- Found in Translation: Greek Drama in English
J. Michael Walton, in his Found in Translation: Greek Drama in English, observes: “With Greek tragedy and comedy the plays are no longer in anyone’s native tongue. . . . Michael Alexander offered a personal stance in an article in 1988 entitled ‘Homer, sweet Homer’ where he spelled out the unpalatable truth that without translation the classics will simply die” (113). This means that we all bear the responsibility of protecting ancient Greek literature. It belongs to none of us and all of us. If we do not constantly work to breathe life into Homer, Euripides, Aristophanes, that is, if we do not constantly work to translate them for today, what will happen tomorrow? Time seems to be running out for the classics. We need solid research, solid translations, and solid commitment to keep them alive.
In his book, Walton’s treatment of Greek theater makes the case that without translations, the future of the genre looks bleak. His study, which by necessity must explore a large variety of issues, toes the line between too much theory and too much praxis, but gracefully exceeds in neither. Not only does Walton provide a fascinating history of Greek theater in English, but he also provides an exhaustive appendix of all plays (complete or nearly complete) in English translation, current to 2006—a valuable research tool in itself. Walton’s book is lucid, engaged, and useful to a broad range of readers, though his focus on performativity occasionally limits his study’s utility. Walton certainly admits his interest in staging translations, and his training makes him quite [End Page 534] an authority on the issue, but one wonders whether his study suffered from his focus on the stage.
On the whole, Found in Translation is excellently written and organized. The introduction is not. It hints repeatedly at Walton’s various goals with little preview of his methods. He offers some consideration of his monograph’s organization, but not enough to effectively introduce his study. It feels scattered. Walton jumps around in what is a meager literature review, mixing, with no real flow, various names with theoretical questions about translation. Chapter 1 (“Finding Principles, Finding a Theory”), however, offers an excellent literature review, lays out a cogent methodology, and prepares the reader well for subsequent chapters, which have an effective organization, alternating between case-studies and theoretical analysis. One has to wonder whether the short (seven-page) intro was included for its charming title, “Summon the Presbyterians.”
Chapter 1 explains the goals of the book, and the value of these goals. This chapter also explores many of the problems in translating Greek tragedy. Here, Walton observes the “gulf between those whose classical training demands a respect for the play on the page [in its original context] . . . and those for whom text is pretext” (15), drawing from it what they will for their purposes; Walton himself always favors stage production over other issues. Chapter 2 offers a wonderful and sensitive rehabilitation of the first Greek tragedy into English: Lady Jane Lumley’s sixteenth-century translation of Euripides, which predates the Jocasta of Gascoigne and Kinwelmershe. Walton’s analysis of Lady Jane’s translation is special for what it offers classicists, Elizabethan scholars, and translation scholars. His approach to her Iphigeneia, is balanced, though clear in its desire to reclaim Euripides for Lady Jane.
In chapter 3, Walton’s concern for stage production is the most hindering. Some translations are specifically not meant to be performed, and therefore Walton’s expectations are too high, too single-minded. For example, Walton explains that “a play has the major dimension of being created for performance: and, therefore, barely fashioned when merely in print” (45). The corpus of Greek tragedy gives us no examples of plays meant to be read and not performed, but Walton’s concern here is with translation, not the City Dionysia, and thus his analysis leaves no room to discuss the closet drama apropos of translation. Can we apply Walton’s ideas to...