BMCR 2023.05.22

Winnie-the-Pooh in ancient Greek

, , Winnie-the-Pooh in ancient Greek. Leiden: Primavera Press, 2022. Pp. 160. ISBN 9789059973220.

This book is an ancient Greek version of A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh (1926). In addition to the ancient Greek translation, all of E.H. Shepard’s illustrations have also been reproduced, but in the most charming way imaginable, with the English texts in the original illustrations also translated and redrawn in Greek, so that for example Pooh’s jar labelled ‘HUNNY’ is in the Greek version of the illustration labelled ‘ΜΕΛΛΙ’ (p. 59). A map of Hundred Acre Wood is given in the endpaper at the front and back of the book, with all placenames reproduced in Greek.

The quality of the physical book is excellent. The book is hardcover, with a blue cloth covering. A small golden illustration of Pooh and Piglet walking hand-in-hand is on the front cover. The binding is sewn and the paper is of high quality. There is no preface of the translator, only a title page in Greek and a list of chapters in Greek.

Peter Stork, the translator, is known for having already co-authored a number of books that serve as aids to those learning the ancient Greek language: ΒΑΣΙΣ. Leergang Grieks (1977), Pallas. Griekse taal en cultuur (1995), Beknopte Syntaxis van het klassiek Grieks (2000). This is not to mention his many other scholarly works. Given the popularity of Alexander Lenard’s Latin version of Winnie-the-Pooh published under the title Winnie Ille Pu (1958), an ancient Greek version of the children’s story was a worthwhile task.

The flavour of the translation can best be tasted by way of an excerpt:

Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it. And then he feels that perhaps there isn’t. Anyhow, here he is at the bottom, and ready to be introduced to you. Winnie-the-Pooh.

Ὅδε ἐστὶν Ἐδουάρδος Ἄρκτος, νῦν μὲν καταβαίνων κατὰ τῆς κλίμακος, δοῦπ, δοῦπ, δοῦπ, ἐπὶ τοῦ ὀπισθοκεφάλου, ὄπισθεν Χριστοφόρου Ἐριθάκου· οὗτος γάρ, ὅσα γε οἶδεν, τρόπος μόνος ἐστὶ τοῦ καταβαίνειν, ἔστι δὲ ὅτε ἡγεῖται ἄλλον δὴ τρόπον δεῖν εἶναι, εἴ γε οἷός τε ἦν βραχύ τι παύσασθαι δουπῶν καὶ λογίζεσθαι. Εἶτα δὲ ἡγεῖται ἴσως ἄλλον τρόπον οὐκ εἶναι. Νῦν δ᾽ οὖν ὅδε κάτω ἐστίν, μέλλων εἰς τὸ μέσον ὑμῶν εἰσάγεσθαι, Ϝίννι-ὁ-Φῦ.

The first is the English original opening of Milne, the second is Stork’s version (p. 1). As can be seen, Stork follows the original very carefully, and this continues throughout the whole of the translation. Because the translation, format, and layout of the book all closely follow the English original, a reader can easily compare the Greek version with the English version.

One of the main difficulties facing a translator of Winnie-the-Pooh must be the presence of so many intentional misspellings in the original English version. These add charm to the story, but for the translator they pose a problem. Generally speaking Stork has approached the problem well. Among Stork’s most pleasing efforts at translating Milne’s intentionally playful misspelt language is probably his version of Owl’s ‘Happy Birthday’. This is written as ‘HIPY PAPY BTHUTHDTH THUTHDA BTHUTHDY’ in Milne’s original, and is translated by Stork as ‘ΚΕΛΑ ΛΑΛΑ ΓΝΕΘΛ ΓΝΟΘΛΘ ΝΟΘΛΙ ΓΝΟΘΛΑ’ (p. 80). One can only imagine what fun scribes in antiquity would have had with that. Stork usually attempts to render Milne’s intentional misspellings into Greek. The translation of ‘HUNNY’ as ‘ΜΕΛΛΙ’, with doubled lambda rather than normal μέλι, has already been noted above. Another good example of Stork’s use of letter-changes to match Milne’s intentional misspellings is ‘PIGLIT’ (for ‘piglet’) rendered as ‘ΧΟΙΡΔΙΟΝ’ (for ‘χοιρίδιον’) (p. 130). However, there are a few places where Stork does not attempt to put the intentional misspellings into Greek, and it is difficult to work out the reason for the inconsistency: for example, on pp. 125–126 ‘dicsovered’ (for ‘discovered’) is translated as ‘εὑρεθείς’, but this was an opportunity to write something with a similar change of the position of the consonants, like εὑθερείς.

