Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.09.31

Tim Whitmarsh, Leucippe and Clitophon.   Oxford and New York:  Oxford University Press, 2001.  Pp.  xl + 164.  ISBN 0-19-815289-2.  $70.00.  

Reviewed by Stephen M. Trzaskoma, University of New Hampshire (
Word count: 2017 words

Let me get the easy part over with right away. Tim Whitmarsh's new translation of Achilles Tatius' novel is a good one--in places a great one--and we should all be grateful for its appearance. It offers another choice for use in the classroom, which is always welcome, and more importantly, it can be relied upon by scholars as an accurate guide to Achilles' Greek. Helen Morales' introduction covers a great deal of ground in 25 pages, conveying both basic information about Achilles (or rather, conveying how little we know about him) and his romance, as well as giving some idea of the interpretive cruces involved in approaching this slippery work. If much of the material in it raises more questions than it answers, that mirrors our current understanding admirably. Between it and the select bibliography provided by W(hitmarsh), students and scholars unfamiliar with work on the ancient novels will have a good starting point for further reading. The notes to the translation concentrate on the literary and cultural texture, and W. has done a good job of including enough to elucidate many references that might otherwise be obscure (to students and non-classicists, at any rate) but not so many that constant page-flipping is demanded of the reader.

Now to the hard part. Until the appearance of W.'s translation, English readers of Achilles Tatius were faced with a choice between J. Winkler's translation in the University of California Press collection (CAGN)1 and that of S. Gaselee's Loeb. The choice was no choice at all. Unless one absolutely needed a facing Greek text, the Loeb was unreliable and in places unreadable (even with E. Warmington's corrections). CAGN might cost a few dollars more, but the price of admission includes the other extant Greek novels, several novelistic works, and translations of several of the important fragments. What's more, Winkler's rendering of Achilles' prose is a tour de force, an inspired display of the translator's art that, despite the considerable liberties taken, manages to remain truer to the real meaning and style of the text than the Loeb.

The question in the minds of those familiar with Achilles will then be: how does W. stack up to Winkler? W. states in an introductory note (xxxiii) that his is not a "closer" translation than Winkler's and cannot claim greater "accuracy," but that his rendering "resist[s] the temptation to smooth out Achilles' literary texture into a belles-lettristic patois." This is disingenuous, or partly so (and doubtless designed to forestall criticism from reviewers such as myself). W. is both "closer" to Achilles' prose and very often more "accurate" by that fact. Winkler's may be a great translation, but it is often misleading about what underlies it, at many points becoming more Winkler than Achilles. It conveys an appealing and enthralling sense of what Achilles' prose is capable of, but often in the wrong place, with a pun or other literary trick appearing where Achilles has none, all to make up for one left out of the translation somewhere else.

I present here two short excerpts from each translation, to allow the reader to see their very different textures and methods. I have chosen two scenes of melodramatic lament by the hero for the heroine (never fear, gentle reader, she's not really dead either time), both of them in supremely Achillean contexts but with generally straightforward construction and vocabulary:

3.16.4-5 (Garnaud's Budé): καὶ τὸ μὲν σῶμα ταύτῃ κατατέθειται, τὰ δὲ σπλάγχνα ποῦ; εἰ μὲν δεδαπανήκει τὸ πῦρ, ἥττων συμφορά. νῦν δὲ τῶν σπλάγχνων σου ταφὴ λῃστῶν γέγονε τροφή. πονηρᾶς ἐπὶ βωμοῦ δᾳδουχίας· τροφῶν καινὰ μυστήρια. καὶ ἐπὶ τοιούτοις θύμασιν ἔβλεπον ἄνωθεν οἱ θεοὶ καὶ οὐκ ἐσβέσθη τὸ πῦρ, ἀλλὰ μιαινόμενον ἠνείχετο καὶ ἀνέφερε τοῖς θεοῖς τὴν κνῖσαν τὸ πῦρ. λαβὲ οὖν, Λευκίππη, τὰς πρεπούσας σοι παρ' ἐμοῦ χοάς.

