Attempts for Philological Critique of Translation in Euripides

Vasileios Dimoglidis, MA in Classics and Classical Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics, University of Ioannina

This work is a small pilot part of a forthcoming paper that examines the translation attempts for ancient tragedy. The system of criticism of translation in Greek tragedy is a system established by assistant professor of Ancient Greek and Latin Literature Helen Gasti in her lectures of Ancient Greek Tragedy. Many times this system has been misinterpreted and is rated as abstruse. However this is an unfair judgment. Through this system is distinguished each translator’s interpretative approach of ancient tragedy, since every translation is an interpretation of the text.

Philological Critique
When we say critique of translation, we do not mean the classifying of the translation in correct or incorrect. We mean the philological interpretation of translation. However at this point I shall give an example to clarify this system. In verse 140 of Sophocles’ Electra Chorus sings to Electra and uses the phrase: ἀλλ᾽ ἀπὸ τῶν μετρίων. This phrase can mean two things: (1) starting with a logical principle you are led to excess, and (2) deviating (escaping) from the measure you tears to pieces. Both meanings are acceptable, but the modern translator is often obligated to maintain in his translation only one of them and the translation often misses the ambiguity of the ancient Greek phrase. But since we know that Chorus is compassionate to Electra and recognizes the start of her lament, perhaps the first interpretation is more appropriate.

The first tragedy to be considered is the Euripides’ Hippolytus. In the prologue of the drama speaks the goddess of love, Aphrodite and gives us organizational elements for the tragedy.[1]In the first two verses of the tragedy there is a transcendental schema (changing the normal order of words): Πολλὴ μὲν ἐν βροτοῖσι κοὐκ ἀνώνυμοςθεὰ κέκλημαι Κύπρις οὐρανοῦ τ’ ἔσω: With the transcendental schema Euripides declares the AphroditeΆ s strength and power upon Phaedra. The question that arises is how the translators can keep in their translations this transcendental schema in order to maintain the above interpretation of the passage in the modern text. For example Roussos [Ρούσσος] fails to maintain it, when he translates: I am Cypris, the great goddess, famous in the gods and people.[2] Also, except for Roussos, George Theodoridis fails to maintain this scheme translating: I am Aphrodite. A goddess! Also called Cypris. A great goddess among the mortals, as well as throughout the heavens.[3] Additionally, in verses 22-3 the goddess also gives information concerning the duration of love: τὰ πολλὰ δὲ πάλαι προκόψασ’, (vv. 22-3). The alliteration also of -π- in these verses indicates the ease with which the goddess will get her revenge, as rightly M. R. Halleran emphasizes in his Commentary to Euripides’ Hippolytus.[4]

This alliteration is impossible to be maintained in modern translations. Thus, the communicative outcome of the ancient text is inevitably subtracted. Even Aphrodite’s description in v. 38 κἀκπεπληγμένη is equal to the strong influence of love against Phaedra to the point that it convulses her, and the use of the passive voice deducts from the individual the element of intention and responsibility. This passivity and delusional disposal should be shown in the corresponding translation, something that gets the Greek translator Roussos [Ρούσσος] when he translates the participle “with lost mind” [με χαμένο το νου της].[5] While the other Greek translator Varnalis [Βάρναλης] retains only the element of passivity and fails to give the element of madness translating the participle “wounded…” [πληγωμένη].[6] James Morwood translating the word “maddened by the strings of love”[7] manages to keep both conceptual levels of participle.

Another arising issue is which term determines the dative κέντροις ἔρωτος (v. 39). If it determines the verb, then is dative of cause or dative of instrument, and therefore the fact that the participle κἀκπεπληγμένη remains without agent emphasizes the weakness of Phaedra to withstand the love breathed by Venus. Of course in this case the ambiguity of the ancient passage can be maintained in the translation, if the translator does not clarify the syntactic mode of dative. Another word, which must be translated, is the determination of time: ἐνταῦθα that is emphatically placed at the beginning of verse 38. Using this determination and with the confirmatory particle δὲ as well as with Present Perfect[8] of the participle Euripides himself transfers Phaedra’s disease into dramatic present, and there is a clear reference to here and now of the performance.[9]

Finally in verse 38 Aphrodite characterizes Phaedra τάλαινα. This word has two meanings: (i) “resigned”, and with negative connotations “pert”, “cheeky”, and (ii) “miserable”, “wretched”.[10] It is impossible for the modern translator to maintain this double conceptual level of the word, and he is a priori limited to keep only one. However the second meaning is closer to ancient text, as it highlights Phaedra’s unintentional element of act, and due to this Phaedra does not seem (for nonce) to have done some audacious act. At this point, we could juxtapose some translation trials. Roussos translates the term in Modern Greek as δόλια (dolia)[11] and he achieves to maintain the double conceptual level of the word. In Modern Greek the word has simultaneously positive and negative connotations. More specifically, the word means deceitful or underhand.

