Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Abandonment of Greek

Harold F. Cherniss, quoted by George Rapall Noyes in the foreword to Arthur William Ryder, Original Poems, together with Translations from the Sanskrit (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1939), pp. xvii-xxxix (at xviii-xix):
It was the language as it came alive from the author that he desired to know. 'Not what this word should mean according to the philologists but what the author intended it to mean in this particular place', this was his principle. It is measured by this standard that one must understand his serious statement that he knew only one language well, his native English. That he was a master of English his writings amply prove; that be came miraculously near to realizing the same standard in Sanskrit, however, is obvious to anyone who is capable of comparing his translations with their originals. His determination to approximate this standard in any language that he studied was the reason for his early decision to curtail the number of languages to which he would devote his energies. He soon abandoned all but Sanskrit, Latin, French. and German. Only the abandonment of Greek, he said, remained a matter of sorrow to him. What be called his 'abandonment of Greek', however, would have been considered by most philologists the continuation of a lively interest and understanding; he would in the course of conversation recite whole choruses of Sophocles and long passages from Homer and discuss with penetrating intelligence both Greek literature and Greek philosophy. Yet he felt that it would be quixotic for him to attempt to master both Greek and Sanskrit; he had made his choice and he abode by it. His regret was due to his belief that in Greek was written one of the world's three truly great literatures, the other two being in Sanskrit and in English.

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