Posts filed under 'Greek'

Interviewing Alexander Beecroft, author of An Ecology of World Literature

"The idea seems to be that globalization isn’t one simple story, but neither is it a collection of unrelated stories—it’s a tangle of narratives."

Alexander Beecroft is Associate Professor in Classics and Comparative Literature at the University of South Carolina. He teaches courses in Greek and Latin language and literature, ancient civilizations, both ancient and modern literary theory, and theories and practices of world literature. His key fields of research specialization focus on the literatures of Ancient Greece and Rome, and pre-Tang (before AD 600) Chinese literature, in addition to contemporary discussions regarding world literature. His second book, An Ecology of World Literature: From Antiquity to the Present Day, was published by Verso in January. In it, he argues for the benefits of an ecological, rather than the conventional economical, framework in the discussion of global literatures, shedding light on the difficulties involved in ascertaining, defining, and assimilating multifarious linguistic forms.

I spoke to Professor Beecroft through email about the intersections between world literature, politics, geography, and the advantages and disadvantages that literary translation can have on upholding minority languages.

Rosie Clarke: Could you begin by briefly outlining your academic background, and explaining what brought you to write An Ecology of World Literature?

AB: My earliest training, as an undergraduate, was in Classics, and from there I moved into an interest in early China. As I entered graduate school, I knew I wanted to combine those interests, but struggled for some time to figure out how. As I worked on my dissertation, I began to realize that, while many things about archaic and classical Greece and early (pre-220 BC) China were different, they did have an intriguing similarity. Both were politically fragmented regions within which circulated some sense of a shared culture. That first book explored that particular connection, but led me to think about how those kinds of structural similarities between literatures might be discussed in a more general way.

RC: Can you explain why you chose to structure the investigation here with an ecological framework?

AB: We’re very used to thinking about modes of cultural production, circulation, and exchange in terms of economic metaphors. Those metaphors have a real value: cultural recognition, like just about everything else, is in scarce supply, and so the language of markets and economic efficiency has much to teach us about culture.

I thought it might be helpful, however, to consider ecological models as an alternative. Ecology, like economics, deals in how scarce resources get distributed in a given context—but where economic models tend to suggest a single winner, and a single winning strategy, ecology suggests that there can be multiple strategies for surviving in different niches.

I think this is a particularly important point in today’s world. The power of English and of the English-language publishing industry worldwide makes translation, especially into English, into the most lucrative form of literary success—but in fact writers can and do thrive through other strategies, including by writing work designed for their own local context. Further, we need to recognize that the ecologies within which literatures operated in the past were different, operating for example under court patronage or with other kinds of relationships to the political and social order.

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Translation Tuesday: Prologue to Bacchae by Euripides

"I have compelled this town to rant and howl, / dressed it in fawnskin, put my pine-cone-tipped / and ivy-vested spear into its hands"

Dionysus:

Here I am, Dionysus, Zeus’s son,

the god whom Semele, the daughter of Cadmus,

birthed, with a bolt of lightning for a midwife.

I am back home in the land of Thebes.

 

My sacred form exchanged for this mere mortal

disguise, I have arrived here where the Springs

of Dirce and the river Ismenos

are flowing. I can see my lightning-blasted

mother’s tomb right there beside the palace,

and I can see as well her former bedroom’s

rubble giving off the living flame

of Zeus’ fire—Hera’s deathless rage

against my mother. I am pleased that Cadmus

has set the site off as a sanctuary

to keep her memory. I am the one

who covered it on all sides round with grape leaves

and ripe grape clusters.

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In Review: The Scapegoat

“Even though the mystery is decades old by the time it reaches the main character, The Scapegoat is a page-turner.”

