Sowing the Dragon’s Teeth

Lughnasa                                                           Waxing Honey Extraction Moon

Much of yesterday and today spent amongst the Latin text of Metamorphoses.  I translated ten lines of the story of Pentheus.  In my effort to peek behind the curtain of translation I have learned several things already, even at my very modest skill level.  First, the choices translators make have far more range than I imagined.  Words have shades of meaning, grammar often can’t be translated and the biases that the writer of the original text brings complicate matters, too.

In Ovid, for example, I have noticed, very obviously, how Roman his slant on the Greek myths is.  He plumps up Latin virtues and denigrates the Greeks.  This does not make for a friendly representation of the Greek myths.  In fact, I’m beginning to suspect now that Ovid’s work is not only atheistic, but anti-Greek.  None of this challenges the beauty of his language or the compelling nature of the stories he tells, but it does set them in a different context than I found when I first read this work.

Also, I have a huge amount of respect now for the early humanists who took up these texts from their ancient past–by the Renaissance Ovid had been dead almost 1,500 years–and had to puzzle out translations with little in the way of aids like commentaries or literary historical work.

There are a lot allusions in this book and I’m sure in all the others, too, that simply make no sense to me.  Progeny of the dragon’s seed, for example, doesn’t immediately translate to Theban for me, yet the image is obvious if you remember that Cadmus, Actaeon’s grandfather and featured in this third book of the Metamorphoses, is the one who sowed the dragon’s teeth, grew an army and with its five survivors founded the city, Thebes.  Oh.  Yeah.

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