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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Orestes to Paedagogus: “old man”

The first two lines of Orestes’ opening speech are addressed to Paedagogus, the house servant who took care of Orestes while Agamemnon was at war and  during Orestes’ exile. The target audience for this translation would not have grown up with a servant to take care of them. What we have here is an expression of affection and respect from a young man, son of the supreme commander and king of kings over the Greek forces at Troy, directed toward a social inferior. We need to keep in mind that Orestes is a prince from a royal family and not just any royal family but the only son of Agamemnon.  This speech is given from a young prince to his servant. Not exactly the same setup as an urban African American[1] young man talking to the grandmother who took care of him as a child.

{ΟΡΕΣΤΗΣ}  lines 23-24

Ὦ φίλτατ' ἀνδρῶν προσπόλων, ὥς μοι σαφῆ
σημεῖα φαίνεις ἐσθλὸς εἰς ἡμᾶς γεγώς·

Ὦ φίλτατ' ἀνδρῶν προσπόλων
literally[2] “O most revered of [all] man servants”

φίλτατος is the superlative of φίλος, a common adjective for close friendship and not necessarily friendship between social equals. This is a difficult cross cultural problem since the affection between a young man and an old man in the urban street culture is a very complex issue laden with all sorts of ambiguities. Anne Carson’s rendering is simple but probably going to create misunderstanding for our audience.  

I love you, old man.  Anne Carson, “An Oresteia.”

The words “old man” used by a young man can refer to a father, but not typically someone who nurtured and protected you as a child. In street language “old man” as a term of derision has been largely replaced by “sir” which is laden with irony. However the residual negative connotations attached to “old man” are probably still active. It is likely to be understood as an insult and almost never conveys any sense of respect. For that reason “old man” would be unsuitable. The expression “old friend” is perhaps less troublesome but neither is it an ideal solution. I suspect that an expression equivalent to Orestes opening words are probably not available from contemporary urban street idioms. 

The expression “I love you” in the contemporary street culture is almost completely  meaningless and should be avoided, particularly in words from a prince to an old man servant. It conveys numerous meanings none of which are suitable for this context.

So far this discussion has focused on cross cultural equivalence in an attempt to find a functionally equivalent expression for the target language group. The unspoken frame work is functional equivalence (FE). We have been trying to find a street english expression which will make sense of  Ὦ φίλτατ' ἀνδρῶν προσπόλων within the target language culture. We are assuming that this is possible. This is one of the basic assumptions of FE. 

 ... Eugene Nida, whose publications in the 1960s proved to be a major turning point for Bible translation theory. ...  He based his theory on the prevailing code-model of communication. In so doing he made two fundamental assumptions: (a) any message can be communicated to any audience in any language provided that the most effective form of expression is found; (b) humans share a core of universal experience which makes such communication possible. [3]
This approach has problems:

“Since coding-decoding processes are only part of the communication act, any attempt to convey the entire message of the Bible by means of linguistic coding is doomed to failure. This … is the fundamental weakness of functional equivalence.”[4]     
... more on this later.

[1]African Cherokee  Seminole  Choctaw

[2] this literal glossing is not intended as any sort of translation, it is provided to help the reader and keep her from having to look up the greek words in a lexicon. 

[3] Kevin Gary Smith Bible Translation and Relevance Theory - The Translation of Titus a Dissertation Submitted for the degree of Doctor Litterarum at the University of Stellenbosch (South Africa) December 2000, page 11.

[4] ibid, page 38.


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