The Difficulty of Translating From Greek to Latin

Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights, 11.16.1-9

“We have frequently noted more than a few words or expressions which we cannot say in a few words, as in Greek, and which, even if we use as many words as possible to say them, cannot be articulated as clearly or pointedly in Latin as the Greeks can convey in a few words. For recently, when a book of Plutarch came my way and I was reading the title, which was “Peri polypragmosunes”, a man who didn’t know Greek asked me whose book it was and what it was written about. I spoke the name of the writer immediately, but the subject of the book was something I hesitated on.

At first, since I did not believe that it would be an elegant translation if I said that the book was De Negotiositate (about busyness), I began to search my mind for some other description which, as the saying goes, would express it “word for word”. But there was nothing which I could remember that I read nor anything I could invent that would not in some way be harsh or silly—if I made a new word out of multitude and negotium, in the same way we say “multifaceted” or “multicolored” or “multiform”. But it would be said no less awkwardly than if one were to translate into a single world polyphilia (having many friends), polytropia (of many ways) or polysarkia (with much flesh). Therefore, after I spent a while thinking silently, I responded that it did not seem possible to me to communicate the subject in a single word and that, as a result, I was considering how to convey the meaning of that Greek word with a phrase.”

“Therefore, beginning many affairs and working on all of them is called in Greek polypragmosunê” I said, “and the label communicates that this book is written about this matter.” Then, that unrefined man, misled by my incomplete and unclear words and thinking that polypragmonê is a virtue, said “Certainly, then, this man Plutarch, whoever he is, exhorts us to engage in business, and that very many endeavors should be pursued with dedication and speed, and he has written the name of this virtue, about which he plans to speak, on the book itself, just as you say, with propriety.” I answered “Not at all, in truth. For that is in no way a virtue, that subject which is anticipated by the Greek name on the book. And Plutarch does not do what you believe—and I did not mean to say that. Indeed, he dissuades us in this book as much as he is able from too varied and frequent and unnecessary planning or seeking of too many types of obligations. But” I added, “I do see that the root of your mistake is in my lack of eloquence, the way that I could not express in many words and with clarity what a single Greek word indicates completely and plainly.”

Adiecimus saepe animum ad vocabula rerum non paucissima, quae neque singulis verbis, ut a Graecis, neque, si maxime pluribus eas res verbis dicamus, tam dilucide tamque apte demonstrari Latina oratione possunt, quam Graeci ea dicunt privis vocibus. 2 Nuper etiam cum adlatus esset ad nos Plutarchi liber et eius libri indicem legissemus, qui erat peri polypragmosynes, percontanti cuipiam, qui et litterarum et vocum Graecarum expers fuit, cuiusnam liber et qua de re scriptus esset, nomen quidem scriptoris statim diximus, rem, de qua scriptum fuit, dicturi haesimus. 3 Ac tum quidem primo, quia non satis commode opinabar interpretaturum me esse, si dicerem librum scriptum “de negotiositate”, aliud institui aput me exquirere, quod, ut dicitur, verbum de verbo expressum esset. 4 Nihil erat prorsus, quod aut meminissem legere me aut, si etiam vellem fingere, quod non insigniter asperum absurdumque esset, si ex multitudine et negotio verbum unum compingerem, sicuti “multiiuga” dicimus et “multicolora” et “multiformia”. 5 Sed non minus inlepide ita diceretur, quam si interpretari voce una velis polyphilian aut polytropian aut polysarkian. Quamobrem, cum diutule tacitus in cogitando fuissem, respondi tandem non videri mihi significari eam rem posse uno nomine et idcirco iuncta oratione, quid ucliet Graecum id verbum, pararam dicere.

“Ad multas igitur res adgressio earumque omnium rerum actio polypragmosyne” inquam “Graece dicitur, de qua hunc librum conpositum esse inscriptio ista indicat”. VII. Tum ille opicus verbis meis inchoatis et inconditis adductus virtutemque esse polypragmosynen ratus: “hortatur” inquit “nos profecto nescio quis hic Plutarchus ad negotia capessenda et ad res obeundas plurimas cum industria et celeritate nomenque ipsius virtutis, de qua locuturus esset, libro ipsi, sicuti dicis, non incommode praescripsit”. VIII. “Minime” inquam “vero; neque enim ista omnino virtus est, cuius Graeco nomine argumentum hoc libri demonstratur, neque id, quod tu opinare, aut ego me dicere sentio aut Plutarchus facit. Deterret enim nos hoc quidem in libro, quam potest maxime, a varia promiscaque et non necessaria rerum cuiuscemodi plurimarum et cogitatione et petitione. Sed huius” inquam “tui erroris culpam esse intellego in mea scilicet infacundia, qui ne pluribus quidem verbis potuerim non obscurissime dicere, quod a Graecis perfectissime verbo uno et planissime dicitur”.

Roman Mosaic

Lyric Love, Translation and Transformation

Sappho fr. 31

“That man seems like the gods
To me—the one who sits facing
You and nearby listens as you
sweetly speak—

and he hears your lovely laugh—this then
makes the heart in my breast stutter,
when I glance even briefly, it is no longer possible
for me to speak—

but my tongue sticks in silence
and immediately a slender flame runs under my skin.
I cannot see with my eyes, I hear
A rush in my ears—

A cold sweat breaks over me, a tremble
Takes hold of me. Then paler than grass,
I think that I have died
Just a little.”

