Site that reviews translations of classical texts?
August 2, 2013 8:14 AM   Subscribe

I'm on a "read all the classics" quest and trying to figure out the best translations into English. Blog recommendations would be awesome!

In autodidact longing I've arbitrarily decided to Read All the Mostly Western Classics (tm). At first I was just going to download Gutenberg because, free, but then my friendly neighborhood librarian recommended Lombardo's translation of the Illiad. And WOW was that a different experience than Pope's. (Also, duh.)

So now I'm looking more for modern(ish) translations, commentary and footnotes helpful but not necessary. I'd really like some "best of" recommendations, even comparisons between - eg, "Stephen Greenblatt offers the clearest translation, but the Norton commentary is too succinct for people unfamiliar with Shakespeare". I've already gone the bugging librarians, friends, Amazon, GR reviews route but in my dreams there's a blog or a few tumblrs out there dedicated to such a project.

Personal Preferences: If they matter, I'm looking more for clarity than word-for-word matches, though obviously I want them in the spirit of the original and if their biases are so noted the better. I like Gass' translation of Rilke the best, por ejemplo.

So: Do you know of any sites reviewing translations of the classics? Have better research ideas? BONUS if you have any direct book recommendations (of translated classics, or books on the classics though I'm more interested in primary than secondary sources) I'd love to hear them.

Thanks, fellow nerdy mefites!
posted by blue_and_bronze to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
I like Anthony Esolen's translations of Dante, especially for the copious footnotes. Also very much liked the Landmark translations of Thucydides and Herodotus (again, for all of the massive footnotes and supporting materials). I also liked Seamus Heaney's Beowulf very much.
posted by jquinby at 8:21 AM on August 2, 2013

There's Translation Review.

I think the easiest way to do this, really, would be to look up the most recent translation and read a review of it. For example, Mary Jo Bang's recent (bad) translation of Dante's Inferno is discussed here, points you towards the Hollander translation.

See also: Lydia Davis' Madame Bovary, Seamus Heaney's Beowulf.
posted by munyeca at 8:35 AM on August 2, 2013

Seconding Munyeca, on reading reviews of the latest translations. I would go to the archive/index of the Times Literary Supplement or London Review of Books, both of which are for the general reader. Any review by Colin Burrow is well worth reading in itself.
posted by Gomoryhu at 8:45 AM on August 2, 2013

My former classicist wife staunchly believes that the best translations of the Iliad and Odyssey are Richmond Lattimore's. In fact, she just started rereading them this week.
posted by The Michael The at 10:48 AM on August 2, 2013

Great Books Guide. Click on the individual links and you will see recommendations for specific translations.
Great Books. As above, but the links give you recommendations by availability at a well-known online bookstore.
Harvard Classics. These are the online versions through
posted by TheRaven at 12:11 PM on August 2, 2013

You can look for reviews in academic journals of the discipline in question (so for the Greek and Roman classics, look for reviews in BMCR, which doesn't need a subscription), but keep in mind that academic culture sometimes means reviewers are impossible to please - and that high-level experts may believe NO translation will ever suffice - and that academics' criteria or standards may not lead to the most readable, engaging, or even informative.

It's not an answer to your question, but you could look for what translations or editions are used by Great Books courses at places like St Johns, Chicago, Columbia. Those will be the editions that have been vetted by academic experts as "the best" but also are used for teaching newcomers to the material - probably the sweet spot you're looking for!

&, seconding the above user's wife: Lattimore for Homer!
posted by Theophylactic at 3:34 PM on August 2, 2013

For Plato, the Hackett collected works volume is pretty good, though I've heard complaints about the version of the Laws in there, and there's a slightly tidied up version of Republic that, as I recall, the same publisher put out independently.

For Thucydides, Herodotus, and Xenophon's Hellenika, the Landmark series volumes are just amazingly beautiful, tons of contextual information, maps, wonderful notes, etc. etc. I buy every one that comes out.
posted by paultopia at 4:26 PM on August 2, 2013

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