Whitmarsh: "Your corpse has been laid out here, but where are your innards? If fire had consumed them, the calamity would have been less intense; but as it is, your innards' inhumation has become these robbers' alimentation! Ah, you miserable torchlit altars! Ah, what a novel form of mystic meal! And the gods gazed down from above on such offerings as these, without quenching the flames: this fiery pollution was tolerated, and it elevated the burnt aroma to the gods! So, Leucippe, accept the only fitting libation I can offer you."

Winkler: "Your body is laid out here, but where will I find your vitals? Oh, far less devastating had the fire devoured them, but no--your insides are inside the outlaws, victuals in the vitals of bandits. Oh, wicked votive candles! Oh, strange communion service! The gods above observed this sacrifice--yet the fire was not extinguished; the flame burned on and wafted the savor upwards to their nostrils. And now, my Leukippe, receive this appropriate libation."

As one can see, W. is closer, even rendering the ταφή...τροφή pun quite neatly with "inhumation...alimentation" (and once more when the same collocation reappears at 3.25). The altar is lit with torches, as it should be (though why has it been multiplied into plural altars?); the meal is mystic but has not transformed into the sacrament of communion; "fiery pollution" keeps μιαινόμενον which Winkler abandons all together. Of course, one might argue that Winkler's "your insides are inside the outlaws, victuals in the vitals of bandits" manages to accomplish with simple English what Achilles accomplishes with simple Greek, without resort to learned words. Still, with passages such as this one the score (to be crude) will depend on one's taste and purpose. I prefer Winkler's "wafted the savor upwards to their nostrils," but his candles and communion are troublesome when I teach this text, and potentially misleading to a huge portion of the world's population. (An aside: a student in a course on ancient fiction a few years ago, just getting used to serious the study of literature and obviously not having read Winkler's introduction with any care, excitedly asked whether his "Alimentary, my dear Kleitophon" (4.5.1) was the source for Holmes' catchphrase.)

5.7.8-9 (Garnaud's Budé): νῦν μοι, Λευκίππη, τέθνηκας ἀληθῶς θάνατον διπλοῦν, γῇ καὶ θαλάττῃ διαιρούμενον· τὸ μὲν γὰρ λείψανον ἔχω σου τοῦ σώματος, ἀπολώλεκα δὲ σέ. οὐκ ἴση τῆς θαλάττης πρὸς τὴν γῆν νομή· μικρόν μοί σου μέρος καταλέλειπται ἐν ὄψει τοῦ μείζονος· αὕτη δὲ ἐν ὀλίγῳ τὸ πᾶν σου κρατεῖ. ἀλλ' ἐπεί μοι τῶν ἐν τῷ προσώπῳ φιλημάτων ἐφθόνησεν Τύχη, φέρε σου καταφιλήσω τὴν σφαγήν.

Whitmarsh: "Now I can truly say you have died a double death, Leucippe," I wailed, "divided between land and sea. I am holding the leftovers of your body, but you yourself I have lost. The allotted division between sea and land is hardly equal: small is the part of you apportioned to me, though it may seem the larger, while the sea holds your entirety in a small part. But since Fortune has begrudged me the chance to kiss your face, let me kiss your carcass."

Winkler: "This time, Leukippe, you are without doubt dead twice over, divided in death between land and sea. I hold a headless relic; I've lost the real you. Oh, what an unfair division between land and sea: I have been left the smaller part of you in the guise of the greater, whereas the sea, in a small part of you, possesses all of you. Yet now, since Fortune denies me the kisses of your lips, come then, let me kiss your butchered neck."

