- Found in Translation: Greek Drama in English
Through the centuries, ancient Greek drama has been kept alive by two usually distinct groups: scholars, who are interested in explicating the texts, and practitioners, who are primarily concerned with bringing the texts to life through translation and performance. J. Michael Walton's Found in Translation is a welcome addition to a growing number of studies that have bridged the gap between these two groups. As his title indicates, Walton focuses on the history of Greek drama in English translation, investigating how and why these texts have affected translators, producers, directors, and their audiences from generation to generation. In discussing the choices of translators, Walton employs his experience as an actor, director, and translator. As a professor of drama who has a firm knowledge of classical philology, he is also interested in understanding the ancient plays themselves and why they were appealing to their original audiences. This book will be of interest to students and scholars of Classics, English, drama, and translation studies.
While modest in tone, Found in Translation is quite ambitious in scope. In his introduction, Walton states that he has three main areas of interest:
First of these will be the history and theory of translation of Greek drama into English, and the manner in which many translations have reflected as much the historical period of the translation as the time of the original play. The second will cover specific aspects of Greek tragedy and comedy, including verse and prose, the language of grief, the language of the mask, stage directions, stage action, irony and deception, unfamiliar concepts, subtext, and dialogue. The third will deal with the special nature of dramatic translation, the differences between tragedy and comedy, and the variety of plays which claim to be "versions" or "adaptations."(6)
He promises a great deal here. All of these topics are indeed covered, but due to the large scope the treatment in some of the following ten chapters is more thorough and satisfying than in others. In the compelling first two chapters [End Page 515] ("Finding Principles, Finding a Theory" and "Historical Perspectives"), Walton examines the changing philosophies regarding the translation of classical drama and the history of how Greek tragedy was first translated into English. In discussing principles of translation, the focus is always on the practitioner, not the literary theorist. After a brief discussion of what translation meant to the Greeks and Romans, Walton examines translators' opinions on the matter, from John Dryden in the seventeenth century to Patrice Pavis at the end of the twentieth. He then turns in the second chapter to those early practitioners who caused Greek tragedy to thrive in English. He argues that two of the most important translators from the standpoint of history were women: Jane Lumley, whose sixteenth-century translations are probably the earliest in English, and Charlotte Lennox, whose interpretive translation of Pierre Brumoy's comprehensive Le Théâtre des Grecs in the eighteenth century introduced many Greek plays into English for the first time and also suggested principles of translation for later practitioners. Walton ends with Robert Potter at the end of the eighteenth century, who was the first translator of all of Aeschylus into English.
In the next five chapters, Walton discusses the choices of translators with regard to specific Greek tragedies. In almost all cases, he analyzes these choices by discoursing upon the difficulties of the original texts. This is an interesting approach, since he assumes that his general audience does not know ancient Greek. He manages to give a good overview of many technical problems without ever being too technical himself, by treating philological and dramaturgical issues through various published translations and his own literal translations of specific passages. Walton focuses on the following challenges to the translator of tragedy: Aeschylean tone, particularly in the Agamemnon (chapter 3); the absence of explicit stage directions, on the one hand, and the abundance of deictic language, on the other, especially in the recognition scenes of Aeschylus's Libation Bearers, Sophocles' Electra, and Euripides...