It is always a good sign when a book makes you laugh on the first page. In the opening scene of Sophia Nikolaidou’s novel, The Scapegoat, an American reporter named Jack Talas observes a dirty and scabbed old villager, “A man who took life as it came and made the most of it—or so he seemed to the American, who’d been raised on eggs and bacon, had studied at expensive schools, had seen plenty of poor people in photographs. Now he wrote dispatches about them, and he did so with compassion.”

With compassion. This phrase evoked such a bombastic, self-assured character it made me laugh out loud. However, if you’re dead set on comedy, that’s too bad. Because by the next page, Jack Talas is a corpse, found floating in the Mediterranean with cuttlefish eggs in his eyelashes. The Scapegoat is based on the murder of CBS reporter George Polk, who, like his fictional double Talas, was in Greece in 1948 to expose the government’s corrupted use of American aid relief.

Talas makes enemies of everyone: the government, the communists, and even the Americans. But it is a fellow journalist, named Manolis Gris, who is accused of murdering Talas. However, the forces behind Gris’s indictment reach far beyond Gris himself.

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Marcel Schwob’s “Mimes” – Mime XXI

Book of Monelle translator Kit Schluter brings to English the haunting final installment of Marcel Schwob’s “Mimes”!

Read all previous posts in Asymptote’s “Mimes” translation project here.

Mime XXI. The awaited shade

The little guardian of the Temple of Persephone has laid out honey cakes sprinkled with poppy seeds in the baskets. For a long time now she has known that the goddess never so much as tastes them, for she watches from behind the pilasters. The Good Goddess remains unmoved and sups beneath the earth. And if she were to eat of our foods, she would rather bread rubbed with garlic and vinegar; for the bees of Hades produce a honey flavored of myrrh and the women who walk in the violet meadows there-below rattle black poppies without end. Thus the bread of the shades is dipped in honey that smells of embalmment and the seeds scattered upon it come with a desire for sleep. And thus why Homer said that the dead, governed by Odysseus’ broadsword, came by the ruck to drink the black blood of sheep in a square trench dug into the soil. And only this once did the dead partake of blood, in order to regain their life: customarily they repast on funereal honey and dark poppies, and the liquid that flows through their veins is the very water of the Lethe. The shades dine on sleep and drink of oblivion.

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Marcel Schwob’s “Mimes” – Mime XIX and Mime XX

“Then I enfolded her in my arms—but clasped nothing besides the beguiling air.”

Read all previous posts in Asymptote’s “Mimes” translation project here.

Mime XIX. The mirror, the golden pin, the poppy

First to speak, the mirror:

I was shaped in silver by a skilful craftsman. At first I lay hollow like his hand and my other face looked like the ball of a wall-eye. But then I was given curvature enough to reflect images. Finally Athene breathed her wisdom into me. I am aware of the desires of the girl who holds me and already I tell her that she is pretty. Still at night she rises and lights her bronze lamp. She directs the gilded flight of the flame towards me, and her heart craves some other face than hers. I show her own white temple and her sculpted cheeks and the swelling tips of her breasts and her eyes full of curiosity. She almost touches me with her trembling lips—but the golden burning lights up her face alone; all else remains dark within me.

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Marcel Schwob’s “Mimes” – Mime XVIII

Sam Gordon and Katie Assef with two very different translations of one of Schwob’s most captivating pieces.

Read all previous posts in Asymptote’s “Mimes” translation project here.

Mime XVIII. Hermes the Psychagôgos
(trans. Sam Gordon)

I conduct the dead, whether they be shut up in sculpted stone sarcophagi or contained in the bellies of metal or clay urns, bedecked or gilded, or painted in blue, or eviscerated and without brains, or wrapped in strips of linen, and with my herald’s staff I guide their step as I usher them on.