φαίνεταί μοι κῆνος ἴσος θέοισιν
ἔμμεν’ ὤνηρ, ὄττις ἐνάντιός τοι
ἰσδάνει καὶ πλάσιον ἆδυ φωνεί-
σας ὐπακούει

καὶ γελαίσας ἰμέροεν, τό μ’ ἦ μὰν
καρδίαν ἐν στήθεσιν ἐπτόαισεν,
ὠς γὰρ ἔς σ’ ἴδω βρόχε’ ὤς με φώναι-
σ’ οὐδ’ ἒν ἔτ’ εἴκει,

ἀλλ’ ἄκαν μὲν γλῶσσα †ἔαγε λέπτον
δ’ αὔτικα χρῶι πῦρ ὐπαδεδρόμηκεν,
ὀππάτεσσι δ’ οὐδ’ ἒν ὄρημμ’, ἐπιρρόμ-
βεισι δ’ ἄκουαι,

†έκαδε μ’ ἴδρως ψῦχρος κακχέεται† τρόμος δὲ
παῖσαν ἄγρει, χλωροτέρα δὲ ποίας
ἔμμι, τεθνάκην δ’ ὀλίγω ‘πιδεύης
φαίνομ’ ἔμ’ αὔται·

As many know and many love, Catullus 51 is a ‘translation’. This poem brought my first exposure to Sappho at the tender age of 16. I can translate it almost without looking at it.

“That man seems to me equal to a gods,
that man, if it is right, surpasses the gods
as he sits opposite you
seeing and hearing you

sweetly laughing; every sense escapes
miserable me: for the same time I see you
Lesbia, nothing is left for me

my tongue grows heavy, and a tender flame
flickers under my limbs, and twin ears
ring with their own sound, my eyes
are shaded by night.

Leisure, Catullus, is your problem:
you revel in leisure and you have done too much.
Leisure has brought kings low,
and destroyed cities once rich.”

Ille mi par esse deo videtur,
ille, si fas est, superare divos,
qui sedens adversus identidem te
spectat et audit
dulce ridentem, misero quod omnis
eripit sensus mihi: nam simul te,
Lesbia, aspexi, nihil est super mi
* * * * * * * *

lingua sed torpet, tenuis sub artus
flamma demanat, sonitu suopte
tintinant aures gemina, teguntur
lumina nocte.

otium, Catulle, tibi molestum est:
otio exsultas nimiumque gestis:
otium et reges prius et beatas
perdidit urbes.

Sappho is pretty amazing. I also love this anecdote from Aelian:

Aelian, Fragment 187/190 (from Stobaeus 3.29.58)

“Solon the Athenian, the son of Eksêkestides, when his nephew sang some song of Sappho at a drinking party, took pleasure in it and asked the young man to teach it to him. When someone asked why he was eager to learn it, he responded: “So, once I learn it, I may die.”

Σόλων ὁ ᾿Αθηναῖος ᾿Εξηκεστίδου παρὰ πότον τοῦ ἀδελφιδοῦ αὐτοῦ μέλος τι Σαπφοῦς ᾄσαντος, ἥσθη τῷ μέλει καὶ προσέταξε τῷ μειρακίῳ διδάξει αὐτόν. ἐρωτήσαντος δέ τινος διὰ ποίαν αἰτίαν τοῦτο σπουδάσειεν, ὃ δὲ ἔφη ‘ἵνα μαθὼν αὐτὸ ἀποθάνω.’

Image result for medieval manuscript sappho
Boccacio, de mulieribus claris/Le livre de femmes nobles et renomées (trad. anonyme), 15-16th century, France (Cognac). Bibliothèque Nationale MS Français 599 fol. 42

I Made Your Poems Worse: You’re Welcome!

Pliny, Letters, 4.18

“To Arrius Antonius, My friend:

Is there any way I can prove myself to you beyond the work I have put in to your Greek epigrams, which I have tried to match in Latin translation? It’s still a turn for the worse: the cause is the weakness of my own genius followed by the inadequacy of what Lucretius calls the “poverty of our country’s language.” But, if these Latin translations of mine seem to you to possess any bit of charm, then you know how much pleasure I have in the originals you made in Greek. Farewell.”

Plinius Arrio Antonino Suo S.

Quemadmodum magis adprobare tibi possum, quanto opere mirer epigrammata tua Graeca, quam quod quaedam Latine aemulari et exprimere temptavi? in deterius tamen. Accidit hoc primum imbecillitate ingenii mei, deinde inopia ac potius, ut Lucretius ait, egestate patrii sermonis. Quodsi haec, quae sunt et Latina et mea, habere tibi aliquid venustatis videbuntur, quantum putas inesse iis gratiae, quae et a te et Graece proferuntur! Vale.

Greek Epigram by Sopater

How Do You Say Trick-Or-Treat in Latin and Greek?

repeated, but an important thread

Send me more languages and more suggestions and I will add them.

Latin — Aut dulcia aut dolum

Modern Greek: φάρσα ή κέρασμα

Ancient Greek: δόλος ἢ μισθός (see below for citation)

I prefer: δόλος ἢ δῶρον (but will take some suggestion for candy or sweet)

But what I really like is δόλος ἢ ξείνιον because I think Odysseus is the original trick(ster)-treater.

