On Literal Translation: Robert Browning and the Aeschylus' Agamemnon

Philosophy and Literature 28 (2):259-268 (2004)

Abstract

May I be permitted to chat a little, by way of recreation, at the end of a somewhat toilsome and perhaps fruitless adventure?”1 So begins the introduction to Robert Browning’s “transcription,” as he entitles it, of Aeschylus’s Agamemnon, in which the principles of literal translation are discussed and defended.2 As one who has recently been on the same adventure as Robert Browning, I wonder whether it is not salutary to review his arguments, for I have come to believe firmly that the path he took was fruitless, or very nearly so. Yet of the many translators, stretching into the most recent times, who have provided us with literal renditions of ancient Greek texts, he at least offered an apology for it, and a better one, in my view, than any I have seen. I want to try, by reviewing Browning’s arguments, to shed some light on why his adventure of translation was barren, and in the process state some precautions for the translation of ancient Greek literature. I am not sure whether these precautions apply to the philosophy of translation in general, for the differences between two languages vary greatly with time and place; nevertheless, the review may be of some general help.

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Rick Benitez
University of Sydney

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