To read or to have read

2021-03-12 @Blog

I rarely crave to have read something yet lack the desire to undergo the deed. That is, if I don’t feel excited or appreciate those little nuances of each fragment, most likely the work is not that important to me and I don’t care to have read it.

Yet exceptions do arise.

I would like to have read the Old Testament cover to cover. Not merely acquire fragmentary knowledge of it through Medieval, Renaissance or other literature (though this carries me a long way), but the full experience.

But I probably won’t. I’ll probably continue the fragmentary course.

I don’t actually want to read the Old Testament. I don’t enjoy translations, especially those between linguistically distant tongues. Or perhaps the Old Testament prose simply bores me. Yet the stories entice.

Over recent months I’ve read a handful of the ancient Greek tragedies - those of Sophocles/Euripides/Aeschylus. It’s not even important which ones.

I read them in different English translations varying from Elizabethan verse to modern vernacular prose.

And I really wanted to have read some of those plays. The ancients set such a strong foundation for the world of Drama. They effectively crafted the formula for what creates a quality tragedy.

Yet reading those translations made for such a dry experience. The Ancient Greek texts emanate a particular lyrical and poetic cadence. Any translation seeks to merely emulate that; aspires to a mere shadow, at best.

And every translator of those tragedies understands the futile undertaking, making it fairly clear in the translator notes. The tragic element is sustained, but none of the poetry.

And reading the varying notes, they openly maintain the fact, sometimes as far as stating that this is not Sophocles.

I forced myself to read those translations. And though glad I did, how incredibly dry; and sterile.

At each step I felt not reading the works of the playwrights, but modern adaptations of those ‘translators’ based on the mere motifs.

That’s how I relate to most translations; though particularly between languages of drastically distant groups (ie Greek and any Romance/Germanic/Slavic) and, in this case, a time differential of 2400+ years.

Better had I read these Greek dramas 15-20 back, when I’d also undertaken those epics Odyssey, Iliad, Aeneid. Back then I cared merely for the stories and wasn’t exposed to the world of poetry and the beauty of unhampered original language.

Alas, no longer. Now, when I read an ancient epic or a poem in a 20th-century tongue, it evokes the 20th-century modernism. Translated in the Renaissance time period, it becomes a Renaissance composition: better, but all the same, not the ancient work I’m supposed to be led to believe.

Don’t care for the bloody translations. Merely seek to have read them in exceptionally rare cases.

It happened with Faust. It happened with the Divine Comedy (this a more marginal case, being somewhat equipped to reference individual fragments in the medieval Italian, less distant with Spanish, the language of my reading).

I’d like to have read many of the Old-Norse Scaldic poems. But I probably won’t. For I don’t read Old-Norse.

I’d like to have read the Thousand and One Nights. One day, I probably will, though will likely find abhorring whatever translation I choose to undertake (I have a Russian one here handy somewhere).

Similar with Boccaccio’s Decameron and the 19th-century Russian translation I here have. The stories I find too alluring, yet not too excited over the medium of expression.

And I’ll likely continue to postpone these want to have read lists while I haven’t exhausted all the want to read immortal canon I can appreciate in the original tongues, of which I’m fortunate to wield several.

Questions, comments? Connect.