Odyssey 9.174-76

‘After I arrive, I will test these men, whoever they are,
Whether they are arrogant and wild, unjust men
Or kind to guests with a godfearing mind.”

ἐλθὼν τῶνδ’ ἀνδρῶν πειρήσομαι, οἵ τινές εἰσιν,
ἤ ῥ’ οἵ γ’ ὑβρισταί τε καὶ ἄγριοι οὐδὲ δίκαιοι,
ἦε φιλόξεινοι, καί σφιν νόος ἐστὶ θεουδής.’

9.229: “So that I might see him and whether he will give me guest gifts”
ὄφρ’ αὐτόν τε ἴδοιμι, καὶ εἴ μοι ξείνια δοίη.

9.406 “Really, is no one killing you by trick or by force?
ἦ μή τίς σ’ αὐτὸν κτείνει δόλῳ ἠὲ βίηφι;’

9.408 “Friends, No one is killing me with trick or force.”
‘ὦ φίλοι, Οὖτίς με κτείνει δόλῳ οὐδὲ βίηφιν.’

14.330 “absent already for a while, either openly or secretly”
ἤδη δὴν ἀπεών, ἢ ἀμφαδὸν ἦε κρυφηδόν.

cf.  Dutch “treats or your life”

There is this too:

Also:

Image result for Ancient GReek odysseus in disguise

Twitter

Facebook: How do you say trick or trick in Latin?

Euthyphro: How DO you say “trick or treat” in Latin?

Socrates: I’ve sometimes used “Aut dulcia aut dolum!”

Sententiae Antiquae Working on it…

Ion: ‘Dolus donumve’ or indeed ‘dolus nisi donum’

Thrasymachus: While I like the alliteration, I don’t think *donum* works here.

As a “trick”—in this sense—isn’t really a deceit (more like a joke), and as the “treat” is something trifling (not a *gift*, which carries a sense of formality), I am wondering on something like “nugas nucesve,” “jests or nuts.”

While nuces were strewn at wedding and festivals (I’m thinking of the throwing of small bits of candy at bar mitzvahs, etc.), they were also children’s playthings, which captures, I think the idea of “treat,” as something given informally, even anonymously, and without expectation of return

You need the accusative, not the nominative.

Cratylus:  Dulcia aut ludos?

Zooglossia: Animal Sounds in Latin (and Greek)

Vita Aesop G = Fabula 302

“There was a time when all the animals spoke the same language”

ὅτε ἦν ὁμόφωνα τὰ ζῷα…

A few years ago I was temporarily obsessed with animal sounds

Varro, Menippiean Satire, fr. 3 [4. 156, 23]

“A cow moos, a sheep baas, horses whinny, and a chicken clucks”

mugit bovis, ovis balat, equi hinniunt, gallina pipat.

We do have preserved from antiquity a list of animal sounds. I find myself incapable of translating all of them faithfully. But here’s the list:

Suetonius, De Naturis Animantium

“It is characteristic of lions to growl or roar. Tigers roar [rancare]; panthers growl [felire]. Female panthers caterwaul [caurire]. Bears growl [uncare] or roar [saevire]. Boars gnash teeth. Lynxes roar [urcare]. Wolves howl. Snakes hiss. Donkeys honk [mugilare]. Deer grow [rugire]. Bulls moo [mugire]. Horses whinny. Donkeys snort and honk [oncere]. Pigs snort [grunire]. Boars snarl [quiretare]. Rams bleat [blatterare]. Sheep baaaa [balare]. Male goats mutter [miccire]. Small goats go baaa [bebare]. Dogs bark or bay [latrare seu baubari]. Foxes go gag a [gannire], Wolf cubs whelp [glattire]. Hares trill [vagire]. Weasels trill [drindare]. Mice mutter and squeak [mintrire vel pipitare]. Shrews snap [desticare]. Elephants trumpet [barrire]. Frogs croak [coaxare] Ravens crow [crocitare]. Eagles shriek [clangare]. Hawks caw [plipiare]. Vultures shriek [pulpare]. Kites coo and mourn [lupire vel lugere]. Swans sound drensare. Cranes grurere. Storks crotolare. Geese honk [gliccere vel sclingere]. Ducks quack [tetrissitare]. Peacocks paupulare. Roosters cockadoodledoo or sing [cucurrire] vel cantare. Jackdaws cacaa [fringulire]. Owls cuccube [cuccubire. Cucckoos cuckoo [cuculare’. Blackbirds gnash and buzz [zinzare]. Thrushes trill [trucilare] and chirp [soccitare]. Starlings sound passitare. Swallows either whisper or murmer—for their murmur is the smallest of all the birds. Hens cluck [crispier] Sparrows chirp [titiare]. Bees buzz [bombire or bombilare]. Cicadas snap [frinitare].

