Category Archive 'Translations'

06 Dec 2017

Lost Icelandic Translation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”

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Smithsonian reports that the Icelandic translation of Dracula amounts to a different book, possibly better and more sexy.

The Icelandic version of Dracula is called Powers of Darkness, and it’s actually a different—some say better—version of the classic Bram Stoker tale.

Makt Myrkranna (the book’s name in Icelandic) was “translated” from the English only a few years after Dracula was published on May 26, 1897, skyrocketing to almost-instant fame. Next Friday is still celebrated as World Dracula Day by fans of the book, which has been continuously in print since its first publication, according to Dutch author and historian Hans Corneel de Roos for Lithub. …

The book’s Icelandic text was unknown to English-speaking aficionados of the Dark Prince until recently, de Roos writes, as no one had bothered to re-translate it back into English. Although Dracula scholars knew about the existence of Powers of Darkness as far back as 1986, they didn’t know it was actually a different story. Then, he writes, “literary researcher Richard Dalby reported on the 1901 Icelandic edition and on its preface, apparently written specifically for it by Stoker himself.”

The preface was what got English-language scholars interested in the Icelandic book, but still, nobody thought to compare the actual text of Makt Myrkranna to the original Stoker novel, assuming, as Dalby wrote, that it was “merely an abridged translation of Dracula,” de Roos writes. Finally in 2014, de Roos writes that he went back to the original text of Powers of Darkness to verify something, and discovered that the Icelandic story diverged from the English original.

As de Roos worked on the translation, patterns emerged: many of the characters had different names, the text was shorter and had a different structure, and it was markedly sexier than the English version, he writes. It’s also, he writes, better: “Although Dracula received positive reviews in most newspapers of the day…the original novel can be tedious and meandering….Powers of Darkness, by contrast, is written in a concise, punchy style; each scene adds to the progress of the plot.”

“The nature of the changes has led de Roos to argue that they could not have been the work of Valdimar alone,” according to Iceland Magazine. “Instead he has speculated that Valdimar and Stoker must have collaborated in some way. Stoker could, for example, have sent Valdimar an older version of his story.”

RTWT

15 Nov 2017

New Translation of the Odyssey

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Emily Wilson has recently become the first female, after 60 male predecessors, to have a go at translating The Odyssey into English.

Wyatt Mason demonstrates that her new version has its points.

Throughout her translation of the “Odyssey,” Wilson has made small but, it turns out, radical changes to the way many key scenes of the epic are presented — “radical” in that, in 400 years of versions of the poem, no translator has made the kinds of alterations Wilson has, changes that go to truing a text that, as she says, has through translation accumulated distortions that affect the way even scholars who read Greek discuss the original. These changes seem, at each turn, to ask us to appreciate the gravity of the events that are unfolding, the human cost of differences of mind.

The first of these changes is in the very first line. You might be inclined to suppose that, over the course of nearly half a millennium, we must have reached a consensus on the English equivalent for an old Greek word, polytropos. But to consult Wilson’s 60 some predecessors, living and dead, is to find that consensus has been hard to come by. Chapman starts things off, in his version, with “many a way/Wound with his wisdom”; John Ogilby counters with the terser “prudent”; Thomas Hobbes evades the word, just calling Odysseus “the man.” Quite a range, and we’ve barely started. There’s Alexander Pope’s “for wisdom’s various arts renown’d”; William Cowper’s “For shrewdness famed/And genius versatile”; H.F. Cary’s “crafty”; William Sotheby’s “by long experience tried”; Theodore Buckley’s “full of resources”; Henry Alford’s “much-versed”; Philip Worsley’s “that hero”; the Rev. John Giles’s “of many fortunes”; T.S. Norgate’s “of many a turn”; George Musgrave’s “tost to and fro by fate”; the Rev. Lovelace Bigge-Wither’s “many-sided-man”; George Edgington’s “deep”; William Cullen Bryant’s “sagacious”; Roscoe Mongan’s “skilled in expedients”; Samuel Henry Butcher and Andrew Lang’s “so ready at need”; Arthur Way’s “of craft-renown”; George Palmer’s “adventurous”; William Morris’s “shifty”; Samuel Butler’s “ingenious”; Henry Cotterill’s “so wary and wise”; Augustus Murray’s “of many devices”; Francis Caulfeild’s “restless”; Robert Hiller’s “clever”; Herbert Bates’s “of many changes”; T.E. Lawrence’s “various-minded”; William Henry Denham Rouse’s “never at a loss”; Richmond Lattimore’s “of many ways”; Robert Fitzgerald’s “skilled in all ways of contending”; Albert Cook’s “of many turns”; Walter Shewring’s “of wide-ranging spirit”; Allen Mandelbaum’s “of many wiles”; Robert Fagles’s “of twists and turns”; all the way to Stanley Lombardo’s “cunning.”

