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Updated 10:00 AM April 18, 2005




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Students to read their takes on classics

The scholar who pores over classic tomes to craft fresh translations may inhale more dust than a NASCAR driver, but the work is rewarding.

"We want to encourage students to do their own translations from Greek and Latin," says Yopie Prins, associate professor of English and comparative literature. "That's why, five years ago, we created an annual contest for classical translations, sponsored by our faculty consortium known as 'Contexts for Classics.' We're interested in the reworking of classics in contemporary culture."

Announced last week, the 2005 winners include three graduate students: Derek Mong, first prize for his version of medieval Latin hymns; Michelle Regalado Deatrick, second prize for a translation of Iuvencus; and Cassandra Borges, third prize for translations from the Greek Anthology.

Three undergraduate students also were winners: Lucas O'Bryen, first prize for translating the Roman poet Catullus; Chris Apostoleris, second prize for translating Kalokyres from modern Greek; and John Pas, third prize for translating "Pervigilium Veneris" from Latin.

The students will read their winning translations at a Classics Department ceremony 4-6 p.m. April 20 in the Vandenberg Room of the Michigan League.

"The submissions ranged from free imitations to more literal translations. Part of the appeal of translating is that you come into contact with the strangeness of another language, and learn other ways of using language," Prins says. "It can revive and animate your own language. You're also learning about antiquity, and thinking about what it might mean in the present. It's having the modern confront something that's ancient."

O'Bryen says, "I made a comic out of my translation, to get across certain ideas that couldn't be expressed by words alone, or else would seem clunky. For example, the cover of the comic is a picture of the narrator (Catullus) on the scroll he reads the funeral oration from. In this I'm trying to hint at Catullus' feelings that the oration is pointless to the dead and entirely to comfort the living. I don't know if anyone actually got it, but I tried."

"I suppose my passion for translation stems from my passion for poems," says Mong. "I chose the authors because I have a working knowledge of Latin and they were obscure enough to do a more literary translation without upsetting pre-conceived notions of what they ought to sound like.

"My authors were Peter Damian, Boethius and Alcuin. I'm actually quite weary of titling them 'translations' per se, as they are in places unfaithful to the originals," Mong says. "My working classifications for them fall under 'adaptations, translation-graftings, and/or voice variations,' a series of terms diverse enough to eschew charges of infidelity to the source text and to indicate that the primary objective was producing successful English poems which owe much to a Latin predecessor."

Translations often are influenced by current fashion. Prins says a dramatic example of this was Alexander Pope's translation of Homer's "Iliad." Pope recast it in rhyming couplets, a standard practice in his time. "Every century has its own version of Homer, its own translation," Prins says.

Contexts for Classics also presents informal translation workshops for faculty, and graduate and undergraduate students interested in the practice and theory of translating texts from the original Latin and Greek.

Each meeting usually features one or two translators whose work or excerpt of work will be circulated at the meeting. Translators discuss such issues as methodology, pragmatic difficulties or resources and more, and the floor is opened to workshop participants. Other workshops consist of roundtable discussions centered on topics relevant to translating.

For more information, visit

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