Leonum est fremere uel rugire. tigridum rancare. pardorum felire. pantherarum caurire. ursorum uncare uel saeuire. aprorum frendere. lyncum urcare. luporum ululare. serpentium sibilare. onagrorum mugilare. ceruorum rugire. boum mugire. equorum hinnire. asinorum rudere uel oncare. porcorum grunnire. uerris quiritare. arietum blatterare. ouium balare. hircorum miccire. haedorum bebare. canum latrare seu baubari. uulpium gannire. catulorum glattire. leporum uagire. mustelarum drindrare. murium mintrire uel pipitare. soricum desticare. elephantum barrire. ranarum coaxare. coruorum crocitare. aquilarum clangere. accipitrum plipiare. uulturum pulpare. miluorum lupire uel lugere. olorum drensare. gruum gruere. ciconiarum crotolare. anserum gliccire uel sclingere. anatum tetrissitare. pauonum paupulare. (gallorum cucurrire uel cantare.) graculorum fringulire. noctuarum cuccubire. cuculorum cuculare. merulorum frendere uel zinziare. turdorum trucilare uel soccitare. sturnorum passitare. hirundinum fintinnire uel minurrire – dicunt tamen quod minurrire est omnium minutissimarum auicularum – gallinae crispire. passerum titiare. apum bombire uel bombilare. cicadarum fritinnire.

 

An number of these are very close to their Greek equivalents

Aelian Varia Historia 5.52

“Nature has produced animals which have the greatest range of voices and sounds, in the same way, in fact, as she has made people. Just as the Skythian speaks one way and the Indian speaks another, or the Aithiopian has his own language and the Sakai have theirs. And the language of Greece is different from Rome. Indeed, it is the same with animals who in various ways utter the a sound or an song native to their tongue. One roars, another moos, a neigh comes from another, a bray from one, a bleat or maaaa from another. A howl is dear to one; a bark to another; while some growl. There are those who scream, whistle, hoot, sing, croon and tweet. There are endless gifts proper to different animals by nature.”

51. Πολυφωνότατα δὲ τὰ ζῷα καὶ πολύφθογγα ὡς ἂν εἴποις ἡ φύσις ἀπέφηνεν, ὥσπερ οὖν καὶ τοὺς ἀνθρώπους. ὁ γοῦν Σκύθης ἄλλως φθέγγεται καὶ ὁ Ἰνδὸς ἄλλως, καὶ ὁ Αἰθίοψ ἔχει φωνὴν συμφυᾶ καὶ οἱ Σάκαι· φωνὴ δὲ Ἑλλὰς ἄλλη, καὶ Ῥωμαία ἄλλη. οὕτω τοι καὶ τὰ ζῷα ἄλλο ἄλλως προΐεται τὸν συγγενῆ τῆς γλώττης ἦχόν τε καὶ ψόφον· τὸ μὲν γὰρ βρυχᾶται, μυκᾶται δὲ ἄλλο, καὶ χρεμέτισμα ἄλλου καὶ ὄγκησις <ἄλλου>, ἄλλου βληχηθμός τε καὶ μηκασμός, καί τισι μὲν ὠρυγμός, τισὶ δὲ ὑλαγμὸς φίλον, καὶ ἄλλῳ ἀρράζειν· κλαγγαὶ δὲ καὶ ῥοῖζοι καὶ κριγμοὶ καὶ ᾠδαὶ καὶ μελῳδίαι καὶ τραυλισμοὶ καὶ μυρία ἕτερα δῶρα τῆς φύσεως ἴδια τῶν ζῴων ἄλλα ἄλλων.

Comparative Zooglossia:

Serpents: sibilare; cf. Greek surizein: ὁ ὄφις τὸ συρίζειν

Dogs: baubari, cf. Greek βαΰζειν

Rooster: cucurrire; cf. Greek “kokkuzein is for the sound of a rooster” Καὶ κοκκύζειν ἐπὶ τοῦ ἀλεκτρυόνος.

Ravens: crocitare; cf. Greek “Krôzein: to cry like a raven.” κρώζειν· ὡς κόραξ κράζειν

Cows: mugire cf. “Mukêthmos: the sound of bulls” Μυκηθμός: ἡ τῶν βοῶν φωνή.

Ouium: balare. Cf. τῶν δὲ οἰῶν βληχή, “The bleating of sheep” and “Baa” [βᾶ] (Hermippus, fr. 19).

Pigs: grunnire, cf. Greek goggrusai (“goggrusai: to make noise like a pig” γογγρύσαι· ὡς χοῖρος φωνῆσαι)

Horses: hinnire; cf. Greek “Mimikhmos: a horse’s voice μιμιχμός· τοῦ ἵππου φωνή

Donkeys: rudere uel oncare, cf. Greek ongkasthai: ὀγκᾶσθαι: “to bray like a donkey” and “ongkêthmos” (ὀγκηθμός· κραυγὴ ὄνου)

Goats: miccire, cf. Greek mêkades for goats, (Μηκάδες)

Frogs: coaxare, cf. the frog song Βρεκεκὲξ κοὰξ κοάξ

Cuckoo: cuculare, cf. Hes. Works and Days 486: “When the cuckoo cuckoos on the leaves of the oak tree.” ἦμος κόκκυξ κοκκύζει δρυὸς ἐν πετάλοισι

Owl: cuccubire; cf. Greek “Kikkabizein: Aristophanes uses this sound for the noise of owls” Κικκαβίζειν: τὴν τῶν γλαυκῶν φωνὴν οὕτως καλεῖ ᾿Αριστοφάνης.

Weasel: drindrare; cf. Aelian γαλῆς τριζούσης (“trilling weasel”)

Also consider:

Lion: fremere cf. Hesychius brimazein is the sound used for a lion’s voice” βριμάζων· τῇ τοῦ λέοντος χρώμενος φωνῇ

Eagle: clangere, cf. a generic bird sound in Greek: κλαγγή· φωνή, ἠχή (Il. 1.49), βοή. *ἢ κλαγγὴ ὀρνέων (1. 3)  Cf. Photius Κλαγγή: ποιά τις φωνὴ ὀρνέου.

