Greek Lyric Poetry

By Garvey, T. A. | The Virginia Quarterly Review, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Greek Lyric Poetry


Garvey, T. A., The Virginia Quarterly Review


Greek Lyric Poetry, by Sherod Santos. Norton, September 2005. $24.95

Translation is a truly thankless undertaking; the translator is perpetually haunted by the dilemma of whether to render a text literally or for meaning, a task that more often than not ends up offending the sensibilities of both sides' supporters. Translating poetry takes this problem to the next level, as not only word choice but also such issues as meter and format must be considered. Sherod Santos has tackled a still larger undertaking-translating ancient poetry whose cultural context is now so foreign to the modern reader that, lest their meaning be lost, the significance of even simple images must often be explained. In his introduction, Santos calls the poems of this volume not proper translations, in the strict sense, but not exactly imitations or paraphrases either. I suppose I think of them more as collaborations, for while they're firmly grounded in poems composed more than two thousand years ago-and wholly dependant on the scholarship from those intervening years-they still tend toward a kind of self-sufficiency, or at least a kind of felicity that comes from pursuing more the tonal than the denotative meanings of the originals.

This is an important point for any reader approaching this text to understand, for the deviations from the original Greek are frequent and more liberal than most classicists would prefer. The poetry itself is rendered quite beautifully, if in modern English meters rather than those the Greek poets themselves employed, and the introduction and endnotes do help to acclimate the unfamiliar modern reader somewhat. …

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