One of the other main difficulties facing a translator of Winnie-the-Pooh is what to do with the various sound effects that appear in the book. When Pooh is climbing the tree to get honey near the opening of the book, the branch breaks and he falls down. In the original English version the breaking of the branch is conveyed by the sound-effect ‘Crack!’. Stork translates this as ‘Βρρραχχχ!’ (p. 6). When Pooh is exercising himself before the mirror in the morning or walking in the woods, he sings ‘Tra-la-la, tra-la-la’ and ‘Rum-tum-tiddle-um-tum’, and these are given by Stork as ‘Τράλαλα, Τράλαλα’ and ‘Ρύμτυμτίδδλευμτυμ’ (pp. 20–21). When Piglet is running with Eeyore’s balloon and it pops in his face and he falls on his face on the ground, Milne writes ‘BANG!!!???***!!!’, and Stork gives this as ‘ΠΑΤΑΓΓ!!!???***!!!’ (p. 81), using the onomatopoeic effect from πάταγος (‘crash, clatter’). As can be seen, Stork usually chooses a Greek word that sounds as similar as possible to the original, and where there is no close equivalent he transliterates.

The translation is clear and well done throughout. Naturally there are almost always different ways of using vocabulary and syntax, but Stork’s choices seem good, and he is playful and intelligent with his use of language. A translator of Winnie-the-Pooh has to come face to face with forms such as English slang ’cos (for ‘because’). On p. 108, in the third last line, Stork deals with ’cos in the sentence where Christopher Robin says to Pooh, ‘Do you think you could very kindly lean against me, ’cos I keep pulling so hard that I fall over backwards’, and translates this as ‘ἆρ ἐθέλοις ἂν χαρίσασθαί μοι, εἰ βούλει, ἐπερειδόμενος ἐμοί, ᾽πειδὴ διατελῶ ἕλκων οὕτω καρτερῶς ὥστε καταπίπτειν εἰς τοὐπίσω’. Lenard translated ’cos with quia, but Stork does better, translating ’cos as ᾽πειδή written with the syllable ε excluded after the preceding diphthong and punctuation mark (i.e. ἐμοί, ᾽πειδή), getting the same effect as the English. A clever way to render the slang form. This way of writing ᾽πειδή, specifically the aphaeresis of ε in ἐπειδή after a vowel or diphthong and a punctuation mark, is extremely rare (the standard grammars compare for ἐπειδή only Aristoph. Nub. 1354 φράσω· ᾽πειδή, Ach. 437 Εὐριπίδη, ᾽πειδήπερ), and although it is not attested elsewhere in surviving prose texts from antiquity, it is certainly possible: for aphaeresis in prose, see A. Lucius, De crasi et aphaeresi (1885) 49–50 and F.T. Gignac, A Grammar of the Greek Papyri of the Roman and Byzantine Periods, Vol. 1 (1976) 319–320. As Gignac says, ‘aphaeresis is a phenomenon of popular speech’ (319 n. 1), hence there can be no objection to including it in Christopher Robin’s dialogue. Stork displays similar inventiveness throughout the book, and clearly a lot of care has gone into the work.

An enjoyable feature of this book is that Stork sometimes throws in some aspect of ancient Greek culture, with pleasing effect. For example, in the part of the story where Robin puts up a sign with the words ‘NorTH PoLE DICSovERED By PooH. PooH FouND IT’, the words ‘PooH FouND IT’ are translated as ‘Φῦ πρῶτΟΣ ΕΥΡετΗΣ’ (pp. 125–126). For the important ancient concept of the πρῶτος εὑρετής, see A. Kleingünther, ΠΡΩΤΟΣ ΕΥΡΕΤΗΣ: Untersuchungen zur Geschichte einer Fragestellung (1933). When Pooh exclaims ‘Oh, bother!’ when speaking with Rabbit, the delightful translation is ‘Ὤ, Ἡράκλεις!’ (p. 25).

Stork and the publishers are to be congratulated for producing such a humanistic and beautiful volume. This is a charming book. It is only a pity that those responsible for creating the wonderful new versions of the illustrations, with the English texts redrawn in Greek, are not named.