BMCR 2013.08.47

Ifigenia in Aulide di Euripide. La permanenza del Classico – Palinsesti

Edoardo Sanguineti, Edited by Federico Condello., Ifigenia in Aulide di Euripide. La permanenza del Classico – Palinsesti. Bologna: Bononia University Press, 2012. 272. ISBN 9788873957751 €22,00.

Poet and professor, critic and politician, a fascinating figure in the intellectual landscape of Italy for half a century, Edoardo Sanguineti (1930-2010) was also a translator of classics, and especially Greek tragedies.1 The book under review presents posthumously his translation of Euripides’ Iphigenia in Aulis, edited by Federico Condello, and completes the history of Sanguineti’s long engagement with ancient theater, the results of which are almost entirely collected in a previous volume, Edoardo Sanguineti, Teatro antico. Traduzioni e ricordi, a cura di Federico Condello e Claudio Longhi. BUR, 2006 (see BMCR 2007.06.20). This book comprises an introduction (pp. 9-60), a bibliography (pp. 61-74), a section with editorial clarifications (listing the several versions of Sanguineti’s translation) (pp. 75-86), Sanguineti’s translation (pp. 88-177), notes to the text (pp. 179-214), an appendix with the author’s variants (pp. 215-65), and an afterward by Niva Lorenzini. It concludes with a selection of photocopies of unnumbered pages from Sanguineti’s printed and handwritten manuscripts. This well-edited and exhaustive volume inaugurates the series “La permanenza del Classico—Palinsesti” of the Centro Studi “La permanenza del Classico” of the Alma Mater Studiorum—University of Bologna.

In the introduction to Teatro antico, Sanguineti remarked on the gap between his work as a translator of classics and the academic world: far from engaging in a critical study of his translations, specialists of Greek and Latin have produced mostly reviews containing rather general comments, ungrounded in the text2 and, by extension, one could add, oblivious of Sanguineti’s thoughtful engagement with, and contribution to, the field of translation. This is not the approach of F. Condello, who bridges this gap and guides us with sharp analysis through the rich complexity of Sanguineti’s Iphigenia. In the substantial introduction, after describing the occasion for the translation of the play,3 Condello contextualizes Sanguineti’s choices and method in light both of the possibilities offered by the Greek language, on the one hand, and, on the other, of Sanguineti’s translating trajectory, from his earlier translations of Greek plays to the last one of Euripides’ Hippolytus in 2010. Thus, in Condello’s discussion, what Sanguineti previously called “the phantom of translation”4 receives a systematic treatment that initiates the unaware reader not only in the appreciation of Sanguineti’s rendition of Iphigenia, but also in his principles of translation more generally. We understand that the present play encapsulates both Sanguineti’s previous trends and his future tendencies. Attention to each word and to a consistent semantic rendering, regardless of more flexible possibilities shaped by the context (e.g. gignesthai always translated as ‘becoming’), and calques of the syntax (e.g. gerunds systematically used to render participles and genitives absolute) had appeared in Sanguineti’s translations before. And so had the distinctively Sanguinetian abundance of punctuation and pronouns. At the same time, in Iphigenia, more than in previous plays, respect for the ordo verborum is adamant and the reverberation of alliteration from a line to an entire metric cluster (e.g. lines 329-334) underscores moments of high pathos, devices that were to find a more complete and pervasive presence in Sanguineti’s later Hippolytus. This convergence of the old and the new in terms of the translator’s techniques, along with the coexistence of different registers, makes Sanguineti’s Iphigenia a “laboratory of style”.5 Condello’s introduction ends with a discussion of Sanguineti in relation to Euripides’ tragic art and the position of Iphigenia in Aulis in it. A connoisseur of Euripides’ development of tragedy, Sanguineti well captures with his translation the nature of Iphigenia ’s characters, each one both divided by a fluctuating, radical change of mind, and devoid of psychological depth and, ultimately, involved in a “terribile melodramma” that Sanguineti’s language unfolds at times through ironic and, even, parodistic twists.

