Sono hate wa

Currently reading Matsudaira Senshu 松平千秋's prose translation of the Odyssey for Iwanami Bunko.

Being unable to read the original, I can't comment on the quality of the translation per se, but I'm not in love with the way the dialogue reads in Japanese so far — the content is fresh and powerful, but it's hobbled by unremarkably modern verb endings and particles. I suppose this is a kind of Occidentalism, craving the archaic, but I would happily settle for cod bungo rather than a painstaking recreation of Old Japanese, and it isn't as if the modern syntax makes the work all that accessible — the sentences are still plenty long and complex.

Anyway, this made me wonder about earlier translations of Homer into Japanese, and I actually found one online: the Iliad, translated into non-metrical verse by Doi Bansui 土井晩翠. Here are Doi's opening lines, with Pope and Butler's for comparison:

Achilles' wrath, to Greece the direful spring
Of woes unnumber'd, heavenly goddess, sing!
That wrath which hurl'd to Pluto's gloomy reign
The souls of mighty chiefs untimely slain;
Whose limbs unburied on the naked shore,
Devouring dogs and hungry vultures tore.
Since great Achilles and Atrides strove,
Such was the sovereign doom, and such the will of Jove!

Sing, O goddess, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans. Many a brave soul did it send hurrying down to Hades, and many a hero did it yield a prey to dogs and vultures, for so were the counsels of Jove fulfilled from the day on which the son of Atreus, king of men, and great Achilles, first fell out with one another.

That's what I'm talking about! Doi also did the Odyssey but his version doesn't yet seem to be online. (I did find a Meiji-period book claiming to be a translation of the Odyssey, but it was really more of a paraphrase, and it skipped the Telemachy altogether.)

Final note about Iwanami's edition: if you look closely at the photograph on the cover you can see newsprint dots. This is not as far as I know an artifact of their cover printing process (I have Iwanami books of similar vintage with perfectly smooth cover images), so it was probably a case of simply not having access to any suitable high-res photographs of Greek art. But whatever the reason, I like the effect. It reminds me of cheaply printed schoolbooks and the stubborn democratization of the classics that they represented.

Popularity factor: 7


So you would not be a fan of Mitchell's new translation of the Iliad, I take then. (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204422404576597201215250720.html for reference)

(Incidentally, ever read any 慶長見聞集? I'm working through it right now, actually.)


Oh, I'm not opposed to the modernizing approach in principle (Mitchell's translation sounds like fun, actually). But if you're going to start a sentence with "テレマコスよ", I'd rather it not end in "...だ" or "...ですからな". I would settle for "である" and the like. I'm not unreasonable. I bet Shiba Ryotaro would have KILLED a Homer translation if he'd learned Greek.

I don't recall reading any 慶長見聞集. Do you recommend it to the casual Edo enthusiast?

Leonardo Boiko:

I for one would be all for a painful reconstruction of Old Japanese if the Japanese had at least the common courtesy of attempting a phonetic reconstruction, instead of reading everything as if it was 21st-century Edo dialect. Ama-terasu-opo-mi-kamï disapproves.

(Personally, I never liked the idea of prose translations of epic poetry, but it’s probably just the John Foley voice inside me.)



Chinese studies is much worse. They at least tell you how to pronounce old Japanese if you want to, before proceeding to modernize it all. In Chinese they act like Confucius spoke Mandarin!—the least classical sounding of all the descendants of old Sinitic. Seriously, you're better off using the Sino-readings of Korean hanja than Mandarin if you want to sound anything like what Confucius spoke…

L.N. Hammer:

Hmm -- judging by that ペーレーデース form, it doesn't look like this was done straight from the Greek (where it's Πηληϊάδεω). He's not going line-by-line, either as that's the first seven lines. I wonder what his source was -- maybe a German intermediary?



Could be! Apparently he was both an English teacher and a German teacher during his career, and a lot of early Japanese translations of the Classics were via English.

Carl: I can see that approach working to some extent for prose but it seems counterproductive for poems. It would be like insisting on reading Chaucer with modern pronunciations of vowels. Although I guess memorizing rhyme-categories that are no longer observable in the actual language is a long tradition in Chinese.

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