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Saturday, April 30, 2011

translation: theoretical models & art

When I was doing still photography in the early 1970s, I had some friends who had studied design at Art Center in SoCal. Talking to them about visual art sparked an interest in the analytical principles of composition, color and gray scale.  I spent many many hours reading about design, making extensive use of the public and university libraries. I tried to put design principles to work in my shooting but found it difficult to be analytical while working on location where the light and subject was in a constant state of change. The analytical approach seemed to kill something and produce stale results.

Recently I have been working on application of an ostensive-inferential communication model from cognitive linguistics to translation problems in Sophocles Electra. Looking over the the first speech of  Orestes in the last few days I have been impressed by the skill evident in translations I have on hand; David Grene, Ezra Pound-Rudd Fleming and Ann Carson. Every time I think there is some important insight from an ostensive-inferential communication model that might be applied to the text while translating, I go and look at what these poets have done with Electra and discover that, for most part, they have applied these principles without having the formal theoretical model to work with. In other words, a good translator does a lot of things right intuitively without a formal theoretical framework.

On the other hand, the people who work from an analytical perspective using a  formal theoretical framework often don’t produce brilliant translations. This is by no means a new observation but it has been impressed upon me in a new way. The theory is good to know when looking for failures in existing translations. But the theory does not in of itself produce good translation. You can study design until dooms day and never produce a work of art.  

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Horse Battle Terror scenario: Aeschylus Persians 29-32

Looking for a scenario in Greek Tragedy which includes horses, battle and terror (δεινὸς) I landed in Aeschylus Persians 29-32. The greek text with translation:  

Aeschylus, Persians 21-32
20 ...
οἷος Ἀμίστρης ἠδ᾽ Ἀρταφρένης
καὶ Μεγαβάτης ἠδ᾽ Ἀστάσπης,
ταγοὶ Περσῶν,
βασιλῆς βασιλέως ὕποχοι μεγάλου,
25 σοῦνται, στρατιᾶς πολλῆς ἔφοροι,
τοξοδάμαντές τ᾽ ἠδ᾽ ἱπποβάται,
φοβεροὶ μὲν ἰδεῖν, δεινοὶ δὲ μάχην
ψυχῆς εὐτλήμονι δόξῃ:
Ἀρτεμβάρης θ᾽ ἱππιοχάρμης
30 καὶ Μασίστρης, ὅ τε τοξοδάμας
ἐσθλὸς Ἰμαῖος, Φαρανδάκης θ᾽,
ἵππων τ᾽ ἐλατὴρ Σοσθάνης.

Such are Amistres and Artaphrenes and Megabates and Astaspes, marshals of the Persians; kings themselves, yet vassals of the Great King, [25] they press on, commanders of an enormous host, skilled in archery and horsemanship, formidable to look upon and fearful in battle through the valiant resolve of their souls. Artembares, too, who fights from his chariot, [30] and Masistres, and noble Imaeus, skilled with the bow, and Pharandaces, and Sosthanes, who urges on his steeds.   — Herbert Weir Smyth (1857-1937).

In this scenario the terror is an attribute of the enormous host [στρατιᾶς πολλῆς], archers and horsemen [τοξοδάμαντές τ᾽ ἠδ᾽ ἱπποβάται]  considered as a group. The host is fearful to look at [φοβεροὶ μὲν ἰδεῖν] and terrifying in battle [δεινοὶ δὲ μάχην]. The horses are part of the warfare/battle/combat scenario but not specifically in focus as subjects experiencing fear [φόβος] or terror [δεινὸς]. However, fear, terror and horses are all predictable members of the warfare/battle/combat scenario. Within this scenario the horses’ experience of the terrors of war would be assumed, inferential from the cognitive framework.     

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Horse Terror Scenario: Electra 25-28

Sophocles Trag., Electra 25-28

23 ...
25 ὥσπερ γὰρ ἵππος εὐγενής, κἂν ᾖ γέρων,
ἐν τοῖσι δεινοῖς θυμὸν οὐκ ἀπώλεσεν,
ἀλλ᾽ ὀρθὸν οὖς ἵστησιν, ὡσαύτως δὲ σὺ
ἡμᾶς τ᾽ ὀτρύνεις καὐτὸς ἐν πρώτοις ἕπει.

…  just as an excellent horse,
even when it is old,
in the presence of danger,
does not cave in,
but pricks up his ears,
even so you urge me on,
and follow right up front.

The variations in the translation of Orestes opening lines in Sophocles’ Electra reflect slight differences in how the horse scenario is treated. The expression ἐν τοῖσι δεινοῖς combined with ἵππος may invoke any sort of situation (scenario) which inspires fear or terror in a horse. In the world of Sophocles this would probably be fear inspired by physical danger and often related to combat. This is reinforced by another allusion to battle καὐτὸς ἐν πρώτοις ἕπει “and place yourself in the front” which is the most dangerous position in the battle field. J. H. Kells makes the combat metaphor explicit “does not lose his courage in the moment of battle” along with Pound-Fleming “rarin’ for battle”. David Grene makes τοῖσι δεινοῖς more generic “hard conditions”. Ann Carson with “does not lose heart” omits the idea of terror or danger entirely.

For an urban audience in the 21st century, “horse terror” does not by itself invoke a combat scenario. Carson casts it is aside as an unimportant detail where Kell’s (1973:81) comment “τὰ δεινὰ = the ‘terrible moment’ when the enemy has to be met face to face” provides essential cultural context for understanding the ancient Greek scenario.

The combination of lexical choice “in the moment of battle” with the explanatory note about the ‘terrible moment’ is an illustration of scenario theory put into translation practice. I realize that Kells in 1973 would not have been consciously employing a linguistic framework which was still under development. However, the principles which have been formally captured in scenario theory have been understood for ages. Sophocles himself understood them.