Here are links to the previous Zooglossia posts for some details.

1. What does a goat say?

Photius, s.v Μηκάδες (cf. Suda mu 901)

“An epithet for goats; it comes from their species’ sound”

Μηκάδες: ἐπιθετικῶς αἱ αἶγες· ἀπὸ τοῦ ἰδιώματος τῆς φωνῆς.

2. What does a donkey say?

Photius

brômasthai: this is the braying of a hungry donkey. Also, brôma. This is the sound itself.”

Βρωμᾶσθαι· τὸ ὀγκᾶσθαι πεινῶντα ὄνον. καὶ βρῶμα· ἡ φωνὴ αὕτη.

3. Pigs grunting in Greek

Schol ad Ar. Pl. 22

“Who says “oink”—this is either from the sound of pigs or from trash [grutê, small bits, inconsequential things].

… ὃς γρῦ λέγεται· ἢ  ἀπὸ τῆς τῶν χοίρων φωνῆς ἢ ἀπὸ τῶν γρυτῶν·

4. Sheep go Baaaaaa.

Aristophanes, fr. 642

“He is about to sacrifice me and he is telling me to say “baa”.”

θύειν <με> μέλλει καὶ κελεύει βῆ λέγειν.

5. Greek Moo Cows

Suda, cf. Photius s.v. Μυκηθμός

“Mukêthmos: the sound of bulls”

Μυκηθμός: ἡ τῶν βοῶν φωνή.

6. A Real Dogamma: Dogs Bark and Howl

Zonaras, beta 379

“Barking: ulaktôn: In Aristophanes [Thesm. 173] “Barking, for I was like this….”

Βαΰζων. ὑλακτῶν. ᾿Αριστοφάνης· βαΰζων γὰρ καὶ ἐγὼ τοιοῦτος ἦν.

7. Roosters, Cucckoos, Ravens and Crows

Etym. Gud.

“To krôzein: to make a sound like a raven, or, as a crow cries”

Κρώζειν, ὡς κόραξ, ἢ ὡς κορώνη κράζειν.

Cratinus, fr. 311

“They cannot endure the rooster crooning”

κοκκύζειν τὸν ἀλεκτρυόν’ οὐκ ἀνέχονται.

Aristophanes the Grammarian

kokkuzein is for the sound of a rooster”

Καὶ κοκκύζειν ἐπὶ τοῦ ἀλεκτρυόνος.

Hes. Works and Days, 486

“When the cuckoo cuckoos on the leaves of the oak tree.”

ἦμος κόκκυξ κοκκύζει δρυὸς ἐν πετάλοισι

8. Talking Horse in Ancient Greek

Schol in Lyk. 244

“Snorting is neighing. A snorting echo. This, I believe, means neighing. But neighing is not the same as snorting. It is the sound that comes through horses’ noses when they prance.”

     φριμαγμός ὁ χρεμετισμός.φριμαγμὸν ἦχον. οὗτος, οἶμαι, τὸν χρεμετισμόν φησιν· οὐκ ἔστι δὲ φριμαγμὸς ὁ χρεμετισμός, ἀλλὰ διὰ τῶν ῥινῶν *τῶν ἵππων* ἐκπεμπόμενος ἦχος, ὅταν γαυριῶσιν.

9. Searching For Cat Sounds, Finding Weasels

Mosaic in lapidary of the Archaeological Museum of Delphi

“The Cheapness of Our Tongue”: Three Latin Passages on Translation

Seneca the Elder, Contr. 9.14

“People who teach translation have never made a lot of money”

numquam magnas mercedes accepisse eos qui hermeneumata docerent.

Pliny, Letters C. Plinius Arrio Antonino Suo S.

“How could I give you a greater sign of how much I want to copy you and admire you than the fact that I am trying to translate your Greek epigrams to Latin? Still, this is a decline. I bring to it the feebleness of my own ability, and add to this the poverty, or what Lucretius calls “the cheapness of our own language.” Nevertheless, if these Latin translations of mine seem at all charming to you, you will know how much pleasure your Greek originals brought me! Farewell.”

Quemadmodum magis adprobare tibi possum, quanto opere mirer epigrammata tua Graeca, quam quod quaedam Latine aemulari et exprimere temptavi? in deterius tamen. Accidit hoc primum imbecillitate ingenii mei, deinde inopia ac potius, ut Lucretius ait, egestate patrii sermonis. Quodsi haec, quae sunt et Latina et mea, habere tibi aliquid venustatis videbuntur, quantum putas inesse iis gratiae, quae et a te et Graece proferuntur! Vale.

Cicero, de optime genere oratorum 18

“Two kinds of objections are possible for this task. The first is: “It is better in Greek.” One can answer such people by asking if they can make anything better in Latin. Another is: “Why should I read this translation rather than the Greek?” Well, the same people often embrace a Latin Andria, Synephebi, and even an Andromache, Antiope and Epigonoi. Why is there so much intolerance for speeches translated from Greek when there is none for translated poems?

