Why the forgotten alternative translations of classical literature matter

April 4, 2019

An excerpt from an OUPblog article published 4th April 2019:
Roman writing

"When they are creative, translations and imitations can be the most revealing form of criticism. It is sometimes said that translation is the most intimate form of reading; successful translations are also highly expressive. The English-language heyday of classical verse translation, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, produced works that people still read, enjoy, and study today, beginning with English classics such as Alexander Pope’s Homer and John Dryden’s Virgil. Translation has been central in what we now call the reception of ancient poetry through the ages.

Thanks to increasing scholarly interest, we understand the history of literary translation in English better today than we did only a couple of decades ago. Bibliographical tools have appeared, historical narratives have been published (the weightiest of them the five-volume Oxford History of Literary Translation in English), and critical studies are no longer restricted to a small number of high-profile writers. But the record of printed translation on which this understanding is based reflects only part of the historical phenomenon, and not necessarily a representative part. Translations that never reached a printer may hold as much interest for us as those which were widely read in their own day, and in some cases more."

Stuart Gillespie is a Reader in English Literature at the University of Glasgow whose research interests lie in English literary classicism and translation. He is the author of Classical Presences: Newly Recovered English Classical Translations, 1600–1800, which is now available online. An extract from Gillespie’s book, William Hastings’ translation of Carmen 8 by Catullus, is freely available for a limited time.

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