- Preface:Greek Literature Gains in Translation
“World literature,” writes David Damrosch in What is World Literature? (2003), “is literature that gains in translation.” This bold statement places translation at the heart of the project of world literary studies, while also overturning a supposed “truism” about translation as loss. To be sure, certain textual elements are tightly bound to their existence in particular languages, such that the reinscription of a work in a new language is often perceived as loss. This understanding of translation rests on the deeply ingrained habit (often accompanied by misguided expectations of linguistic “equivalence”) of comparing translations with the originals they aim to represent. As such, it often overlooks the basic fact that every translation, even a poor translation, is a gain: like a new work of original writing, a translation gives us a text that quite simply did not exist before, written in a language with its own rich set of referents and literary mechanics.
The editors of this special section were invited to present a selection of some of the best new English translations of Modern Greek literature. We decided to publish prizewinning work from the 2013 MGSA Constantinides Memorial Translation Prize competition. The competition celebrates the gains that English translations of Greek works offer to readers, scholars, teachers, and students alike. It also celebrates the translators who undertake this dificult, often under-acknowledged and under-rewarded task. What, indeed, would our field be without the translators and the history of translations that have informed our writing and reading practices, helped justify the creation of Modern Greek programs, structured university courses and curricula, and enabled our conversations with colleagues and students who access the literature we care about not in Greek but in translation? This competition recognizes the field-defining importance of translation to Modern Greek Studies. It treats the work of translation as a creative, intellectually meaningful act. Established in 1995 and administered by the MGSA, the Prize honors the memory of Elizabeth Constantinides (1932–1992, Ph.D. in Greek and Latin from Columbia University), who taught Modern Greek language and literature at Queens [End Page 278] College of CUNY from 1978 to 1992 and wrote on Alexandros Papadiamantis and translated twelve short stories by him, published under the general title Tales from a Greek Island (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987). For her work she was awarded the 1987 prize of the Society of Literary Translations in Athens, Greece.
The members of the 2013 Translation Prize committee—consisting of ourselves and a fiction writer, a poet, and a scholar of comparative literature—were astounded by the riches of this year’s submissions: seventeen translations of texts ranging from the eighteenth to the twenty-first century, belonging to diverse genres of high and popular literature, including drama, poetry, and prose, completed by translators on three continents. The work underwent a rigorous process of review. Each committee member read every submission carefully (including the translation, Greek source text, and translator’s statement) and judged them all independently before the committee conferred to determine the prizewinners. A broad range of criteria were in operation: fidelity to the original, the translator’s command of English (structure, diction, and nuance), the importance of the work as a representative sample of a literary period or movement or of the work of an individual writer, and the translator’s creativity in providing cues concerning any particularly challenging elements of the text. Ultimately, the translated work had to read well as a worthy literary piece in English.
First prize went to Patricia Felisa Barbeito’s translation of Elias Maglinis’s experimental novel The Interrogation (2008), a dark, ambitious contemporary work studying the intersection of social and political orders and incorporating performance art and dramatic dialogue within the generic limits of a novel. The committee also offered three honorable mentions: George Economou’s selection of poems by C. P. Cavafy, from his recent Complete Plus: The Poems of C. P. Cavafy in English, which work as poems in English even as they encourage re-readings of the poems in Greek; Anna Stavrakopoulou’s selection from her translation of Georgios Soutsos’s Alexandrovodas the Unscrupulous, a three-act play...