Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2011.01.23
Kenneth Haynes (ed.), Classics and Translation: Essays by D. S. Carne-Ross. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2010. Pp. 377. ISBN 9780838757666. $75.00.
Reviewed by Simon Perris, Victoria University of Wellington (email@example.com)
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As a poetry reader, I have long been conscious of a debt of gratitude to classicist, critic, and man of letters, Donald Carne-Ross (1921–2010), for instigating Christopher Logue’s War Music.1 Indeed, the volume under review records a related achievement: the concerted, consistent attention, in the form of careful, close reading, which Carne-Ross devoted to classical translation qua literary composition. He is not the only scholar to have ploughed this ground, but Classics and Translation, which collects work published elsewhere in a variety of contexts, perhaps represents a deeper and broader furrow than those hitherto laid. As the editor, Kenneth Haynes, asserts, ‘For Carne-Ross, the translated work is not only a medium to be judged against the Greek and Latin but also a means to judge the original; translation and original both serve as agent and as object of criticism’ (13). Classics and Translation thus offers a retrospective and very much welcome addition to the translation studies and classical reception studies canons. ‘Most readers today encounter the classics through the medium of translation, and one reason for collecting these essays is to provide a guide to that medium, a critical account of the ways it distorts and clarifies’ (13). With the polyglot erudition of a fully-fledged comparativist, but (mostly) untainted by Eliot and Steiner’s holier-than-thou attitude, Carne-Ross brings a wealth of interpretive ‘tact’, as Valentine Cunningham would have it, to bear on classical translation.
Some readers—not this one, I hasten to add—might consider these essays theoretically malnourished. Yet a refreshing lack of jargon or fussiness is one of the many virtues of Carne-Ross’s deceptively plain-speaking style. Less a how-to manual than a practical demonstration, Classics and Translation undertakes close reading for close reading’s sake, approaching each text—source and target—on its own merits. In that respect, it complements the recent, theory-rich collection, Translation and the Classic.2
The chapters divide along several lines. One reproduces a brief introduction to Antigone. Elsewhere we find review-like essays on specific modern works or longer essays about a particular ancient work or author in translation. Finally, two chapters offer extended accounts of specific translators (Fitzgerald and Lattimore). If any chapters seem out of place, it is the two which engage least with translation: Chapters 3 and 9, about the Odyssey and the Oresteia. Haynes retains chronological order, with two key exceptions: the first and last chapters (1 and 14, on translating Greek tragedy and Horace into English respectively) bookend the collection as programmatic, summative statements. Given the absence of cross-references and other such unifying devices, this is a judicious editorial decision which focuses the collection as a whole.
In fact, the opening and closing chapters first sound, then recapitulate, a call to arms in favour of foreignising poetic translation. Chapter 1 (‘Jocasta’s Divine Head: English with a Foreign Accent’, pp. 19–48) surveys the poetic possibilities—responsibilities?—of foreignising translation, covering first language (hyperbaton, periphrasis, diction) then metre. For example, we are not to lose in translation such periphrases as ‘Jokasta’s divine head’ (θεῖον Ἰοκάστης κάρα, OT 1235). Carne-Ross also renews the argument for quantitative verse in English, calling forth Swinburne’s ‘Sapphics’ as witness. Finally, he adduces Pound as the model for attempting—if not succeeding at—convincing foreignising translation. ‘Pound had to learn to write like this; it took time. Others, poet translators, should surely be able to do so too’ (47). Chapter 14 (‘Horace in English’, pp. 286–333), from the introduction to an anthology of translations edited by Carne-Ross and Kenneth Haynes (the editor of the present volume),3 is at once an informative survey of the translation history of Horace, an examination of Horatian echoes in anglophone literature,4 and an exploration of the translatability—or otherwise—of Horace, especially Horatian metre, into English verse. Ultimately, Carne-Ross hopes for a foreignising translation, ‘not [an] English Horace but [a] difficult, foreign, Latin Horace through whose intricate stanzas we make our careful way as we do with the originals’ (333).
Chapter 5 (‘A Mistaken Ambition of Exactness: Richmond Lattimore’s Odyssey’, pp. 123–51) in some ways exemplifies the modus operandi. Carne-Ross pulls no punches in a sometimes ruthless, always on-target attack. Even when sharpening his knives, however, Carne-Ross still exhorts his own readers to the sober disciplines of critical close reading and descriptive analysis. ‘[E]ven if Lattimore’s many translations from the Greek have been justly praised, they have not been accurately described’ (123). Having first established that even Lattimore’s once-celebrated Iliad—with its hyper-literalness and loose six-beat line—is about as odd as Homer can get in English, Carne-Ross then compares Lattimore’s Odyssey to other versions at specific passages: Fitzgerald trumps all comers, with Lattimore sometimes superior to Rieu but usually inferior to Butler. Asserting that Lattimore’s Odyssey, by virtue of its supposed fidelity to Homer’s Odyssey, is ‘colorless’ (140), he then analyses Lattimore’s use of a single English adjective, ‘shining’. This is somewhat like a TLG search in reverse, and turns out to be an incredibly illuminating exercise, particularly with respect to Lattimore’s famed literalism. Finally, Carne-Ross offers an explanation for Lattimore’s reputation as classical translator extraordinaire. The argument is simple and, to me at least, uncontroversial: Lattimore, the scholar-poet, was celebrated as a translator for being both literal and poetic; but his particular, peculiar mode of literal translation—resolutely not that of a prose crib—obscures far more than it reveals; and critical laziness, ignorance, or irresponsibility saw his supposedly pellucid Homer celebrated for all the wrong reasons, due partly to its pedagogical utility—note the helpful line numbers—and partly to its literary pretensions. Not least because it justifies the lingering feeling I have had since my undergraduate days that there is something inherently wrong with Lattimore’s Homer, this chapter scores a direct hit.