We continue along a rapid way men cannot see. Courtesans press against virgins and murderers against philosophers, and mothers against those who refused to give birth, and priests against perjurers. For they are seeking forgiveness for their crimes, whether they imagined them in their heads, or committed them with their hands. And having not been free in life, bound as they were by laws and customs, or by their own memory, they fear isolation and lend one another support. She who slept naked amongst men in flagstoned chambers consoles a young girl who died before her wedding, and who dreams determinedly of love. One who used to kill at the roadside—face sullied with ash and soot—places a hand on the brow of a thinker who wanted to renew the world, who foretold death. The woman who loved her children and suffered by them hides her head in the breast of a Hetaira who was willfully sterile. The man draped in a long robe who had convinced himself to believe in his god, forcing himself down on bended knee, weeps on the shoulder of the cynic who had broken the oaths of the flesh and mind before the eyes of the citizens. In this way, they help each other throughout their journey, walking beneath the yoke of memory.

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Marcel Schwob’s “Mimes” – Mime XVI and XVII

“Translating a poem from 1894 into a language that has evolved and cast off as much as English has is no easy task.”

Read all previous posts in Asymptote’s “Mimes” translation project here.

Mime XVI. Sismé

She whom you see withered before you was named Sismé, a daughter of Thratta. First, she came to know of bees and flocks; then she tasted the salt of the sea; finally, a merchant trader lured her to the white houses of Syria. Now she remains enshrined like a precious statuette upon a stone plinth. Count the rings sparkling on her fingers: she has lived as many years. See the bandeau, taut about her crown: here, so timid, she received her first loving kiss. Touch the star of pale rubies that sleeps where her bosom once lay: there rested the head of a beloved. Near Sismé have been placed her faded mirror, her silver jackstones and the long amber pins that once wound through her hair; as come her twentieth year (there are twenty rings), she was adorned with treasures. A wealthy magistrate gave her all a woman could desire. Sismé will never forget him, and his jewels are not spurned by her fragile, white bones. In kind, he built this ornate tomb to protect his tender departed, and he surrounds her with perfumed jars and golden vessels for his fallen tears. Sismé is grateful to him. Yet you, if you wish to glimpse the secret of an embalmed heart, unclench the tiny joints of this left hand: here you will find a small, humble glass ring. This ring was once transparent; but with the years it has become hazy and obscure. Sismé loves it. Be silent and see.

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Translation Tuesday: “The Space Between” by Christos Asteriou

“We slip between the spaces left by bodies, through the holes in the teeth, and slide down the subway escalators upside down.”

I’ve been living with Lata since the beginning of the summer. It’s true that I’m only fifteen and she’s around the same age, that we don’t have a single thing to call our own yet—no money, no nothing—but what’s the big deal? Lata and I, we know how to make things work no matter what. We haven’t found a long-term place yet, that’s true, too. We’re usually all over the map—on rooftops, in warehouses—but not every day of the week because we go back home often. I go to my mom’s and she goes to hers. She’s the one that really makes a scene, screaming and crying and saying a whole bunch of things I can’t understand. Of course, she always ends up cooling it and putting her arms around Lata; once she starts in with her broken Greek, everything goes back to normal. My mom, on the other hand, cooks dinner whether I’m there or not in the evening, and waits for me to show up with my stories about the outside world. It’s hard out there, I tell her, the old buildings are really tough and they chase us away. Her eyes open wide and she gives me a strange look. They put up scarecrows and wooden signs on the rooftops, as if we were unwanted birds, and if, after all this, we don’t heed their warning and lie down to sleep up there, there’s always someone who busts in and breaks it up with a gunshot in the air. On the other hand, you’ve got to have real balls to vault the obstacles on those new places, they’re super difficult, and they too want us out of there. I show her with my hands how you’re supposed to do the moves, how to jump over obstacles rhythmically, one-by-one. Like a primitive beast lost in the crowds of civilization, a mad rabbit let loose in the megalopolis. My body taut, my calves like stone, my lungs full of grimy air: that’s how I make it through the heart of the storm, see? That’s how the mind opens when you jump into space, how your thoughts breathe in oxygen. She starts yelling at me about how if I don’t shape up and get it together I will never find a job, about how I’ll get killed one day—all the usual babble. Don’t shout, I tell her, you don’t know what you’re talking about. How could you? Don’t worry—there’s no reason to. Everything will be fine: you see me now, there’s no obstacle anywhere that scares me anymore. And you know what, I like living like this; I like having you and Lata; I like walking on air. And if anyone asks me, I’ll tell them straight to their face: I don’t want to change anything at all, I want to stay like this forever.