Huic labori nostro duo genera reprehensionum opponuntur. Unum hoc: “Verum melius Graeci.” A quo quaeratur ecquid possint ipsi melius Latine? Alterum: “Quid istas potius legam quam Graecas?” Idem Andriam et Synephebos nec minus Andromacham aut Antiopam aut Epigonos Latinos recipiunt. Quod igitur est eorum in orationibus e Graeco conversis fastidium, nullum cum sit in versibus?

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Greek, Latin and Arabic

Reading Roman Poets But Not Philosophers

Cicero, Academica 4.10

“Certainly, while you may introduce a probable case, when those who are educated will prefer to read in Greek and those who do not understand will fail to read these things too, tell me, do you make your case enough? The fact is that those who could not read Greek and those who can will not dismiss the works of their own language. Truly, why would educated Greeks read Latin poets but not read Latin philosophers?

Perhaps it is because Ennius, Pacuvius, Attius and many others delight them because they have conveyed not the words of the Greeks but their power? How much more will philosophers please them, if they imitate Plato, Aristotle and Theophrastus the way our poets have Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides? I notice that some of our orators who have followed Hyperides and Demosthenes are praised for it.”

Causam autem probabilem tu quidem adfers, aut enim Graeca legere malent qui erunt eruditi, aut ne haec quidem qui illa nesciunt; sed da mihi nunc—satisne probas? Immo vero et haec qui illa non poterunt et qui Graeca poterunt non contemnent sua. Quid enim causae est cur poëtas Latinos Graecis litteris eruditi legant, philosophos non legant? An quia delectat Ennius, Pacuvius, Attius, multi alii, qui non verba sed vim Graecorum expresserunt poëtarum? Quanto magis philosophi delectabunt, si, ut illi Aeschylum, Sophoclem, Euripidem, sic hi Platonem imitentur, Aristotelem, Theophrastum? Oratores quidem laudari video, si qui e nostris Hyperidem sint aut Demosthenem imitati.

BHyperides Papyrus by Thompson, Edward Maunde,(1840-1929). – Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15849129

The Unlikely Way: Our Kind of Story

Euripides, Bacchae 1388-1392

Many are the forms of divine powers
Many are the acts the gods unexpectedly make.
The very things which seemed likely did not happen
but for the unlikely, some god found a way.
This turned out to be that kind of story.

πολλαὶ μορφαὶ τῶν δαιμονίων,
πολλὰ δ᾿ ἀέλπτως κραίνουσι θεοί·
καὶ τὰ δοκηθέντ᾿ οὐκ ἐτελέσθη,
τῶν δ᾿ ἀδοκήτων πόρον ηὗρε θεός.
τοιόνδ᾿ ἀπέβη τόδε πρᾶγμα.

[but also at the end of AlcestisMedeaAndromache, Helen]

Lucian in The Symposium 48

“That, my dear Philo, was the end of that party. But it is better to intone that tragic phrase: ‘Many are the forms of divine powers / Many are the acts the gods unexpectedly make. / The very things which seemed likely did not happen’

For all these things too turned out to be unexpected. I have still learned this much now: it is not safe for a man who is unaccomplished to share a meal with clever men like this.”

Τοῦτό σοι τέλος, ὦ καλὲ Φίλων, ἐγένετο τοῦσυμποσίου, ἢ ἄμεινον τὸ τραγικὸν ἐκεῖνο ἐπειπεῖν,

πολλαὶ μορφαὶ τῶν δαιμονίων,
πολλὰ δ᾿ ἀέλπτως κραίνουσι θεοί,
καὶ τὰ δοκηθέντ᾿ οὐκ ἐτελέσθη·

ἀπροσδόκητα γὰρ ὡς ἀληθῶς ἀπέβη καὶ ταῦτα. ἐκεῖνό γε μὴν1 μεμάθηκα ἤδη, ὡς οὐκ ἀσφαλὲς ἄπρακτον ὄντα συνεστιᾶσθαι τοιούτοις σοφοῖς.

Lucian, Gout, a Tragedy 325-334

“Many are the forms of the unlucky
but let the care and habit of pains
bring some comfort to men with gout.
This is how, my fellow sufferers,
you will forget our toils,
if the very things which seemed likely did not happen
but for the unlikely, some god found a way.
Let every person who suffers endure
being taunted and being mocked.
For this affair is that kind of thing.”

πολλαὶ μορφαὶ τῶν ἀτυχούντων,
μελέται δὲ πόνων καὶ τὸ σύνηθες
τοὺς ποδαγρῶντας παραμυθείσθω.
ὅθεν εὐθύμως, ὦ σύγκληροι,
λήσεσθε πόνων,
εἰ τὰ δοκηθέντ᾿ οὐκ ἐτελέσθη,
τοῖς δ᾿ ἀδοκήτοις πόρον εὗρε θεός.
πᾶς δ᾿ ἀνεχέσθω τῶν πασχόντων
ἐμπαιζόμενος καὶ σκωπτόμενος·
τοῖον γὰρ ἔφυ τόδε πρᾶγμα.

Image result for medieval manuscript gout
James Gillray, The Gout, 1799.

The Strong and the Weak: Reading Some Thucydides

“These well-known speeches have so many unclear and odd phrases that they barely make sense….”

Ipsae illae contiones ita multas habent obscuras abditasque sententias vix ut intellegantur– Cicero, Orator 9.31

“One could easily count the number of people who are able to understand all of Thucydides, and even these people need to rely on a commentary from time to time.”