George Theodoridis succeeds in conveying the second conceptual level, when he translates: poor dear. However we are transferred to Euripides’ Electra in the first episode, where Electra scolds her husband because he behaved casually by offering treatment to foreign (i.e. Orestes and Pylades). In verses 417-9 Electra makes the following comment: οὐ γὰρ πατρῴων ἐκ δόμων μητρὸς πάραλάβοιμεν ἄν τι: πικρὰ δ’ ἀγγείλαιμεν ἄν,εἰ ζῶντ’ Ὀρέστην ἡ τάλαιν’ αἴσθοιτ’ ἔτι. The tragic heroine characterizes her mother with the adjective τάλαινα. This word, as we saw above, has two meanings.

Denniston attaches to the word the meaning “hardhearted”. Cropp translates the word “cruel woman”. In his translation he retains the first meaning. If we integrate that word in the dramatic context (Electra asks her husband to go to her father’s Pedagogue and get the necessary goods for the dinner because her mother would never give them) we may reach the conclusion that Euripides exploits this dual meaning of the word. Perhaps Electra believes that her mother is cruel but she will be miserable when she hears πικρὰ (v. 418) for her (= Orestes’ survival).

One last word we should consider is the verb ἐκβάλλειν (v. 61). ἡ γὰρ πανώλης Τυνδαρίς, μήτηρ ἐμή,ἐξέβαλέ μ’ οἴκων, χάριτα τιθεμένη πόσει:[12] In this passage Electra expresses her complaints about her mother. The use of this verb refers to the legitimate childrenΆ s exclusion from their hereditary rights, and to their emotional alienation.[13] The translator of this extract should maintain both meanings, i.e. using the verb “expatriate”, which declares the double connotation of the verb. In any case, what I would stress in this paper was that every translation is an interpretation of the original text. It is impossible to convey the exact meaning of the text of Ancient Greek Tragedy, and each felicitous translation lies in a thorough study of the text.

[1] She is the one who blew the erotic fury into Phaedra (vv. 27-8).
[2] Translation in English from Modern Greek, specifically see Τ. Ρούσσος, Ευριπίδης Ιππόλυτος, Κάκτος, Αθήνα 1993, p. 43.
[3] This translation is from George Theodoridis. See in the following site
[4] See M. R. Halleran (ed.), Euripides: Hippolytus, Aris & Phillips, Warminster 22000, p. 148.
[5] See Ρούσσος, op. cit., p. 45.
[6] See Κ. Βάρναλης, Ευριπίδης Ιππόλυτος, (απόδοση στα νεοελληνικά και σχολιασμός), Ελληνικά Γράμματα, Αθήνα 1998, p. 11.
[7] See J. Morwood, EURIPIDES Medea, Hippolytus, Electra, Helen, Clarendon Press, Oxford University Press 1997, p. 40.
[8] Present Perfect as tense demonstrates that the act happened in the past has visible its effect in the present, and due to this Present Perfect is considered arctic tense.
[9] See. M.R. Halleran (ed.), op. cit., p. 150.
[10] See J. D. Denniston (ed.), Ευριπίδου Ηλέκτρα (μετάφρ. Φ. Αδαμίδη), Καρδαμίτσα, Αθήνα 2010, and p.327. Denniston stresses this definition in Euripides’ Electra, but it can also be valid in Hippolytus.
[11] See Ρούσσος, op. cit., p. 45.
[12] All references in the text of Euripides’ Electra are from the following edition: Euripides. Euripidis Fabulae, ed. Gilbert Murray, vol. 2, Oxford 1913.
[13] That meaning is attributed to the verb εκβάλλειν also in Sophocles’ Electra (vv. 589-90). For this interpretation see Ε. Γκαστή, Η διαλεκτική του χρόνου στην Ηλέκτρα του Σοφοκλή, Ε.Ε.Φ.Σ.Π.Ι. Δωδώνη: Παράρτημα 70, Ιωάννινα 2003, p.130, n.37.

Βάρναλης Κ., Ευριπίδης Ιππόλυτος: (απόδοση στα νεοελληνικά και σχολιασμός), Ελληνικά Γράμματα, Αθήνα 1998.
Denniston J. D. (ed.), Ευριπίδου Ηλέκτρα (μτφρ. Φ. Αδαμίδη), Καρδαμίτσα, Αθήνα 2010.
Γκαστή Ε., Η διαλεκτική του χρόνου στην Ηλέκτρα του Σοφοκλή, Ε.Ε.Φ.Σ.Π.Ι Δωδώνη: Παράρτημα 70, Ιωάννινα 2003.
Halleran M. R. (ed.), Euripides: Hippolytus, Aris & Phillips, Warminster 2005.
Morwood J., EURIPIDES Medea, Hippolytus, Electra, Helen, Clarendon Press, Oxford University Press 1997.
Ρούσσος Τ., Ευριπίδης Ιππόλυτος, Κάκτος, Αθήνα 1993.
Theodoridis G., EURIPIDES’ “HIPPOLYTUS”, 428 BCE, First Prize, translated by George Theodoridis© 2010 in the following site

© 2014 Vasileios Dimoglidis

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