Of the 60 or so answers to the polytropos question to date, the 36 given above couldn’t be less uniform (the two dozen I omit repeat, with minor variations, earlier solutions); what unites them is that their translators largely ignore the ambiguity built into the word they’re translating. Most opt for straightforward assertions of Odysseus’s nature, descriptions running from the positive (crafty, sagacious, versatile) to the negative (shifty, restless, cunning). Only Norgate (“of many a turn”) and Cook (“of many turns”) preserve the Greek roots as Wilson describes them — poly (“many”), tropos (“turn”) — answers that, if you produced them as a student of classics, much of whose education is spent translating Greek and Latin and being marked correct or incorrect based on your knowledge of the dictionary definitions, would earn you an A. But to the modern English reader who does not know Greek, does “a man of many turns” suggest the doubleness of the original word — a man who is either supremely in control of his life or who has lost control of it? Of the existing translations, it seems to me that none get across to a reader without Greek the open question that, in fact, is the opening question of the “Odyssey,” one embedded in the fifth word in its first line: What sort of man is Odysseus?

‘I do think that gender matters. I’m not going to not say it’s something I’m grappling with.’
“I wanted there to be a sense,” Wilson told me, that “maybe there is something wrong with this guy. You want to have a sense of anxiety about this character, and that there are going to be layers we see unfolded. We don’t quite know what the layers are yet. So I wanted the reader to be told: be on the lookout for a text that’s not going to be interpretively straightforward.”

Here is how Wilson’s “Odyssey” begins. Her fifth word is also her solution to the Greek poem’s fifth word — to polytropos:

    Tell me about a complicated man. Muse,
    tell me how he wandered and was lost
    when he had wrecked the holy town of Troy,
    and where he went, and who he met,
    the pain he suffered in the storms at sea,
    and how he worked to save his life and bring his men
    back home. He failed to keep them safe; poor fools,
    they ate the Sun God’s cattle, and the god
    kept them from home. Now goddess, child of Zeus,
    tell the old story for our modern times.
    Find the beginning.

RTWT

21 Aug 2012

Pop Inferno

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Elissa Schappell, in Vanity Fair, welcomes the appearance of Mary Jo Bang’s freewheeling and irreverent approach to Dante: Inferno: A New Translation

[T]he only good Hell to be in right now is poet Mary Jo Bang’s innovative, new translation of Dante’s Inferno (Graywolf), illustrated with drawings by Henrik Drescher. Bang’s thrillingly contemporary translation of the first part (the juiciest part) of Alighieri’s 14th-century poem The Divine Comedy is indeed epic. While staying true to Alighieri’s interpretations of religious faith, the bounds of morality, and the soul’s journey toward God, Bang’s sin-soaked voyage through the circles of Hell teems with references to such latter-day personages as John Wayne Gacy, South Park’s Eric Cartman, Stephen Colbert, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, and the Rolling Stones.

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Bomb magazine has a not-very-exciting excerpt, consisting of Satan himself at the very bottom of Hell’s abyss. Only the usual Judas, Cassius, and Brutus appear, alas! I had been hoping to find the Archfiend this time munching on Andrew Sullivan, while making a mess of David Frum, Charles Johnson, and John Cole, but I suppose Mary Jo Bang doesn’t personally care about defectors from the political right, and all those guys are alive anyway.

If you want a serious translation of the Inferno, I would recommend the version by John Ciardi.

Via Andrew Sullivan.


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