Fellows News

A Translator’s Visit to the University of Birmingham, England, Sarah Ruden, Fellow in Translation, 2010

Sep 2, 2011

Sarah Ruden studied at the University of Michigan, Harvard University, and the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars. Her scholarship has concentrated on literary translation of the Greek and Roman classics. On the 4th and 5th of July, Sarah Ruden visited the University of Birmingham for a series of events organized by Dr. Elena Theodorakopoulos, a specialist in Reception Studies in Birmingham’s Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity.

On the 4th and 5th of July, Sarah Ruden, a 2010-2011 Guggenheim Fellow in Translation, visited the University of Birmingham for a series of events organized by Dr. Elena Theodorakopoulos, a specialist in Reception Studies in Birmingham’s Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity. Dr. Theodorakopoulos and Dr. Fiona Cox of the Department of Modern Languages at the University of Exeter interviewed Ruden for a special issue of Classical Receptions Journal. Ruden then joined Josephine Balmer, a distinguished poet as well as a translator and adapter of ancient literature, in leading a seminar attended by graduate students from Birmingham and other universities.

In the seminar, Ruden presented part of her English version of Aeschylus’s Oresteia, her Guggenheim project (now under contract for publication by the Modern Library), alongside Oresteia versions by Ted Hughes and Hugh Lloyd-Jones. The discussion of different methods, uses, and styles of translation was extremely lively and included reference to A. E. Housman’s parodic “Fragment of a Greek Tragedy” and to The Stuffed Owl: An Anthology of Bad Verse (edited by D. B. Wyndham Lewis and Charles Lee), which features, among others, William Wordsworth and William McGonagall, the latter of whom is purported to be the worst poet in the history of the world (“For the stronger we our houses do build / The less chance we have of being killed”). Ruden, though well aware of the dangers of bathos in translating as alien a poet as Aeschylus, is confident that, with proper caution, she can outperform McGonagall.

Ruden’s public lecture was entitled “Translation and Reconciliation,” and she explored a range of social, economic, political, and cultural barriers to producing beautiful and precise translations, which are essential in an age when English reigns as the lingua franca, discouraging literary study of foreign and ancient languages. Tea, a lunch, and two dinners with participants in the two days’ events provided opportunities for extra discussion of translation issues.