via Class Civ A Level teaching with glossed texts; some theoretical and practical considerations
Classics for All, Teaching Classics, the OU’s Classical Studies OpenLearn and so many other wonderful outreach programmes are offering a start for those wanting to learn Latin and Greek.
The Classical Civilisation A level similarly inspires in introducing students to so many facets of studying the ancient world. And of course that opens up those many disciplines whether focussing on Classical or other cultures.
But as someone who fell instantly in love with the Greek language at school and who annually introduces my 3rd year English students to Greek texts’ linguistic structures, I’m here proposing that the Homer Virgil The World of the Hero A Level compulsory component be a bridge into Classics courses if teachers – especially perhaps literature teachers – can teach it as a ‘Comp. Lit.’ subject.
But it needs an understanding that what’s needed to teach these texts is ‘good enough’ language, using – and able to communicate the inspiration of – prepared texts glossed with key words.
1 Glossed Texts, Reading Through Translation and the Question of Good Enough Language
2 Reading Through Translation: theoretical framings
3 Classics v Classical Civilisation
4 What is ‘good enough’ language acquisition?
Glossed Texts, Reading Through Translation and the Question of Good Enough Language
The question, what would an aim of ‘good enough’- rather than expert, proficient, insufficient – language skills raises the question: good enough for what?
Short answer – Good enough language not to read the Greek, not to be able to construe the text’s grammar and syntax but to read through, not in translation.
Specifically, to read a prepared translation which allows ‘keyholes’ into the Greek text: “glossed texts”, releasing the reader imaginatively and practically from being confined to the intercultural as well as interlingual interpretation that is ‘the translation’.
Eg Iliad or a Greek Tragedy sections glossed with key words with some suggested ideas:
aitios (responsible), aitia (reason, cause) philos (one’s own and so ‘dear’), charis (reciprocity, grace, graciousness), timê (price, honour)
aidôs (shame, sense of shame; sense of respect for others & others’ claims)
Dikê and other Cosmic Explanatory Models in the Oresteia
Fate: moira (the shape of things), kêr (perhaps spirit of death, doom, peprômenon (what has been laid down) tuchê [chance], anagkê [necessity]
erinus, plural Erinues /Eumenides – daimons/spirits of vengeance
koros [excess prosperity]; hubris[outrageous behaviour/attitude, getting above oneself]; atê [destruction]
phthonos [both human & gods’ envy and the force in the cosmos that brings down man when he ‘gets above himself’]
Emeritus Professor of English Literature David Hopkins, University of Bristol, said of my Iliad and Odyssey, which contained such glossed texts:
‘The book will be extremely useful for students and readers at all levels and of all ages coming to Homer. .. The book seems to me to be, in effect, three books in one: ….
2. A ‘glossary’ of key terms, clarifying Homer’s psychological and moral assumptions, which are often very different (at least on first acquaintance) from those of many modern readers. These sections of the Homer book are particularly valuable, since they preserve the key Greek terms in the original language, and render them in ways that make clear how susceptible they are to a range of meanings, rather than being easily translatable by one-word English equivalents. They go as far as is possible to make ‘Greek ways of thinking’ accessible to non-Greek readers: a new approach which makes your book particularly valuable.
Reading Through Translation
(see my contribution as ‘the Classicist’ to the Modern Languages Association of America (MLA) Ad Hoc Committee Working Party )
I proposed and now teach using ‘Reading Through Translation’ prepared texts. For we proposed that various traditional disciplinary divisions – reading in the original vs reading in translation; literal vs free translation; language learning for study vs for cultural enlightenment, Classics vs Classical Translation… – to be invidious as well as outdated. For ‘translation’ is not a text but an imaginative interpretative practice; by keeping key issues debated and played with and on in the original language rather than rendered univocal by an authoritative text, reading through translation aims to open up the ‘original’ text in various ways so that we can discuss key issues in the text, issues that resonate with and affect modern readers. The argument in my ‘Framing Ideas from Classical Language Teaching, Past and Future’ is that the reason to engage with Classic texts is that they affect audiences now as then and that it is for the modern reader to do the imaginative work of ‘translating’.
Domestication vs Alienation
Venuti, the founder of Translation Studies, proposed that there were two operations in translation which is not only an interlingual but an intercultural act: domestication or alienation. In domestication, the world – not just the words – of the text is translated (Barthes talks of translating Brot into pain ); Antigone in Polly Findley’s National 2012 production of Antigone is set not in Thebes but in a modern office.) Domestication brings the world of the text to the world of the reader.
Alienation works in the opposite direction: it insists that it is the reader or audience who must make the imaginative journey, as William Radice said in his tribute to Betty Radice, the founder of Penguin Classics ‘A translation should not lift the reader out of the ancient world but immerse him in it; and the reader must be prepared to think himself imaginatively into that world’.
