Sappho: Poems and Fragments

Anne Carson's Translations of Sappho: A Dialogue with the Past? College

‘I started getting interested in the language, in trying to get through the opaque screen that a translation can’t help being to see what Seneca had actually said’ (CARYL CHURCHILL on her translation of Thyestes).

Translations of a text that has been present for millennia encounter the problem of missing portions and incomplete manuscripts: translators encounter a degradation of the actual physical text as well as a loss of meaning imbued only by specific historical context. The ‘opaque screen’ that stands between a modern translator and their classical text could consist of the language barrier, the weight and influence of previous translations, or this factor, the degradation of time leading to a literally incomplete text. The purpose of a text could be entirely misunderstood through these obstacles, but they also may create incidental meaning or poignancy to a text, which a translator may choose to emphasise.

Anne Carson’s 2003 collection of translations, If not, winter, is titled after line 6 of fragment 22, and this title conveys her priorities within the actual poems: technical accuracy to the Greek words takes precedence over making comprehensible sense in English, but this technique still succeeds in creating semantic...

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