• Tag Archives translation
  • Plateaus

    Imbolc                                                                          Valentine Moon

    After the Swede saw, lunch and a nap followed by another sentence, 6 verses long, in Ovid’s retelling of the Jason and Medea narrative.  When I have a week off from translating, or almost a week, like I had when I spent time rearranging and reorganizing, I wonder if I can still do it.  Sometimes I convince myself that what I’ve learned has dropped away and I’ve wasted all the time up to that point.  Silly, yes, but real nonetheless.

    (Medea, Batumi, Georgia)

    As a result, it is a relief when I return to the work and find myself able to translate.  This time in fact I managed a translation of a clause without looking up a word.  Something is seeping into the lower crevices of my brain.  Language work, at least for me, is slog, slog, slog, plateau.  Plateau, plateau, plateau.  Slog, slog, slog, slog.  Plateau.  So on.

    Right now I’m gaining facility at recognizing words and verb forms and sussing out grammatical forms, though I’m wrong as often as I’m right.  That’s without Perseus (the online classics web engine), without Anderson (the scholarly commentator on Ovid) and without Wheelock (the grammar text).  There’s the plateau.

    I can only advance part way into the text without the books.  With the books now I increase my facility by maybe another 25%.  So a lot of the time I can translate the literal sense of Latin correctly, but at least a quarter of the time, I’m lost.  That’s where my tutor comes into play.

    (Ovid, Constanta, Romania, 2012)

    He unsticks me from my stuck places and has been invaluable as a role model for tactics and strategy when approaching unfamiliar text.  He also guided me through the initial learning phase, about two years, when the grammar and vocabulary were still largely alien (foreign) to me.

    My personal goal is to be 90 to 95% successful on my own by the end of this year.  Then, I imagine, I’ll use Greg (my tutor) less often and then as a backup.  That’s unless we decide together to get back on the commentary track.  That still sounds fun to me.


  • A New Way to Translate

    Winter                                          First Moon of the New Year

    May have found a new method for working on the latin.  Translate it as well as I can, let it sit, then come back to it and go over it to produce an idiomatic translation.  Going back over it and checking word choices forces me to make finer grained decisions among meanings, catch  errors in reading verb tenses and create a better, smoother work.

    Up to this point I’ve done step 1, translate as well as I can, then I’ve left it until Friday to go over with Greg.  This may be a mistake, really only part way there.  Gonna try this new way for the next couple of weeks, though I travel next week to Denver and Greg the week after that Portugal, so we won’t be back together until the 28th.



  • Ovid. Again.

    Winter                              First Moon of the New Year

    An Ovidian morning.  Holding words, conjugations, meanings, clause types, prepositions and adverbs in the head while whirling them around like a Waring blender.  It’s satisfying when a sentence finally pops up, like a good smoothie.  Not always a straight on logical process, though logic can critique the result.

    About ten verses a week now.  Takes, hmmm, 4-6 hours.  So, if there are 15,000 verses, that’s 1,500 weeks or 6 to 9,000 hours.  Which is, what?  3 to 4.5 working years full-time or 30 years a week at a time, taking some time off for vacation.  Mmmm.  Don’t look for that book jacket anytime soon.


  • More Fun With Ovid

    Lughnasa                                                 Waning Harvest Moon

    More fun with Ovid.  The curtain has begun to roll back a bit more.

    Many of my friends have second and third languages, but until now I only had the one.  A bit of French.  A little Hebrew.  A little Greek.  But nothing solid.  The ability to look on a page filled with Latin words, words I would once have brushed over with little attempt at comprehension, and see meaning emerge delights me.

    The words still look strange to me, foreign, but now they carry a pulse of meaning, one I can get if I look a bit longer, or turn to a book.

    The same work I mentioned above, All Things Shining, that critiques Western individualism, has a section on the decline of craft, the disappearance of embodied learning, of skill at making.  Again, I find myself pushing against their analysis and in this instance Latin came to mind.

    To translate requires a subtle knowledge of the original language and an idiomatic grasp of the home language.  This type of intellectual work is a skill, a craft like that of. woodworkers or, the example used in the book, wheelwrights.  It requires a mind numbing series of early, simple steps that build only gradually into a suite of skills.  My guess is that the traditional seven years to move from apprentice to journeyman is not far off for Latin.


  • 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.

  • A Day in the Life

    Mid-Summer                                                                                                   Waning Garlic Moon

    “God has no religion.” – Mahatma Gandhi

    If there is one, Gandhi has it right.

    Another day of Latin.  This stuff, at least right now, is hard.  It requires holding several different ideas in the head all at one time, then juggling them to see how they all fit together.   Here are as many of those things as I can name:  word meanings in Latin and English (often multiple), noun declensions (usually multiple), verb conjugations, participle forms, adverbs, adjectives, conjunctions, clause types, infinitives, word order (often shuffled in poetry for metric purposes.  ovid is poetry.), flow of the narrative, many different grammatical rules and exceptions.  They float in the air like bubbles over a cartoon character’s head, as if, say, Dilbert couldn’t figure out what to say until he mixed and matched the diverse bubbles into a sensible sentence.

    On the other hand, at times I’m able to do it, to switch the balls in mid-air and see the sequence fall into place, a sentence emerging from what James Joyce or William James called the “blooming, buzzing confusion.”  Then, it’s sweet.

    Took Mark down to the Anoka County Work Force center for a morning’s class on resumes.  He seems calmer now, less agitated.

    Kate’s in pain because she has to go off all her non-steroidal anti-inflammatories for 5 days before her surgery.  This leaves her arthritic joints free to express themselves, especially in her hip, neck and hands.  This Thursday, S-Day, will find her with a second new hip, a procedure that should reduce her suffering quite a bit by relieving the hip pain and making her body mechanics better.  I’m glad she’s getting the new hip.

