BMCR 2007.06.20

Teatro antico. Traduzioni e ricordi. A cura di Federico Condello e Claudio Longhi. BUR Scrittori Contemporanei

Edoardo Sanguineti, Federico Candello, Claudio Longhi, Teatro antico : traduzioni e ricordi. BUR. Scrittori contemporanei. Milano: Biblioteca universale Rizzoli, 2006. 337 pages ; 20 cm.. ISBN 8817012513 €11.20.

“Translations do not concern a comparison between two languages but the interpretation of two texts in two different languages”.1 So Eco, in a recent book on translation theory, reflects on the unstable nature of lexical equivalence and the presence of other factors (such as ideological, political and social variants) that significantly influence the act of translating. It is often said that translating is not only connected with linguistic competence, but also with intertextual, psychological, and narrative competence. The book under review contains a number of Italian translations of mostly ancient Greek drama by the laureate poet Edoardo Sanguineti (S.). The book comprises S.’s introduction to his experience as translator (pp. 5-20), and, in chronological order, the translation of two plays of Euripides ( Bacchae (1968), The Phoenician Women (1974)), two of Aeschylus ( Choephori (1978), The Seven against Thebes (1992)), one from Sophocles ( Oedipus the King (1980)), one comedy of Aristophanes ( The Assembly Women (1979), and the only translation from a Latin text, the Phaedra of Seneca (1969). The book also includes two essays on S.’s methods of translation, respectively by F. Condello (“Il ‘fantasma della traduzione’: Sanguineti e il teatro antico”, pp. 301-10) and C. Longhi (“Sanguineti traduttore: Dramaturg o Drammaturgo?”, pp. 311-5). A detailed bibliography (pp. 319-37) wraps up this well-edited volume.

Teatro antico shows S.’s constant engagement in the translation of ancient texts over the last forty years; these translations have always been prompted by commission and intended to be performed in theatres. In the introduction, in addition to information regarding the circumstances in which each text has been translated, S. illustrates what is, according to him, the act of translating.2 His aim is not that of a translation faithful to the source text but that of rendering in the target language a high degree of “dicibilità” (written words must be chosen taking into consideration their vocal sounds), even more so if translations are conceived for public performance rather than private reading:

“il teatro è citazione di testi, in uno spazio concreto, in un tempo immediato, in voci e in corpi. Compito del traduttore è dunque ai miei occhi, essenzialmente, procurare parole teatralmente citabili : la fedeltà, e anche, per me, una buona dose di superstizione filologica, devono intervenire in questa operazione, e in questa direzione, secondo questa intenzione” (p. 69).

Although S.’s technique of translation is that of an interlinear construction with particular attention to rhythm and syntax,3 he is nevertheless aware that the différence between linguistic signs is unavoidable and that, ultimately, translations can only offer texts ‘filtered’ by someone else’s voice: “In ogni caso, che io traduca Sofocle, o un contemporaneo qualsiasi, sono io che traduco: e sono io che sto parlando” (p. 19).

S. often achieves a felicitous rendering of the original Greek and Latin, faithful to the source texts without sacrificing, however, poetic phrasing in the Italian version. His Phaedra, for instance, successfully conveys Seneca’s grandiloquence and convoluted syntax; the translation of the Bacchae follows the rhythmic scansion of the source text with a rather idiomatic style; the translation of The Assembly Women admirably catches Aristophanes’ linguistic innovation and creativity (this is arguably one of the most exhilarating versions of the play in Italian). Both The Phoenician Women and Oedipus the King show an excellent sense of rhythm and a close rendition of the original.4

S.’s performance versions follow the originals closely save for few cases in which the original version is unnecessarily altered in order to suit a modern audience.5 A clear footprint of S.’s translations is a fondness for allitteration together with a proliferation of punctuation marks and parentheses which, by breaking the text in smaller units, are conceived to enhance the effect of “dicibilità”.6

This text is aimed at the general interested reader and, in particular, an Italian audience. Those whose research interests are in translation theory may also find this book worthwhile, but they should note that neither the author nor the editors specify on which editions the translations have been based, and the lack of line numbers in the Italian versions is frustrating if one wants to compare one particular passage in the translation with its source text.


1. U. Eco, Experiences in Translation, Toronto 2001, p. 14.

2. S. has already engaged in various issues of translation theory; see e.g. his ‘Il traduttore nostro contemporaneo’ in La missione del critico, Genoa 1987.

3. “Il mio ideale rimane quello della traduzione interlineare; non nel senso di una interlinearità meramente dizionaristica, ma anche ritmica, sintattica, acustica” (p. 18).

4. Regarding the translation of these two texts, Condello rightly points out that “il proprium semantico prevale, a discapito di ogni sperimentata soluzione traduttiva” (p. 304).

5. For instance, one may note the replacement of ‘temple’ with ‘church’.

6. See S.’s own words (p. 15): “Ho sempre avuto, per esempio, una grande passione per le allitterazioni … così il gioco delle parentesi, degli incisi, della punteggiatura, che per altri possono sembrare ostacoli, sono per me strumenti di dicibilità”.