But the texts that I work on, teach and think with: Classical epic and Greek Tragedy, present an extra problem, containing as they do both alienating and domesticating dramatic effects: – Hecuba describes herself as standing forever as the Queen of Troy, as forever the highest now brought lowest (as in the medieval wheels of fortune, presided over by Hecuba Regina) but every reader relates to her as the grieving grandmother. Medea appeals for sympathy for all time to the state of womanhood:
“Of all the living things, of all those things that have a soul and a sense, we, yes we, the women, are the most pathetic!….”(Medea 214-66)
but uses male active verbs; she cries as any mother at what she describes as the necessity of killing her children but describes that overwhelming necessity to be that of exulting over her enemies. We relate to her both as a woman in a recognisably impossible situation and are alienated – sic – by her barbarous history and her exit on the godwalk. For a Greek protagonist is deinos – awe-ful, awesome, out of nature exceptional; he or she is a figure of myth, with stories told and retold from a previous culture that the Greeks of the Classical Theatre of Dionysus would both recognise and be alienated by.
So, translating ‘the world of the play’ has to present a text that is both recognizable, familiarizing but also alienating.
There is a second aspect, a second dynamic – that both Homer and Greek tragedy contain what I call ‘a dramaturgy of disturbance’ – not only an alternating or simultaneous affect of alienation and recognition but also of problematising sympathy – for such as Helen, Iliad book 3, eg – and problematising alienation – for an Antigone, eg, who is rebarbative, seemingly obsessive and, as Ismene so justly observes, for someone claiming that the only claim on her is that of philia (kin bond), she is remarkable un –philial to her living sister and fiancé.
The third aspect made accessible and discussable by glossed texts is the tragic issue at play:
* What happens to a central Greek tenet: like the necessity of philein philous echthairein echthrous when put into the mouth of a fallible Greek ‘hero’?
* Or the Iliadic language of Medea’s debate with her thumos (1045-64)?
* Or Hippolytos’ claims to sōphrosunē, problematically variously translated throughout the play (innocence, virtue, chastity etc)
It is for each reader to answer…if they have access…
Classics v Classical Civilisation
I am here concerned with teaching Classical Literature, not teaching ‘Classics’ as a research discipline, although the Modern Languages Association of America (MLA) Ad Hoc Committee Working Party Report: Critical and Intercultural Theory and Language Pedagogy did not so distinguish: we reported that ideas of fluency and mother tongue facility were problematic for all language learners, both as failing to attend to the intercultural aspects and benefits of the act of translation and as disempowering.
The Working Party suggested that certain language course objectives should be rethought, with ‘good enough’ language acquisition the aim rather than the utopia of ‘native’ or ‘mother tongue’ proficiency. But, good enough for what? We pointed to an unexpressed aim of college language teaching to be ‘mother tongue’ proficiency; formally by definition impossible, vitiating, disempowering and also not thinking about why students might want to take on the challenge not of ‘going native’ but of exploring from a position of difference another culture’s texts. The MLA Working Party concluded that the all important primary objective for US language study should be, ‘good enough to comprehend that other languages inscribe ideas and values differently from one’s mother tongue’.
What about Classical languages, long attracting by their otherness and by their otherness from each other?!
Long story short, after interviewing many learners on post school Classics’ courses I recommended that the division between Classics students – language haves – and Classical Studies – language have nots – could be rethought along the same lines.
For in the minds of students wanting to read Classical texts there was a similar image of what Iris Murdoch called ‘seamless facility’: ability to read Classical texts ‘fluently’. That canonical texts can be picked up and ‘just read’ (and also that problems reading the text are the student’s inadequacy). I have long argued that this, like ‘mother tongue’ is, if not [o]utopian, at least largely misguided: implying that the objective is render the text ‘transparent’ to the fluent linguist. (Transparency, as suggested by Benjamin, being a desire for ‘pure communication’/ unembedded, pre-Babel ‘pure’ language: reine Sprache. )
What is ‘good enough’ language acquisition? (As with the MLA Working Party,)
Teaching Final year Classical texts to students with no classical language but fine close reading skills as I do, my answer is, good enough to understand the play of the text especially around key issues, the destabilising effect of the texts’ dynamics and affect.
To have a sense of the Greek texts we work on together as multi-layered, multifaceted, coming down to us – now bound canonically in an Oxford Classical Text, a Loeb or Classical translation series, established and stabilised by 2 millennia of scholarship – rather, as fragments of texts passed down over generations of oral performance and heard, experienced and responded to in performance.
And all importantly to have the confidence and tools to be able to raise and explore questions for themselves rather than seeing a secondary work or commentary as providing the answer.