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Marcel Schwob’s “Mimes” – Mime XIV and XV

"Labourer of lesser forms, he translated us into his clay language […] but failed to comprehend the pent-up desire of things."

Read all previous posts in Asymptote’s “Mimes” translation project here.

Mime XIV. The Parasol of Tanagra

Thus extended by my moulded rods, plaited with clay straw or woven with earthen fabric reddened by firing, I am held to the rear and towards the sun by a young girl with beautiful breasts. With the other hand she lifts her tunic of white yarn, and above her Persian sandals one may perceive ankles fashioned for electron rings to adorn. Her hair is wavy and a large pin traverses it at the nape of her neck. Averting her head she reveals her fear of the sun; she resembles Aphrodite come to incline her head.

Such is my mistress and earlier we have roamed through the meadows strewn with hyacinths, when she was in the rosy flesh and I made of yellow straw: the white sunshine kissed me on the outside, and below my dome I was embraced by the fragrance of the virgin’s hair. And the Goddess who transforms things having granted my wish, akin to a water-swallow falling with spread wings to caress with its beak a blossom born in the midst of a pond, I gently plunged onto her head. I lost the reed maintaining me far from her in the air, and became the hat covering her with a quivering roof.

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Translation Tuesday: Marcel Schwob’s Mime XII and XIII

"The fig trees have shed their figs and the olive trees their olives, for a strange thing has come to pass on the island of Skyra."

Read all previous posts in Asymptote’s “Mimes” translation project here.

Mime XII. The Samian wine

The tyrant Polycrates gave orders to bring three sealed flasks, each containing a different delicious wine. The conscientious slave took one flask made of black stone, one flask of yellow gold, and one flask of clear glass, but the careless steward poured one Samian wine into all three flasks.

Polycrates looked at the black stone flask and raised his eyebrows. He broke the plaster seal and sniffed the wine. “This flask,” he said “is made of base stuff and the odour of its contents does not entice me much.” Picking up the golden flask, he admired it. Then, having unsealed it, “This wine,” he said, “is doubtless inferior to its beautiful container with its wealth of vermilion grapes and lustrous vines.” Grasping the third flask, that of clear glass, however, he held it up to the sunlight. The sanguinolent wine glinted. Polycrates popped the seal, emptied the flask into his cup, and drank it in one. “That,” he said with a satisfied sigh, “is the finest wine I have ever tasted.” Then, setting his cup on the table, he knocked the flask, which smashed into smithereens.

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Marcel Schwob’s “Mimes” – Mime X and XI

"The inhabitants bore their heads where we keep our stomachs; when they waved at us, they bowed their bellies."

Read all previous posts in Asymptote’s “Mimes” translation project here.

Mime X. The Seaman
(trans. Hannah Embleton-Smith)

If you doubt that I have plied the heavy oars, look at my hands and my knees: you will find them worn as ancient tools. I know every weed of the underwater plains that are at times purple and at others blue, and I have absorbed the science of every coiled shell. Some of the weeds are endowed with human life; their buds are transparent eyes, like jelly, their bodies like the teats of sows, and they have scores of slender limbs, which are also mouths. And among the punctured shells, I have seen some that were pierced over a thousand times; and from each little opening came and went a fleshly foot upon which the shell would move.

After crossing the Pillars of Hercules, the ocean surrounding the land becomes strange and wild.

