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Bill Bucko

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  1. ... would it be possible to self-guide learning into Greek to the point where marginal Aristotle translations would be possible?

    Back in the '70s, I took two semesters of Classical Greek at Purdue University, in the Philosophy Department. I think our text was "Introductory Greek" ... I could look it up once I get home ... and the course was a lot less intensive than those mentioned by others! We read parts of the Gospel of Mark (easy reading) and Plato's "Euthyphro" (more difficult, but not overwhelming). Aristotle is really not too hard to read, in Greek! In fact, we found that many, many times it was easier to understand what Aristotle's meaning was from the original, than from the translation! Aristotle's sentence structure is generally simple and straightforward, as opposed to the convoluted sentences of the translators. His vocabulary is not huge, either. There are several good books: Fobes' "Philosophical Greek", and another, I think it was "Greek Philosophic Terms," that I could look up at home. I would recommend studying Aristotle with the Greek text on one hand, and a translation right next to it; you'll have to look up fewer words, since many of them will be made clear by the context. There are also "trots" or simple interlinear translations of works like Xenophon's "Anabasis," that can take a little of the drudgery out of learning Greek. So yes, I think it would be quite possible to learn enough on your own, to read Aristotle.

  2. Thanks for your comments on "The Mysterious Valley." Over the past several years I've hunted down quite a few other books by Maurice Champagne: "Sounders of the Abyss," "Hermit Island," "The Planter's Son," etc. Unfortunately, after skimming through them I have to conclude that none of them have a great hero or as good a story as "The Mysterious Valley."

    Thanks, I enjoyed the different versions you posted, of Cyrano's ballade.

    I do strongly recommend you read the Norman translation of "L'Aiglon"! It is magnificent. I've recommended to Fred Weiss of The Paper Tiger that he reprint it.

    I've never felt much enthusiasm for "Chantecleer," although I've heard it was one of Miss Rand's favorites.

  3. I’m the translator of “La vallee mysterieuse” (“The Mysterious Valley,”) the French adventure story that was the young Ayn Rand’s inspiration. Betsy Speicher referred me to your discussion, and asked if I could help.

    The key thing to remember is that translating poetry is not the same as translating prose (where total fidelity to the original should always be the norm). Brian Hooker’s translation is justly regarded as a classic, even though it strays from the French text—sometimes less, sometimes more (as in the passage you selected). Here’s what I had to say on the subject, in The Atlantean Press Review:

    “I believe a different, somewhat looser standard of faithfulness must apply in the case of poetry, since, almost paradoxically, a not-so-exact rendering of the words can actually capture the effect of a line far better than a literal translation does! Of course, that is no excuse for free-wheeling sloppiness. Translating poetry requires great talent, even genius, combined with an enormous respect for the original work of art. Consider, for instance, Brian Hooker’s famous translation of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac—widely regarded as one of the greatest translations ever made. Most of the time Hooker deftly manages to stay close to the original’s meaning, even while transforming the idiom—turning “Il me faut des géants!” (literally, “I need giants”) into “Bring me giants!” and “c’est moralement que j’ai mes élégances” (“My elegances are moral ones”) to “I carry my adornments on my soul.” But when it comes to the play’s incidental lyrics, Hooker exercises a freer hand. Cyrano’s Act I ballade, composed while fighting a duel, begins, first in the original French and then in literal translation:

    Je jette avec grâce mon feutre,

    Je fais lentement l’abandon

    Du grand manteau qui me calfeutre,

    Et je tire mon espadon ...

    I toss away with grace my felt hat,

    I slowly get rid of

    The great mantle that covers me,

    And I draw my sword ...

    “This literal translation gives not the faintest idea of the rich sound effects of the original. You would never guess, reading the literal translation, that at the premiere of "Cyrano" in 1897 Frenchmen were galvanized into a ten-minute standing ovation after every act, or that news of the play travelled around the world almost overnight. The flashiest line in French, the second, with its exquisite vowel sounds, happens to be the dullest in English. But Mr. Hooker’s rendering gives us these verbal pyrotechnics:

    Lightly I toss my hat away,

    Languidly over my arm let fall

    The cloak that covers my bright array—

    Then out swords, and to work withal!

    “It is in no way an excursion into subjectivism to say that Hooker gives us close to what Rostand probably would have written, had he been a native writer of English. His writing is truly on a level with Rostand’s. The effect—the sheer brilliance of effect—is breathtakingly close!

    “... I would argue that, while “exact information” is a precondition of objectivity in translating, that information consists not merely of what is said but how it is said. A pedestrian rendering of a soaring line falsifies the impression just as much as an inexact word. It is a translator’s job to preserve the literary merit of the original, as far as possible, providing a version that doesn’t leave you wondering, “Why does anyone bother to read this stuff?”, one that is not “devoid of pride, of poetry, of soul, of picturesqueness, of contour, of character ...” as Hooker would say!”

    I haven’t made a close study of Henderson Daingerfield Norman’s translation, but it’s probably one of the very best. The 2 volume set of Rostand’s plays translated by him (MacMillan, 1921) is very much worth searching for, especially for its magnificent translation of “L’Aiglon” (“The Eaglet”), Rostand’s second-greatest play (which was horribly mutilated in a 1900 “adaptation” by Louis N. Parker).

    The Humbert Wolfe translation (Peter Pauper Press) is also noteworthy. It’s in rhyming verse, and though much freer than Hooker’s, sometimes comes closer to the witty spirit of the original.

    Hope that helps,

    Bill Bucko

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