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Transom:
When translating ancient texts, some translators try to use language that evokes ancientness, while others attempt to make that writer sound contemporary to our ears. You seem to take a middle path with your casual use of contractions and elevated language like “Hail, dread Hekate.” How did the ancientness of these texts influence your translation decisions?

Hollis:
Perhaps no Hellenistic poet is so keenly strategic and intentional with dialect as Theocritus. In the multiplicities and variations of dialect throughout his work, there exist the paradoxes and juxtapositions that lie at the heart of Theocritus’s inventiveness in genre that stems from a complex relationship with Homer predominantly and the Archaic tradition more generally. This is what makes Theocritus fascinating to me. One of Theocritus’s primary modern editors, A. S. F. Gow (to whom my translation owes much), divided Theocritus’s poetry into five distinct dialectical groups, the largest of which is “genuine” Doric, for which Theocritus is most well known, and the remainder contain elements of the Epic, Ionic, and Aeolic dialects. Classicist Gianfranco Fabiano described the intricacies of Theocritus’s language as such: “What seems chiefly to characterise Theocritus’ poetic language is the instability of the system at every level, from the least phonetic unity, which always enjoys a considerable autonomy inside the changeable convention of the dialect, to the structure of the Idylls as complex syntheses of different literary genres . . . . This tension of opposite elements in words and sentences and also in two sentences in succession is the dynamic device of composition according to which almost every idyll is built up.”  The skillful shifts in register and diction are essential to the subtext of the Idylls that comes to be known as the pastoral mode and genre.

This was where the impetus for my translation of Theocritus began. Having grown up in a small town in rural Nebraska, I resonated with the landscape and speakers of Theocritus. His scientific and metaphoric interest in botany and husbandry, his acknowledgment and defiance of class consciousness, and his expansive use of dialect and language all vividly describe my experience of the American Midwest and continue to inform my understanding of the widely varied diction and language used by the residents of my hometown. Similarly, Fabiano writes of Theocritus, “[T]he Doric element alone is already so differentiated that it makes up an unlimited reserve of expression . . . . Theocritus’ language, no matter what the dialect, is almost always made dynamic in a series of oppositions between Homerisms and rough Doric forms, high artificiality and colloquialisms, realism in some details and refusal of a consistent realistic poetics, personal tone and literary stimuli.”  The primary goal for my translation was to render Theocritus in just such precisely textured shifts of dialect and language, which explore the amalgamation of vocabularies, conventions, and colloquialisms that compose what I've come to understand as the Midwestern vernacular.

Particularly for Idyll II, in which the sorceress, Simaetha, is rushed and abbreviated in one moment and elevated summoning the goddess for her spell in the next, abrupt shifts in register became the rule instead of anomaly. As critic Anne Duncan notes here, Simaetha represents a poetic topoi of the poet enchanting the audience as the “magician chants a spell or administers a drug,” and begs to be compared with other epic characters such as Medea, Circe, and the Sirens.  Throughout her love spell, however, a panoply of emotions possess Simaetha, including fear, lust, annoyance, hope, greed, and hate, and as a result, her monologue twists rapidly in tone and subject. The religious diction mentioned in the question is taken from hours upon hours of sermons I listened to in my youth while sketching superheroes on church bulletins.

Transom:
In your translation of Horace’s “To Visiting Faunus,” you made the decision to condense Horace’s four-line stanzas into three. What were you hoping to achieve with this choice, and did you have to sacrifice anything from the original in pursuit of that goal?

