To put it another way, how do we make the ancient world make sense to us? How do we translate it? Young Taplow doesn’t actually rate Browning’s translation very highly, and indeed—to our tastes—it is written in awful nineteenth-century poetry-speak (“Who conquers mildly, God, from afar, benignantly regardeth,” as Browning puts the key line, is hardly going to send most of us rushing to the rest of the play.) But when, in his lessons, Taplow himself gets excited by Aeschylus’ Greek and comes out with a wonderfully spirited but slightly inaccurate version of one of the murderous bits, the Crock reprimands him—”you are supposed to be construing Greek“—that is, translating the language literally, word for word—”not collaborating with Aeschylus.” Most of us now, I suspect, are on the side of the collaborators, with their conviction that the classical tradition is something to be engaged with, and sparred against, not merely replicated and mouthed. In this context, I can’t resist reminding you of the flagrantly modern versions of Homer’s Iliad by the English poet Christopher Logue, who died on December 2—Kings, War Music, and others—”the best translation of Homer since [Alexander] Pope’s,” as Garry Wills called them in these pages.* This was, I think, both a heartfelt and a slightly ironic comment. For the joke is that Logue, our leading collaborator with Homer, knew not a word of Greek.
more from Mary Beard at the NYRB here.