Wednesday, September 14, 2016


Greek and English

Walter Headlam (1866-1908), A Book of Greek Verse (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1907), pp. xxi-xxii:
Greek, in my experience, is easier to write than English; you have only to speak simply, with the words in the right places and due care for logic and for rhythm, and the language then seems somehow to put on a charm and beauty of its own. It is more than any quality of neatness merely—what is terse and definite and lucid and concise; it is complete harmonious grace and unsuperfluous adequacy, the knit strength and quiet beauty of an athlete. But translate it literally, and the charm is apt to vanish like a perfume that escapes,—to English taste especially, because the tendency of English is to be redundant and diffuse, to load with ornament and colour, and to overcloud with varied and obscuring imagery. A translator, therefore, has a strong temptation to embellish what he fears may seem too flat and bald. But that should be resisted. As in sculpture, so in poetry, the characteristic of Greek Art was its melodious outline, and it is a grave artistic sin to falsify so cardinal a feature.

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