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  Philologica 7 (2001/2002)  


(The Ancient Greek Tragedy in the Style Moderne)




The occasion for this article was the publication of Euripides’ tragedies (1999) in Innokentij Fedorovich Annenskij’s completely restored translations (before that they had been published with F. F. Zelinskij’s amendments). The aim of this paper is to describe Annenskij’s principles of translation, using one tragedy as an example, namely Iphigenia at Aulis (1898).

No other work of Euripides has come down to us with so many distortions and has undergone so many atheteses as Iphigenia at Aulis. Taking the poor condition of the text into account, the translators (Annenskij was a scholar as well) are faced with a very delicate task: on the one hand, differences in evaluation of the extant manuscripts allow them to advocate their own point of view; on the other hand, they should not thrust their opinion on the readers and should treat the doubtful passages very carefully.

Even the prologue of the tragedy poses a problem for scholars. Unlike all other extant tragedies of Euripides, the initial monologue of Iphigenia at Aulis, composed in iambic trimeters, is framed by a dialogue, and this part of the prologue is not written in the usual iambs, but in anapaestic dimeters. For more than a century there has been a dispute among scholars about the authenticity of the prologue of Iphigenia and its adjacent parode. In such a situation, the translator would rather conserve the traditional composition of the text and, in any case, translate the anapaestic part of the prologue using anapaests. For an unknown reason, Annenskij did not do this: he substituted iambs and “dolniks” (strict stress-meter) for anapaests, thereby impoverishing the original. He did not translate the dubious part of the parode (vv. 231-302), because he considered it a counterfeit, but at the same time he translated the dubious finale of the tragedy — entirely and without reservation.

To render the dialogic iambic trimeters Annenskij used unrhymed 5-foot iambs, intermingled with contracted 6-foot lines (F. F. Zelinskij and, later, S. V. Shervinskij translated Sophocles using this meter). When trimeters are rendered as iambic pentameters, 15 to 20 syllables in every 10 lines of the original are lost, and it is generally accepted that the translator has a right to lengthen the translation accordingly. As a result, Annenskij’s Iphigenia runs to 190 too many iambic lines in comparison with the original (and this amounts to the duration of an entire episode!). The translator overindulges himself in the monologues, as well as in the dialogues, and even violates the principles of one— and two-line stichomythia.

Annenskij translated trochaic tetrameters as 8-foot trochee. Moreover, in the translation 153 of 202 tetrameters are regularly rhymed or sometimes cross-rhymed. It is well known that the Ancient Greek tragedy had no rhymes, with the exception of the occasional uses of homoeoteleuton, to emphasize the importance of a particular idea. Thus, in the translation almost 10% of the lines acquire a quality which is absent in Euripides. It should be added that Annenskij’s rhymed tetrameters sometimes produce an inappropriately comic impression because of associations with well known Russian verses.

Annenskij radically modernized the Greek text. He introduced numerous stage directions (which are not and could not be found in the original), renamed episodes as scenes and grouped them in acts. Choric songs, performed as the play progresses and in direct connection with the plot, Annenskij called “musical entr’actes” (!), and he inserted “A Scene of tragic dance” before Iphigenia’s farewell aria (of course, this “scene” was lacking words, for Euripides did not write them on this occasion).

One of the main peculiarities of Annenskij’s translation is his amplification of the original, wherein introspective verbosity replaces the logical lucidity and plainness of the Greek verse. Sometimes the translation turns into a paraphrase, with abundant augmentation of Annenskij’s own motifs. The images of the play are inadequately conveyed. For example, in Annenskij’s version Agamemnon is psychologized: he is typified by much stronger emotions by comparison with the original. Similar psychologization (with even greater sentimentality) features in the image of Iphigenia herself (whom the translator, for some reason, continually calls “a little girl”). In Annenskij, the image of Achilles is romanticized: once he even hazards an avowal of love, unknown to the heroes of the Attic tragedy. The translator regularly introduces in Clytemnaestra’s cues colloquial turns of speech and intonations which are alien to Euripides. The impression may be formed that the translator turns Iphigenia into a sentimental family drama, when even the original is too close to everyday life for a heroic tragedy.

Annenskij did not always try to reproduce the stylistic peculiarities of the original, such as anaphora, play on words, alliteration, parallelism, antithesis, repetition of words in the adjacent cues and other forms of repetition, ring composition of the line, rhythmic and syntactic formulae and so on. Even in those cases when the general meaning of the text is preserved, Euripidean figures of speech are lost.

Moreover, the syntactic system of the original is distorted in the translation. Annenskij interrupts or dismembers lapidary Greek phrasing (which is grammatically and lexically complete), chiefly by using three dots, which give the reader the possibility of imagining what the character could “think” or “feel”. In Iphigenia, one example of these three dots occurs in a passage of less than four poetic lines, and there are fragments in which we find two or three instances of three dots in each line!. .

The aim of this paper is not, however, to heap invective upon Annenskij, whose translation of the entire Euripides is a great achievement, the results of which the Russian readers will enjoy for many years to come. But Innokentij Annenskij the poet and scholar had his own principles concerning the Ancient Greeks; at times these principles contradicted each other, and occasionally they contradicted the facts. Somebody said that Seneca’s Phaedra had already read Euripides’ first Hippolytus (which has not come down to us). In Annenskij, the characters of Euripides had, in addition, already read the entire Dostoevskij.

I would read Iphigenia at Aulis with great pleasure, if it were another “ancient” tragedy by Annenskij himself. However, as a scholar, I would like to defend Euripides from excess sentimentality and false pathos, verbosity and unnecessary colloquialisms, which are imposed on him in the translation. The Russian reader needs a new Euripides, who is, in a Greek way, laconic and inexhaustibly deep in his thoughts. Such an enterprise should be undertaken by a person who does not seek immediate recognition, to say nothing of his or her profound knowledge of the Ancient Greek and mastery of Russian versification at least on the level of Annenskij. But can we really find such a translator nowadays?



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