εὐαρίθμητοι γάρ τινές εἰσιν οἷοι πάντα τὰ Θουκυδίδου συμβαλεῖν, καὶ οὐδ’ οὗτοι χωρὶς ἐξηγήσεως γραμματικῆς ἔνια –Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On Thucydides 51:

Recently, my friend Mimi Kramer (@nhmeems) was asking about a pretty famous line from the Melian Dialogue. I looked it up and then my brain started hurting. I went to sleep, and looked again. Here are the Athenians speaking to the Melians:

Thucydides, 5.89

“Now, we ourselves will not provide a discreditable length of arguments with noble words that we rule justly because we threw off the Persians or that we are attacking now because we were done wrong by you; nor do we think that you should think you are able to persuade us by claiming either that you did not campaign with the Lakedaimonians when you are their allies or that you did us no harm. No, we each should say what we think is possible to accomplish in truth, because we know that what is just is judged in human reasoning from equal compulsion: those who are in power do what they can and those who are weak allow it.”

ἡμεῖς τοίνυν οὔτε αὐτοὶ μετ᾽ ὀνομάτων καλῶν, ὡς ἢ δικαίως τὸν Μῆδον καταλύσαντες ἄρχομεν ἢ ἀδικούμενοι νῦν ἐπεξερχόμεθα, λόγων μῆκος ἄπιστον παρέξομεν, οὔθ᾽ ὑμᾶς ἀξιοῦμεν ἢ ὅτι Λακεδαιμονίων ἄποικοι ὄντες οὐ ξυνεστρατεύσατε ἢ ὡς ἡμᾶς οὐδὲν ἠδικήκατε λέγοντας οἴεσθαι πείσειν, τὰ δυνατὰ δ᾽ ἐξ ὧν ἑκάτεροι ἀληθῶς φρονοῦμεν διαπράσσεσθαι, ἐπισταμένους πρὸς εἰδότας ὅτι δίκαια μὲν ἐν τῷ ἀνθρωπείῳ λόγῳ ἀπὸ τῆς ἴσης ἀνάγκης κρίνεται, δυνατὰ δὲ οἱ προύχοντες πράσσουσι καὶ οἱ ἀσθενεῖς ξυγχωροῦσιν.

Here are some translations of the last few phrases:

Rex Warner: “the strong do what they have the power to do and the weak accept what they have to accept”.

Benjamin Jowett: “the powerful exact what they can, and the weak grant what they must”.

Thomas Hobbes “They that have odds of power exact as much as they can, and the weak yield to such conditions as they can get”

The recent translation below, to my taste, does a much better job of not forcing a parallelism into the objects of the last two phrases

Johanna Hanink (How to Think about War, 2019: 169): “We need to accomplish what we can on the basis of what we really think, each side fully aware that justice is only a factor in human decisions when the parties are on equal footing. Those in positions of power do what their power permits, while the weak have no choice but to accept it.”

The last phrases cause some fits because there is no clear object for the verb ξυγχωροῦσιν. Warner, Jowett, and Hobbes seem to have taken δυνατὰ with both πράσσουσι and ξυγχωροῦσιν. While Greek (and Thucydides) is certainly capable of implying this, I think Hanink’s translation is much better for this.

When I try to teach Greek prose analysis to students, I do what I learned from Hardy Hansen (yes, the Hardy Hansen): Kola kai kommata! Break the sentences into levels of subordination and try to find the rhythm and parallels. This speech is actually kind of simple on a structural level (for Thucydides). What makes it bedeviling are some of the individual phrases. I have moved a few phrases to show how the sense works:

ἡμεῖς τοίνυν οὔτε αὐτοὶ μετ᾽ ὀνομάτων καλῶν [λόγων μῆκος ἄπιστον παρέξομεν]

ὡς ἢ δικαίως τὸν Μῆδον καταλύσαντες ἄρχομεν

ἀδικούμενοι νῦν ἐπεξερχόμεθα,

οὔθ᾽ ὑμᾶς ἀξιοῦμεν [λέγοντας οἴεσθαι πείσειν]

ἢ ὅτι Λακεδαιμονίων ἄποικοι ὄντες οὐ ξυνεστρατεύσατε

ἢ ὡς ἡμᾶς οὐδὲν ἠδικήκατε

τὰ δυνατὰ δ᾽ ἐξ ὧν ἑκάτεροι ἀληθῶς φρονοῦμεν διαπράσσεσθαι,

ἐπισταμένους πρὸς εἰδότας [=acc. Subj of infinitive διαπράσσεσθαι in indirect discourse]

ὅτι δίκαια μὲν ἐν τῷ ἀνθρωπείῳ λόγῳ ἀπὸ τῆς ἴσης ἀνάγκης κρίνεται,

δυνατὰ δὲ οἱ προύχοντες πράσσουσι καὶ οἱ ἀσθενεῖς ξυγχωροῦσιν.

I am really unsure if it is possible to convey the [forced?] antithesis between δίκαια μὲν and δυνατὰ δὲ in English! (Or what about the repetition τὰ δυνατὰ…δυνατὰ δὲ ?). But, you know, Thucydides is trying to give an idea of the kinds of things people were likely to say….

