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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.


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