  • Still At It

    Spring                                                    Waxing Bee Hiving Moon

    Below freezing tonight, howling winds all day, gray clouds scudding across the sky.  Ah, Minnesota in springtime.

    A full day translating Ovid.  I’m now down to verse 201, only 49 verses to go.  I’ll probably make it before the end of the Titian show.  The impetus here was to try and imagine what went through Titian’s mind.  I know he probably used a corrupt translation, but I’ll still get some sense of the process he may have gone through as he moved this classic of Roman literature to a 2-d painting.

    I can’t say it’s easy, but it is easier now than when I started.  I’m getting what I want from it, a language learned and a book important to me embedded in my  consciousness.

  • Ovid and Me

    Spring                                                               Waning Bloodroot Moon

    The Latin work has gone past difficult learning, though there is still that, too, into a different, almost ecstatic place.  Reading the words of another language and making sense, poetry, from them still seems magical to me.  I’m really doing it.  The closest analogy is my first set of glasses that corrected my far vision.  All of a sudden I saw individual stars in the sky.  william-turner-ancient-italy-ovid-banishedThe moment was extraordinary.  What had been a fuzzy, blurred night sky became black velvet set with bright points of light.

    Now it appears I will finish Diana and Actaeon before the Titian show closes on May 1st and I might make my way through Diana and Callisto, too.  I’m enjoying translating the different stories, so I think I’ll move on to Medea, Pentheus and other discrete stories rather than try the full frontal assault I had planned, start with Book I, verse 1 and soldier through to the last verse of Book XVI.

    Another idea that seems possible now is to investigate the Latin texts behind other objects in the museum:  Theseus and the Centaur at the Lapith wedding,  Ganymede and the Eagle,  Lucretia,  Germanicus.  I’m sure there are other objects that have particular Latin texts behind them.  I have no particular reason for doing this except to deepen my knowledge of mythology and of the specific objects in our collection with Latin connections.

    Taking up a new intellectual challenge later in life is not only possible, it’s exhilarating.

  • Lost in Translation

    Winter                                                                    Waning Moon of the Winter Solstice


    What happens in the act of translation?  After years of reading translated texts and noticing the often wide discrepancies among various translations of the same underlying words, I have wondered how such drastically different English versions can come from the same work.  Understanding this, really translation as a whole, and understanding Ovid’s Metamorphosis in particular, is what led to my current project, learn Latin and make my own translation of this Roman masterwork from the time of Augustus Caesar.

    Some of that learning has already begun to happen.  Though I’m only 60 verses into the first of 5 books in the Metamorphosis, I have learned a complex truth about translation.  There is no such thing as an exact translation, probably not even such a thing as a literal translation.  Why?  Several things.  First, grammar has rules, sure, but the application of those rules can lead to different English.  In Latin a good example is the participial phrase.  Latin uses participles much more often than English and in ways we never do.   One such use, the ablative absolute, can consist of as few as two words, perhaps neither of them a verb, that gets translated into a subordinate clause in English.  Sometimes, in order to translate, you have to add a verb, almost always you have to add a conjunction.  There is no right conjunction nor is there one way to translate the participle into a verb in the clause though in both cases you can make an educated guess from the context.

    Second, the words themselves, as in English, are polyvalent.  Example:  nebula.  It can mean mist, smoke, vapor, fog, exhalation.  Again, context helps, sometimes the desired English word is obvious, often not.

    Third, at the level of a sentence or a paragraph, it may be impossible to render in any exact way what the author intended.  Instead, the translator has to read the Latin, understand the author’s intent as well as possible, then create an English sentence or paragraph that conveys the sense of the Latin rather than an accurate word for word translation.  In other words, translation is interpretation from the very beginning, in essence.

    Fourth, as Greg and I found in today’s Ovid, texts themselves vary.  His text had three words in one phrase that mine did not have, one missing altogether in mine and two with different cases.  This is a phenomenon very familiar to me from study of the Bible, that is, textual criticism, where judgments must be made about the authenticity of the original text.  Usually, in textual criticism, it is assumed that the more difficult rendering is the older and therefore closer to the original, while the easier is assumed to be a scholarly “cleaning up” of a problematic passage.  So, the text used for translation matters.

    Fifth, once you’ve cleared these hurdles, in a text like the Metamorphosis, you have to deal with the difficulties the text presents because it uses poetry rather than prose.  This means words may be in odd locations to justify rhyme schemes, metaphor or other poetic devices.  In particular words that need to be together in English may be separated by several other words, the relationship only apparent at all because of endings.

    Sixth, in the case of poetry you have to consider the challenge in creating English poetry from Latin poetry. Often the decision is to render the whole in prose, because making Latin rhyme schemes, for example, work in English may be next to impossible.

    So, even though I’m still far from my goal of fluent translation, I’ve already learned, from the inside, several things that explain vast differences in translated texts.

  • Still Learning

    Samhain                                                                    Waxing Moon of the Winter Solstice

    The moon light, bright in the southern sky, casts shadows, thin skeletons of trees and shrubs splayed out upon the snow.

    This Latin stuff is fun.  Going back and forth among dictionaries, grammars, websites, puzzling out the verbs and the nouns, trying to fit it all together into English, peeking inside Ovid, at least reading Ovid in his native language.  I know it’s weird, but I really enjoy it.

    I feel about it like I feel about art history; I wish I hadn’t waited so long.  On the other hand the two together give this final third of my life mental vitality.  I’m only getting started.

    Oh.  Picked up the novel I’d set aside, about a third done.  It has promise.  Need to find time for it.