As Condello claims in the last page of his introduction, Sanguineti’s Iphigenia bravely reaffirms “a translating style that cannot nor does it want to become current currency within the familiar circuit of classical translations”.6 Aware of the multiplicity of styles available to him, Sanguineti always chooses to reveal that a translation is such, thereby betraying the “travestimento” which each translator necessarily, but to different degrees, undergoes while voicing the author of the original text.7 Forced to a brutal honesty, Sanguineti’s Iphigenia documents at once the simultaneous presence and disappearance of the translator as an author 8 and obliges the reader to become aware of the “insurmountable distance” that separates her from the classics.9 This distance, however, can be overcome, and not only in the illusion conjured up on the stage. For Sanguineti, a translated tragedy dissolves the distance inscribed in the artificial nature of its language when it engages the reader in a “theater of interiority”,10 when, in other words, the reader herself becomes an actor under the enthrallment of a language that is molded by the criterion of “dicibilità”.11 In this autonomy of the tragic text and emphasis on the relationship between it and its audience we can find a resemblance to Aristotle’s ideal that a good tragedy should be able to trigger the tragic emotions, and therefore ‘theatrically’ involve its audience, by its mere narration, regardless of staged performance. 12 But if for Aristotle this effect resided in a well-constructed plot, Sanguineti attaches it to the language and style of the translation: Aristotle’s listener has become in Sanguineti ‘a performative reader’.13 In Iphigenia too, as in other plays, our translator rejects a literary style—what he calls “letterarietà”, which does not convince him, for instance, in Pasolini’s translations and cinematic adaptations of the classics. He creates instead an eclectic, yet faithful, rendition where in the midst of different registers isolated, familiar words, usually located at the end of a line, work like anchors that momentarily capture the reader and resonate without mediation with her interiority.14

This book is directed to an Italian audience, to both specialist and non-specialist readers, and it is of interest also for those in the fields of translation studies and classical reception. It provides a subtle and well-rounded introduction to Sanguineti’s theory of translation, which, as Condello remarks, has not yet been written, and which the present reviewer hopes will soon find its way to publication. Here, let it suffice to mention that in affirming the identity of translator and author, in questioning the presumed, yet never-fully accomplished, transparency of the translator and in his critique of fluency Sanguineti grappled with questions similar to those asked by Lawrence Venuti,15 and contributed early on to the emerging field of translation theory a distinctive and original voice.


1. On the privileged position of Greek tragedies in his activity as translator see Sanguineti’s statement in Teatro antico : “se mi si chiedesse quali tragedie antiche desidero o avrei desiderato tradurre…dovrei rispondere tutte. Perché tutte diventano coinvolgenti non appena ci si impegna con il testo: e il tragico finisce col travolgermi” (2006, pp. 12-3).

2. Teatro antico, 2006, p. 17.

3. As with all the other translations, that of Iphigenia in Aulis was commissioned from Sanguineti for a theatrical performance ( Iphigenia in Aulide, p. 14).

4. Teatro antico, p. 5.

5. See Ifigenia, pp. 30 and 34.

6. Ifigenia, p. 60.

7. E. Sanguineti, “Il traduttore, nostro contemporaneo” in E. Sanguineti, La missione del critico, Genova, 1987, pp. 182-3.

8. For Sanguineti’s “stile a-stilistico” see Condello in Ifigenia, pp. 32-3.

9. “Il traduttore, nostro contemporaneo”, 1987, p. 188.

10. Teatro antico, p.15. Elsewhere, Sanguineti states “c’è teatro se c’è travestimento”, thereby making any translation per se theatrical and ‘autonomous’ (E. Sanguineti, A. Liberovici, Il mio amore è come una febbre e mi rovescio, 1998, p. 113).

11. Sanguineti defines “dicibilità” as “the word dramatically strong” and among the instruments that provide it he lists “alliterations, parentheses, and punctuation” ( Teatro antico, p. 15).

12. Aristot. Poet. 1453b1-9.

13. Sanguineti advocates a coincidence of types of translations: a translation to be read should be like a translation to be performed ( Teatro antico, p. 15).

14. Examples of this technique are, for instance, the adoption of “la mia bambina” in lines 123, 147, or the dissolution of the compound verb symploun (line 666) into “navigare…insieme” where “insieme” ends a line extremely charged in terms of “dicibilità”: “Sarebbe bello, per te e per me, portarmi a me, a navigarci, insieme”.

15. See, for instance, The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation, London and New York, 2008 (2 nd ed.) and The Scandals of Translation: Towards an Ethics of Difference, London and New York, 1998.