By contrast, Chapter 6 (‘Structural Translation: Christopher Logue’s Patrocleia’, pp. 152–64) is overwhelmingly positive, laudatory even. Here as elsewhere, the main threat to disinterested objectivity on Carne-Ross’s part is a perhaps unjustified aversion to—abhorrence for—translationese. ‘Logue’s version . . . is written in the belief that no translationese should be allowed to muffle the impact of the original’ (154). Such offhand comments paper over a fundamental assumption underpinning these analyses: that anglophone translation ought to be conducted in recognisable, idiomatic, well written English, even if poeticised or archaising, and that the success of a translation is in some sense bound up in the ‘impact of the original’. We would do well to keep in mind here the work of Venuti et al. on the agendas behind particular translation strategies, élite or otherwise. Such biases notwithstanding, Carne-Ross offers useful insights about Logue’s Homer: without reading Homer’s Greek, without attempting to reflect Homer’s Greek in English poetry, Logue works with what he has to hand, carrying over—translating—the structure of Iliad 16 into his Patrocleia. What is more, although not immune to the rhetoric of fidelity, Carne-Ross’s notion of structural translation is at least a corrective of sorts to the rhetoric of linguistic fidelity which surrounds, say, Lattimore’s supposedly literal, literary Homer. ‘My argument is that “structural translation,” as I think one may call it, while it looks capricious and arbitrary, holds out the hope of an essential fidelity’ (154).
Despite occasional (faint) praise, one starts to imagine a vendetta of sorts against Richmond Lattimore—until, that is, one realises that Lattimore (specifically, his Odyssey) merely presents a popular, successful counter-example to Carne-Ross’s normative schema: literary translation should be well written in the target language; fidelity does not necessitate word-for-word literalism. ‘He is accurate only in the sense that he takes the Greek words [of the Odyssey] more or less in the order they occur and ties round their necks the appropriate dictionary meaning. . . [E]verything points to a radical refusal to meet the challenge of the Greek’ (145).
Chapter 6 (‘Polygram: Pindar’s Pythian 12 in Translation’, pp. 187–99) is effectively an essay on Pindar conducted via a wide-ranging exploration of the (un)translatability of Pindar. At the same time, Carne-Ross promotes the use of foreign translations, here an Italian translation of Pindar, to approach ancient texts. He also stakes a bold claim for the relationship between translation and interpretation, which we might read in conjunction with Venuti’s and Hall’s essays in Translation and the Classic.5 ‘[U]until he [Pindar] becomes a force in English poetry, we cannot really read him in Greek’ (194). Chapter 10 (‘Greek Tragedy in Modernist Translation: H. D., Louis MacNeice, and Robert Lowell’, pp. 238–49) surveys modernist translations of Greek tragedy to explore creative poetic translation. Crucially, ‘There is no middle way between poetic re-creation and crib’ (238). Carne-Ross’s notion of translation as interpretation directly recalls Jakobson and Benjamin:6 ‘True translation is a commentary on the original, not a substitute for it. . . [T]he task of the translator, like that of the critic, is to define those works of other times and places which are most living and reveal those aspects of them which we most need today’ (239). Although ostensibly concerned with a single poem, Chapter 13 (‘Ekphrasis: Lights in Santa Sophia from Paul the Silentiary’, pp. 267–85) ranges widely across ekphrasis, the poetry of late antiquity, and the potential of translation to reveal hitherto unrealised critical insights. Once again, the suggestion is made that scholarship and translation can and should work in tandem.
Readers will necessarily find points with which to quibble in a work of this nature. I refrain from recording my own disagreements here, partly because it seems churlish to apply to a posthumous collection the standards one applies to a monograph, partly because such disagreement is part and parcel—perhaps even the point—of the sort of sustained, critical, polemical close reading on offer. As far as I am concerned, the singular value of this collection lies in its suggestions, demonstrations, and claims about how one might (should?) read classical translation.
First, Carne-Ross gives us close reading with value added. Even in a short piece on Logue’s Patrocleia, he manages to include a theory of ‘structural translation’. Second, even if the mask of objectivity does not fit so well, Carne-Ross at least encourages us to attempt taking all translations, prose or verse, literary versions or cribs, on their own merits and their own terms, with the one universal, cardinal sin being translationese. Third, Classics and Translation models a two-way interpretation of source texts and target texts interactively producing an aesthetics of translation. Fourth, Carne-Ross treats translation neither as inferior and secondary nor as mystically untouchable (à la Steiner). In all these respects, in the timely challenge it offers to translators, critics, and scholars, in the author’s impeccable sense of style, Classics and Translation is that rare essay collection worth reading, and enjoying, cover to cover.
1. Christopher Logue, Prince Charming: A Memoir (London: Faber and Faber, 2001), pp. 209–10.
2. Alexandra Lianeri and Vanda Zajko, eds, Translation and the Classic: Identity as Change in the History of Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), BMCR 2009.03.26.
3. D. S. Carne-Ross and Kenneth Haynes, eds, Horace in English (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1996).
4. Cf. Charles Martindale and David Hopkins, eds, Horace Made New (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).
5. Lawrence Venuti, ‘Translation, Interpretation, Canon Formation,’ in Translation and the Classic (note 4), pp. 27–51; Edith Hall, ‘Navigating the Realms of Gold: Translation as Access Route to the Classics,’ pp. 315–40.
6. Roman Jakobson, ‘On Linguistic Aspects of Translation,’ in L. Venuti, ed., The Translation Studies Reader (Routledge: London and New York, 2004), pp. 138–43; Walter Benjamin, ‘The Task of the Translator,’ pp. 75–83.