Aaron Poochigian is a poet and translator based in New York City. After receiving his PhD in Classics from the University of Minnesota in 2006 (with a dissertation on “The Staging of Aeschylus’ Persians, Seven Against Thebes, and Suppliants”), Aaron pursued a career translating Ancient Greek poetry and composing his own. His poetry has been featured in Best American Poetry 2018 (eds. Lehman and Gioia), Poetry, and Poems Out Loud. His collection, Manhattanite, won the Able Muse Book Award for Poetry (2017) and features such wonderful verses as these, about a blizzard:
Doomed, though, like ice is doomed, this wicked bright
Seagull Behemoth soon must furl his gusts
Literary translation is a scholarly and a creative act in which a reader of the Greek or Latin becomes the writer for new readers. Like all readers, translators interpret the text, and in the field of classics, apply their scholarship and their poetic abilities to put the text into a modern language. Since many readers of our translations cannot read the original, they depend on us to transmit the voice of the original writer and to be transparent in our choices. By that I mean that the translator should proclaim whether the translation is aiming for accuracy (and what that means in particular), whether it adds or subtracts from the source text (such as Richmond Lattimore inserting his own lines into Sappho’s fragments), whether the work is an adaptation rather than a translation (clearly proclaimed in Luis Alfaro’s “Mojada: A Medea in Los Angelos”).
This month in her ‘art of translation’ column, Adrienne K.H. Rose interviews A.E. Stallings while in Pylos and then in Virginia. The two discuss the word choices made by translators, the surprising relevance of Archaic poetry in the tumultuous present era, and the effects of living life in a foreign language.
Q: How did you decide to study Classics?
Gradually, then suddenly—I didn't start taking Latin until college [at the University of Georgia], where I was initially an English and Music major, but I started with Latin 1, and just kept taking more and more Latin and Classics courses until finally the department (in particular Rick LaFleur, then Dept. head), gently suggested I change majors.
Q: Could you say a bit about the significance of learning Latin and Greek and translating Classics and its impact on you?
In our third ‘Letters from CAMP’ blogpost, Prof. Emily Jusino discusses the trials and tribulations of picking a translation of an ancient drama for live performance.
“People expect Greek tragedy to sound a little stilted and awkward.” This is a paraphrase of a comment made to me recently by a director planning on staging the Medea. It was his defense of the translation he had chosen when I said that I disliked his choice. What made this translation appeal to him was precisely what made it seem terrible to me: the stiltedness and awkward English that comes across both as “translation-ese” and as a refusal to update any references in the text for a modern audience. But, of course, he could get the rights to use this translation for free.
Our second post from the SCS’ Committee on Ancient and Modern Performance (CAMP) explores how to bring a translation to life on the stage through interdisciplinary work.
By Adrienne K.H. Rose
In her monthly column, Prof. Adrienne K.H. Rose explores issues surrounding translation within Classics. In her first edition, she addresses the challenges of picking the “right” Catullus translation. What does “right” even mean when choosing a translation for class?
Choosing the “right” translation of any Classical author for the classroom is a challenge for most teachers. What is “right” can often be dependent upon factors such as availability and pricing, particularly for students with a textbook budget. For a popular, much-translated poet like Catullus there is a wealth of English-language translations to choose from. Catullus is antiquity’s most modern poet.
Ovid’s Metamorphoses has fared better than other Latin epic poems in modern Chinese reception. It has been rendered into Chinese twice: first, selected parts (about three-fifths) were translated in the 1950s by the renowned scholar of English literature, Yang Zhouhan (1915–1989), who supplemented the rest and published the complete translation in 1984; second, a Taiwanese man of letters, Lü Jianzhong, published a version of the entire epic in 2008. Each translation has its own merits: Yang’s version reads fluently and his style is natural, with tinges of archaic feeling, aimed at easy and pleasant reading. Lü’s version is more colorful and playful, more elegant in its choice of words and expressions.