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Marcel Schwob’s “Mimes” – Mime VIII and IX

Mime 8 is romantic; Mime 9 dark (when was the last time you read the words "torturer’s hill?"). Phillip Griffith and Susie Cronin translate!

Read all previous posts in Asymptote’s “Mimes” translation project here

Mime VIII. The Nuptial Eve

This new-wicked lamp burns a fine, pellucid oil before the evening star. The threshold is scattered with roses that the children have not gathered up. Dancers balance the last torches that wave fiery fingers into the shadows. The little flutist has blown three more harsh notes into his flute of bone. Porters have come bearing cases brimming with translucent anklets. This one has coated his face in soot and has sung me a song that mocks his deme. Two women, veiled in red, smile in the settled air, rubbing their hands with cinnabar.

The evening star rises and the heavy flowers close. Near the wine vat covered by sculpted stone, a laughing child sits, his radiant feet strapped into sandals of gold. He waves a pine torch and its vermillion braids whip out into the night. His lips hang open like the halves of a gaping fruit. He sneezes to the left and the metal sounds at his feet. One bound and I know he will be gone.

Io! Here comes the virgin’s yellow veil! Her ladies hold her up beneath her arms. Do away with the torches! The wedding bed awaits, and I will guide her into the plush glimmer of the purple cloth. Io! Plunge the wick into the sweet-scented oil. It sputters and dies. Put out the torches! Oh my bride, I lift you to my chest, that your feet do not crush the threshold roses.

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Marcel Schwob’s “Mimes” – Mime VI and VII

Fruit for a garden god (or is it rather a gnome?) and a drunk slave wearing expensive jewelry. Two translators see the "Mimes" very differently!

Read all previous posts in Asymptote’s “Mimes” translation project here

Two talented translators took on today’s portion of Marcel Schwob’s Mimes, with different-yet-stunning results that together call attention to the transformative power of translation. Jean Morris begins with her translations, commentary, and illustrations, followed by Virginia McLure’s more modern take on Schwob.

Mime VI. The Garlanded Jar

The jar is honey-coloured earthenware, its base thrown by the skilled hands of a potter, but I smoothed its rounded belly into shape myself and filled it with fruit as an offering to the garden god. Alas, though, the god’s attention is elsewhere: fixated on the quivering foliage, in fear that robbers might breach these high garden walls. In the night, dormice rooted stealthily among my apples and gnawed them to the pips. Here these shy creatures were, at four in the morning, waving their downy black-and-white tails. And here, at dawn, came Aphrodite’s doves to perch on the violet-stained rim of my clay pot, fluffing up their tiny, flickering neck feathers. As I watched here, beneath the trembling noon light, a young girl alone stepped forward to the god with crowns of hyacinths. She saw me, of course, crouched behind a beech tree, but paid me no heed as she laid her garlands on the jar, now emptied of its fruit. What do I care if the plucking of his flowers displeases the god, if the dormice gnaw my apples and the doves of Aphrodite bow their tender heads to one another? Drunk on the heady scent of freshly gathered hyacinths, I twined some in my hair, and here I shall wait until tomorrow for my girl who comes at noon, my garlander of jars.

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Marcel Schwob’s “Mimes” – Mime IV and V

What do mites have to do with seduction? And how do you change the color of a tree's fruit? Sam Gordon translates "Mimes"!

Read all the posts in Asymptote’s “Mimes” translation project here

Mime IV. Lodging 

Inn—replete with mites—this bitten, bloodied poet salutes you. This is not to thank you for the night’s shelter alongside a dark track, the mud of which recalls the way to Hades; but for your broken pallets, your smoking lamps. Your oil festers and your galette moulders, and since last autumn there have been little white worms among the shells of your walnuts. But the poet is grateful to the pig merchants who came from Megara to Athens, whose hiccuping stopped him from sleeping (inn, your walls are thin), and gives thanks too to your mites, which kept him awake by gnawing the length of his body, skittering across his cot in throngs.

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