, are truly ephemeral.

And what I saw in a text like Homer, when I first encountered him at the age of nineteen, is very different from how I experience his works now.  Very different.   But the point of the exercise  for me is to interact with the text. Nothing focuses my attention—especially when I am sad or stressed out, etc.—like an ancient text. The cases, the word order, the verb tenses, the vocabulary—it is an all-consuming experience for me. The few translations I do share on my blog are, once again, very personal renderings of some of my favorite ancient texts, but certainly not read by a wide audience. Every once in a great while I will do a translation on request for someone; and even more rarely I will do a translation for a particular person as a sort of gift. But, once again, these are personal exchanges and experiences, usually only done for an audience of one.

So, what are other translations missing?  Well, not necessarily anything. But they aren’t my own….

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My Search for an Epic Summer Read

Now that the semester is over and I am on summer vacation, my usual feelings of restlessness have set in. Sinking into a novel of epic proportions, like War and Peace which absorbed me for weeks during the winter months, would be just the cure. I took to literary Twitter to ask for suggestions and I was given so many wonderful recommendations I thought I would compile the ones that were the top contenders for me. To see the full thread go to my Twitter feed @magistrabeck.

The following are books that are sitting on my bookshelves that I was already considering:

The Balkan Trilogy, Olivia Manning
Life and Fate, Vasily Grossman
Zibaldone, Giacomo Leopardi
Alberta Trilogy, Cora Sandel
Memoirs, Alexander Herzen
Daniel Deronda, George Eliot
The Portrait of a Lady, Henry James
The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann

These are my favorites from the Twitter suggestions:

The Charterhouse of Parma, Stendhal
Don Quixote, Cervantes
The Idiot, Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky
Parallel Stories, The Book of Memories, Peter Nadas
Three Trapped Tigers, Guillermo Cabrera Infante
The Glastonbury Romance, John Cowper Powys
Berlin Alexanderplatz, Alfred Doblin
In Search of Lost Time, Proust
The Transylvanian Trilogy, Miklos Banffy
The Death of Vergil, Hermann Broch
Parade’s End, Ford Maddox Ford

And Anthony at Times Flow shared a link to his excellent list of “Monsters” he intends to read: https://timesflowstemmed.com/2018/04/14/monsters/

And finally, my husband handed me a copy of The Sot Weed Factor by John Barth. Knowing his very wry sense of humor I assumed it was a joke, but he swears it’s a serious suggestion. Speaking of joke recommendations, Tony Messenger suggested I crack open my copy of Bottom’s Dream. But I am afraid that might be a little too epic for me at this point.

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Noli Hoc Tangere: My visit to The Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscript Library

This week I had the opportunity to visit the Beinecke rare books and manuscript library in New Haven.  I was actually born and raised in New Haven and had seen this unique building many times, but to me it was just the odd stamp-shaped library whose books are not allowed to be borrowed.  The panels that make up the building are Vermont white and grey veined marble, one and a half inches thick, which allows natural light to filter through the building but without damaging the rare books.

The exterior of the Beinecke showing the white and grey-veined marble from Vermont.

A view of the marble panels from inside the Beinecke.

Upon entering the building, one is greeted by a glass tower, six levels high, filled with approximately 180,000 rare books—first editions, manuscripts, letters, etc. There is additional space in the Beinecke’s underground stacks for one million volumes. I could not stop staring at this impressive, gorgeous tower and taking photos of it from all angles. Here are a few of the ones I took:

Central, glass tower of books at The Beinecke.

The glass tower of books, The Beinecke.

A view of the glass tower with marble panels in the background.

Anyone can visit the library during its operating hours and view the Gutenberg Bible and Audobon’s Birds of America which are on permanent display. There is also seating around the main floor for anyone to study, read or sit quietly:

Audobon’s Birds of America on display at The Beinecke.

The Gutenberg Bible on display at The Beinecke.

In addition to these permanent books on display, there is also a collection of rare books and manuscripts to view that changes every few months. The current display is a group of Medieval English Manuscripts from the Takamiya Collection:

Takamiya ms 114. Ranulph Higden, Polychronicon. England, late 15th century.

Beinecke ms 84. Boethius, De consolatione philosophiae. England, between 1400 and 1500.

Beinecke ms 923. Folding calendar. France, c. 1290-1300.

Takamiya ms 117. Scribal sample sheet. Germany, c. 14755-1500.