Thucydides, 1.22

“In respect to however many speeches individuals made, either when they were about to start the war or were already in it, it is hard for me to replicate with precision what was said—and this applies both to the things I heard myself and those from people reported them to me from elsewhere. So the speeches are presented as each speaker would seem to speak most appropriately about the material at hand, and when I am able to, as close as possible to the total sense of what was actually said.”

Καὶ ὅσα μὲν λόγῳ εἶπον ἕκαστοι ἢ μέλλοντες πολεμήσειν ἢ ἐν αὐτῷ ἤδη ὄντες, χαλεπὸν τὴν ἀκρίβειαν αὐτὴν τῶν λεχθέντων διαμνημονεῦσαι ἦν ἐμοί τε ὧν αὐτὸς ἤκουσα καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοθέν ποθεν ἐμοὶ ἀπαγγέλλουσιν· ὡς δ᾿ ἂν ἐδόκουν μοι ἕκαστοι περὶ τῶν αἰεὶ παρόντων τὰ δέοντα μάλιστ᾿ εἰπεῖν, ἐχομένῳ ὅτι ἐγγύτατα τῆς ξυμπάσης γνώμης τῶν ἀληθῶς λεχθέντων, οὕτως εἴρηται·

Image result for thucydides

Lyric Love, Translation and Transformation

Sappho fr. 31

“That man seems like the gods
To me—the one who sits facing
You and nearby listens as you
sweetly speak—

and he hears your lovely laugh—this then
makes the heart in my breast stutter,
when I glance even briefly, it is no longer possible
for me to speak—

but my tongue sticks in silence
and immediately a slender flame runs under my skin.
I cannot see with my eyes, I hear
A rush in my ears—

A cold sweat breaks over me, a tremble
Takes hold of me. Then paler than grass,
I think that I have died
Just a little.”

φαίνεταί μοι κῆνος ἴσος θέοισιν
ἔμμεν’ ὤνηρ, ὄττις ἐνάντιός τοι
ἰσδάνει καὶ πλάσιον ἆδυ φωνεί-
σας ὐπακούει

καὶ γελαίσας ἰμέροεν, τό μ’ ἦ μὰν
καρδίαν ἐν στήθεσιν ἐπτόαισεν,
ὠς γὰρ ἔς σ’ ἴδω βρόχε’ ὤς με φώναι-
σ’ οὐδ’ ἒν ἔτ’ εἴκει,

ἀλλ’ ἄκαν μὲν γλῶσσα †ἔαγε λέπτον
δ’ αὔτικα χρῶι πῦρ ὐπαδεδρόμηκεν,
ὀππάτεσσι δ’ οὐδ’ ἒν ὄρημμ’, ἐπιρρόμ-
βεισι δ’ ἄκουαι,

†έκαδε μ’ ἴδρως ψῦχρος κακχέεται† τρόμος δὲ
παῖσαν ἄγρει, χλωροτέρα δὲ ποίας
ἔμμι, τεθνάκην δ’ ὀλίγω ‘πιδεύης
φαίνομ’ ἔμ’ αὔται·

As many know and many love, Catullus 51 is a ‘translation’. This poem brought my first exposure to Sappho at the tender age of 16. I can translate it almost without looking at it.

“That man seems to me equal to a gods,
that man, if it is right, surpasses the gods
as he sits opposite you
seeing and hearing you

sweetly laughing; every sense escapes
miserable me: for the same time I see you
Lesbia, nothing is left for me

my tongue grows heavy, and a tender flame
flickers under my limbs, and twin ears
ring with their own sound, my eyes
are shaded by night.

Leisure, Catullus, is your problem:
you revel in leisure and you have done too much.
Leisure has brought kings low,
and destroyed cities once rich.”

Ille mi par esse deo videtur,
ille, si fas est, superare divos,
qui sedens adversus identidem te
spectat et audit
dulce ridentem, misero quod omnis
eripit sensus mihi: nam simul te,
Lesbia, aspexi, nihil est super mi
* * * * * * * *

lingua sed torpet, tenuis sub artus
flamma demanat, sonitu suopte
tintinant aures gemina, teguntur
lumina nocte.

otium, Catulle, tibi molestum est:
otio exsultas nimiumque gestis:
otium et reges prius et beatas
perdidit urbes.

Sappho is pretty amazing. I also love this anecdote from Aelian:

Aelian, Fragment 187/190 (from Stobaeus 3.29.58)

“Solon the Athenian, the son of Eksêkestides, when his nephew sang some song of Sappho at a drinking party, took pleasure in it and asked the young man to teach it to him. When someone asked why he was eager to learn it, he responded: “So, once I learn it, I may die.”

Σόλων ὁ ᾿Αθηναῖος ᾿Εξηκεστίδου παρὰ πότον τοῦ ἀδελφιδοῦ αὐτοῦ μέλος τι Σαπφοῦς ᾄσαντος, ἥσθη τῷ μέλει καὶ προσέταξε τῷ μειρακίῳ διδάξει αὐτόν. ἐρωτήσαντος δέ τινος διὰ ποίαν αἰτίαν τοῦτο σπουδάσειεν, ὃ δὲ ἔφη ‘ἵνα μαθὼν αὐτὸ ἀποθάνω.’

Image result for medieval manuscript sappho
Boccacio, de mulieribus claris/Le livre de femmes nobles et renomées (trad. anonyme), 15-16th century, France (Cognac). Bibliothèque Nationale MS Français 599 fol. 42