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Aristophanes, Birds, Lysistrata, Assembly-Women, Wealth.

Aristophanes, Birds, Lysistrata, Assembly-Women, Wealth. A New Verse Translation, with Introductions and Notes, by Stephen Halliwell. Oxford U.P., 1997. Pp. lxxxi + 297. [pounds sterling] 45.00.

Stephen Halliwell is currently working on a three-volume set of verse translations of Aristophanes together with a book to be rifled Aristophanic Satire. The superiority of verse to prose translations will be obvious to all teachers who have tried to tell students whose acquaintance with Attic drama is based solely on prose translations that the original plays were written in verse. Yet the difficulties of turning Greek comedy into English verse are enormous, as my own attempts with the Loeb Menander have taught me, and the variety of metres used by Aristophanes adds considerably to the difficulties. H. translates Aristophanes' iambic trimeters into the unrhymed pentameters standard with Shakespeare and Milton, even though it is never easy to cramp the twelve or more syllables of a Greek line into the ten of its English equivalent. Iambic and trochaic tetrameters are turned into correspondingly longer but at times more loosely stressed English iambic verses. For the lyrics H. chooses unrhymed free verse, and here perhaps he will be less successful with readers more conditioned to rhymed stanzas. I cite two short passages from H.'s version of Assembly-Women to illustrate tone and rhythm: the first from iambic trimeters, the second from lyrics.
   Well, think of their decisions,
   The kind of things they bring themselves to do.
   Their craziness suggests inebriation!
   What's more, they're always pouring out libations --
   Why else, if not to help themselves to wine?
   And then they swap abuse just like real drunks,
   And the archers have to carry the worst ones out.
   (137-43)

   What shame we all would have to face
   If ever our design should be exposed among our husbands,
   So stick together in close ranks,
   And keep your eyes peeled all around,
   This way and that, to left and right:
   We can't afford to see our plan collapse into disaster.
   (485-8)


H.'s style is lively, modern, and generally effective, closer perhaps in its presentation of the complexities of Aristophanic detail and reference than most of his rivals. Throughout the four plays in this volume H. bases his translations on the best available texts and commentaries. He is virtually always accurate without being over-literal, and far more often graphically idiomatic than flat. He has an enviable knack in the anglicization of puns and verbal jokes. Oaths and curses are transformed into acceptable modern equivalents. The coarseness and obscenity of the originals are not toned down. One of H.'s decisions, however, might well be challenged. Aristophanes makes Lampito and others speak in dialect, but H. makes her use the same standard English as Lysistrata, turning his back on the British tradition of turning Lampito into a lowland Scot.

The value of these translations, however, is increased by a superb and long general introduction which sets Aristophanes' career in its context and ranges, always relevantly, far and wide: dramatic production, the dynamics of Aristophanic fantasy, Nachleben, the translator's problems. H. provocatively adheres to the Heath view that even in the parabases of his plays Aristophanes is comic entertainer rather than serious teacher, even though modern TV satire from That Was The Week That Was to Have I got news for you? has shown that entertainment and serious criticism need not be mutually exclusive. There are excellent introductions too to the individual plays, founded on modern scholarship and independent evaluation.

Errors in detail are few and far between (Birds 244, `marshy glens', not `rolling hills'; 266, `like a stone curlew', not `with a waterfall of sound'; Eccl. 1092, [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII TEXT] not `onions'; Plut. 192, [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII TEXT] not `bread'). H., however, would have benefited from having his translation of Birds vetted by an ornithologist, who would have removed the phantasmagorical blue thrush (979), and turned the moorhen (304), siskins (1079), and curlews (1141) into gallinule, chaffinches, and stone curlews.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:ARNOTT, GEOFFREY
Publication:Greece & Rome
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1998
Words:667
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