Recalling the attitude toward literary translations of classical texts that prevailed when he was a young academic, Moses Hadas (1900-1966)
confessed in his book Old Wine, New Bottles (1962) that “it has taken me many years to shed the feeling of guilt in working with translations, which many others could do as well, to the possible neglect of the things I had been trained to do. I did not finally shake the feeling off until all of my own teachers were retired, but I have continued with teaching translations and have gloried in it.” Yet omitted from this passage is Hadas’s own prowess as a translator.
Moving chronologically through the near-century from Hadas’s youth to the present, this paper charts a few of the salient (if also gradual) changes in attitudes toward, and in the practice of, translations of classical texts in Anglophone countries. Rather than attempting a comprehensive survey, the paper engages with some specific examples, not only of translations from Greek and Latin texts, but also of the often revealing and neglected front matter in which translators have the opportunity to set forth the principles and goals underlying their practice. The emphasis will be on translations of poetry; among the translated texts to be considered will be the work of Homer, Hesiod, and Sappho, as well as some tragedies, in Greek; and Lucretius, Vergil, and Horace in Latin. The paper culminates with a discussion of the author’s own recent verse translations of two plays by Euripides.
A Century of Translating Poetry