Here Winkler is strong, as over the top as Achilles and perfectly pitched. W. sticks closer to the Greek, but plods by comparison. But one can also spy one of the niggling issues that crop up here and there in W.'s rendering. A greekless reader (or one with Greek but without the Greek before him) might well assume in comparing the two translations that Winkler's "butchered neck" is his typical elaboration and expansion of something like σῶμα. But in fact the text has τὴν σφαγήν, and it is W.'s "carcass" that is less accurate (and less effective). While W.'s is not meant to be a literal translation or a crib, why depart from literalness here?

There are minor problems of accuracy scattered throughout W.'s translation. He insists upon rendering νεῦμα as "nod" even when it clearly refers to the gesture of some other part of the body (e.g., at 3.10 and 5.9, the latter producing the supremely silly "Raising my hands as much as I could, I signaled by nodding..."). πτερῶν in 2.38 means "feathers," not "wings." At 6.16 πρώτου Τυρίων γυνή means "wife of a prominent Tyrian," not "the pre-eminent woman in Tyre." There are also several examples of what I assume are simply artifacts created in or missed during the process of copyediting or typesetting. At 3.17 περιπλέκεταί μοι becomes "I flung her arms around her." At 5.11 "Now Sostratus is giving me to Leucippe" has the direct and indirect object reversed (presumably just an accidentally inserted "to"). Nearby at 5.16 we face the senseless "Perhaps she will manifest ourselves while we are embracing"! More examples could be given, but to no end here. They do not overwhelm the reader and are rarely important. Both categories will give pause (several in the first category are detectable even without the Greek since they make for slightly odd English in context), but no more than that.

One particularly brave aspect of W.'s approach is apparent in his handling of the pun in 3.16. W.'s policy is to attempt a rendering of all Achilles' puns and play. Sometimes these attempts pay off very nicely; other times they fall flat, although such an assessment is admittedly subjective. A retreat to unusual Latinate vocabulary to render the Greek word play is a common feature of W.'s general method. Thus we also have τὸ μὴ φοβούμενον...τὸ θυμούμενον in 4.8 as "uncurbed by timidity...impelled by acerbity," εὐχήν...τροφήν in 5.21 as "cohabitation...alimentation," γάμον ὁμοῦ καὶ φόβον in 6.16 as "consummation with perturbation," and so on. All fans of Achilles will have their own opinion of W.'s rendition of the κενοτάφιον...κενογάμιον pun in Melite's lament as she enters her sexless marriage with Clitophon in 5.14: "A novel phenomenon this, one that I alone have experienced. It is like what they do for unrecovered corpses: I have seen the tomb of the unknown soldier, but not the groom with the unknown bride...!"

W.'s translation, as I said above, is a good one. Its faults are minor and its virtues will be obvious to any reader. In some sense I think it very much the sort of translation that would have fit perfectly in CAGN, where Winkler's has always stood out as too loose and too idiosyncratic. Scholars who want an accurate guide to Achilles' Greek will want to read this, and they can more securely cite it than Winkler in matters of detail. The general reader and students will be able to enjoy it, but I suspect that they will find Winkler more appealing. Unless Oxford can field an inexpensive paperback edition, the market for this volume will be more limited than it should be. In American university classrooms, for instance, Achilles is rarely on the syllabus without at least one other novelist (and most often in courses specifically on the ancient novel). In that setting this edition offers too few advantages over CAGN, even for those instructors willing to sacrifice Winkler's smooth flashiness for the solidity, straightforward readability, and accuracy of W. (with the bonus of Morales' excellent introduction).

The constant repetition of Winkler's name in this review is not meant to belittle W.'s achievement or the value of having another translation of Achilles Tatius--the more the merrier if they are as good as these two. If the former is better at showing the forest and the latter the trees, we can all make our choice in any given situation. The only real question now that these two useful and appealing translations are on the market is when Gaselee's ghastly Loeb will go away. Soon, I hope--to be replaced with another rendering that can reach the bar set by the last two English versions.


1.   Reardon, B.P. (ed.), Collected Ancient Greek Novels (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London 1989).

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