Hollis:
To try to translate what Horace’s Sapphics (the meter of Odes 3.18) are in Latin to a direct correspondence of Sapphics in English would perhaps distract more as artifice instead of enhancing the essential qualities of the original language. Certainly there is always a sacrifice in creating a separate entity, the translation that the original gave birth to and which reflects its qualities. But I defer to Benjamin in this respect: he writes, “Fragments of a vessel that are to be glued together must match one another in the smallest details, although they need not be like one another. In the same way a translation, instead of imitating the sense of the original, must lovingly and in detail incorporate the original's way of meaning, thus making both the original and the translation recognizable as fragments of a greater language, just as fragments are part of a vessel . . . . A real translation is transparent; it does not cover the original, does not block its light, but allows the pure language, as though reinforced by its own medium, to shine upon the original all the more fully.”  In not attempting to recreate the meter of Horace’s Sapphics in English, I chose tercets because I find the stanza resourceful for its flexibility and balance (Hollander wrote it best, describing tercets as “—Playful, like couplets that get out of hand— / Of lines that fly far and come back to land” ). We don’t have the clean, English-hymn-like exit that a quatrain makes, but we have a crafted, roughly accentual music that suits Faunus kissing young goatkids and lambs as much as the ditch digger pounding the earth in his clumsy dance. I have, however, retained the balanced structure of the poem with four stanzas, as Heinz, Nisbet, and Rudd comment, in which the first two stanzas address Faunus and speak of a sacrifice to him and the last two stanzas portray the festival in which he is honored.

Transom:
In submitting these poems, you told us that you traveled to rural Sicily to research local agricultural practices for your translation of Theocritus. Given that the pastoral tradition often idealizes the activities of shepherds and farmers, why was it important for you to get a sense of the “real lives” of the inhabitants of this landscape?

Hollis:
I would not have been able to translate Theocritus without having lived in rural Sicily and Syracuse. Though the landscape has changed vastly from Theocritus’s era, my experience in Aidone, a small town not much bigger than my hometown, offered me an essential perspective on the Idylls, perhaps best described in Frost’s “backward motion toward the source / Against the stream, that most we see ourselves in / The tribute of the current to the source.” In this sense, I am heavily indebted to Richard Hunter and Malcolm Bell among others for initiating my historical and archaeological understanding of Theocritus’s context and the diverse and complex Hellenistic aesthetic. I excavated and visited artifacts contemporary to Theocritus in Sicily’s expansive museums and hope to reflect these objects’ beauty, fascination with the natural world, concern with workers and their industries, and interest in everyday people that is likely a byproduct of the decline of the city-state and, as Barbara Hughes Fowler notes, a turn to the individualistic philosophies of Stoicism and Epicureanism. In my rendering of Theocritus’s landscape and characters, these images of goats, lyres, fishermen, chariots, goddesses, cyclopes, and the harsh midday sunlight registered as indispensable phantoms in my imagination when I considered the Idylls. I hope that my translation of the Idylls will render these figures as vividly and profoundly as I experienced them—as they come into the guise of my own tradition and language in the American Midwest.


NOTES:
Gow, Andrew S. F. Theocritus (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1950). I lxxii.
Fabiano, Gianfranco. “Fluctuation in Theocritus’ Style,” Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies, vol. 4 (1971). 528-9, 533.
Duncan, Anne. “Spellbinding Performance: Poet as Witch in Theocritus' Second Idyll and Apollonius' Argonautica,” Faculty Publications, Classics and Religious Studies Department, Paper 84 (2001). 43.
Benjamin, Walter. Selected Writings: Volume 1 1913-1926 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1996). 260.
Hollander, John. Rhyme’s Reason (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1981). 16.
Nisbet, R. G. M. and Rudd, Niall.  A Commentary on Horace: Odes Book III (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2004). 220.
Frost, Robert. Collected Poems, Prose, & Plays (New York, NY: The Library of America, 1995). 238.
Bell, Malcolm III. “Agrarian policy, bucolic poetry, and figurative art in early Hellenistic Sicily,” Krise und Wandel/ hrsg. von Richard Neudecker, (2011). 193-211.
Hunter, Richard. Theocritus and the Archaeology of Greek Poetry (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996). 
Fowler, Barbara H. The Hellenistic Aesthetic. (Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1989) . 4.