For additional information about the building, an audio tour, and a description of its rare books, manuscripts and papyri visit their website: http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/about/about-building

Any researchers, even those not associated with Yale University, can request to view books and other materials through the library’s website. There is a rigorous process for identification and the materials can only be viewed in their reading room which, as one can imagine, is closely monitored. I requested to look at their Dorothy M. Richardson collection, the treasures from which I will share in a future post.

(The title for this post “Noli hoc tangere” (don’t touch this) was a clever suggestion from one of my Latin students who came up with this caption after I showed my photos and shared my experience in class.)

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Pilgrimage and Mourning the Loss of Summer Vacation

My levels of anxiety have been at an all-time high in the last few days as I contemplate all of the tasks that go into the beginning of a new semester.  The first week entails hours of meetings, listening to various speakers and leadership team planning.  My mind is swimming with thoughts of various administrative duties I need to perform, of ideas from leadership articles I have been required to read and of dread at the anticipation of sitting through hours of speakers that are supposed to motivate us for the new term.  But as I was reading Pilgrimage, Dorothy Richardson reminded me of the real purpose of my chosen profession, engaging with students.  The advice that is given to Miriam as she completes her first teaching job is just as relevant today as it was 100 years ago and it applies to every teacher, no matter the grade level or subject one instructs:

To truly fulfil the most serious role of the teacher you must enter into the personality of each pupil and must sympathize with the struggles of each one upon the path on which our feet are set.  Efforts to good kindliness and thought for others must be encouraged.  The teacher shall be sunshine, human sunshine, encouraging all effort and all lovely things in the personality of the pupil.

I am truly grateful for a lovely summer that involved lots of reading, swimming, sunbathing, traveling and spending time with my family.  I know how lucky I am to have this extended time off.  I just have to grit my teeth and get through the next week of “professional development” before I get to greet my always fabulous Latin and Ancient Greek students.

I hope all of my readers and visitors have also had a wonderful summer.

 

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Love Has Finally Arrived: My Translation of Sulpicia

Euterpe, Muse of Music and Poetry

Since it is Women in Translation month, I thought that it would be interesting to write a little post and offer my own translation of the only female  poet from Ancient Rome whose work has survived.  Sulpicia, born during the Augustan period and a contemporary of Horace, Ovid and Vergil,  wrote six love elegies which were not published on their own, but instead appended to the volume of poetry penned by Tibullus.  Even nowadays her poems can only be found in the Loeb, for instance, as part of the Corpus Tibullianum.  For many years scholars have denied the fact that a woman could have written these poems but it is now widely accepted that it was the daughter of upper class Roman citizens, connected to Augustus’s inner circle, who composed these elegies.  Unfortunately, more recent studies have criticized Sulpicia’s poems and judged them as inferior to her contemporaries because they are missing the literary allusions that are prevalent in other elegiac poets.

After translating Sulpicia’s poems, however, it is evident that she was keenly aware of the elegiac forms of her fellow Roman poets.  Regardless of what one might think of their literary merit, Sulpicia’s six poems, addressed to her lover Cerinthus, are the only opportunity for us to sneak a glimpse into the mind and heart of a Roman female from her own perspective.

I offer my translation of Sulpicia Poem XIII in which she confirms that the rumors about her love are more than just rumors and she wishes to cast aside all veils and embrace her joys and affections:

Tandem venit amor, qualem texisse pudori
quam nudasse alicui sit mihi fama magis.
Exorata meis illum Cytherea Camenis
adtulit in nostrum deposuitque sinum.
Exsolvit promissa Venus: mea gaudia narret,
dicetur siquis non habuisse sua.
Non ego signatis quicquam mandare tabellis,
ne legat id nemo quam meus ante, velim,
sed peccasse iuvat, vultus conponere famae
taedet: cum digno digna fuisse ferar.

Love has finally arrived, and a rumor that I tried to conceal
this kind of love would bring me much more shame than
revealing it openly. I begged Venus with my poems and
she brought him right to me and placed him in my lap.
Venus has kept her promises.  If anyone is said to be lacking
in his own happiness, then let him speak about my joys.
I wouldn’t wish to entrust anything to wax tablets for fear
that someone else might read about my feelings before my
love. It pleases me to have engaged in this transgression;
I am tired of wearing a mask because of this rumor.
Let it be said that we have been together,
each of us equally worthy of the other.

I love the tone of this poem, that Sulpicia doesn’t care about rumors and she wants to free herself of societal expectations placed on her.  The digno and digna in the last line is my favorite part of the elegy—both she and her lover are “worthy of” and “fitting for” one another.

What is everyone else reading for #WITMonth?

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