Friday, 10 June 2016

Hounded to death: the last years of T. E. Shaw. 3. The Odyssey

Penelope waits

"Something about this Odyssey effort frightens me. It's too big: Homer is very very great: and so far away. It seems only a sort of game, to try and bring him down to the ordinary speech of my mouth. Yet that is what a translation ought to mean. I do it, tacitly, every time I read him: but that is for my own belly. Isn't there a presumption in putting my version abroad?"

Shaw wrote this in a letter from Karachi, India on April 16th 1928, to the American typographer Bruce Rogers who had invited him to produce a new translation. The T. E. Lawrence Studies website provides more details of the project, but not this quote. The resulting limited first edition has been praised as "indisputably amongst the most beautiful books ever produced" (the link will take you a Very Fine copy currently for sale, should you be able to afford it). A presentation copy from Shaw to his godson but in only Fine condition and inaccurately described as by T. E. Lawrence was sold by Bonham's in 2014 for £5,625.

In the Bryn Mawr Classical Review by William C. Scott, of Shaw's translation, the author might well confuse the reader with "and Penelope is reduced to being "the sly cattish wife."" from Shaw's translator's note which ends:

"Obviously the tale was the thing; and that explains (without excusing it to our ingrown minds) his thin and accidental characterisation. He thumb-nailed well; and afterwards lost heart. Nausicaa, for instance, enters dramatically and shapes, for a few lines, like a woman - then she fades, unused. Eumaeus fared better: but only the central family stands out, consistently and pitilessly drawn - the sly cattish wife, that cold-blooded egotist Odysseus, and the priggish son who yet met his master-prig in Menelaus. It is sorrowful to believe that these were really Homer's heroes and exemplars."

Shaw's translation attempts to recreate the underlying meaning which he accomplishes through his intuition (ingrown mind). Any sort of history, even that of the translation of myth is tempered by its time, and in our time, we see in The Odyssey a description of the ideal father, wife, and son. Shaw might have been somewhat unjust to Homer as Homer was writing from his time, too. But myth is the realization of the unconscious and the Introverted Intuitive sees deeper than most. Personally, I think that Shaw's compensation of his perception of Homer is very good in the actual translation.

Compare Shaw's translation (Book 11 excerpt):

"Penelope is so careful, knowing, and of such excellent discretion; the dear daughter of Icarius. Let me see, a young wife was she not, when we left her for the war? The infant then feeding at her breast may now be sitting with the men, one of them: a happy son to see his father's return and dutifully fold him in his arms."
with the others here:

W. H. D. Rouse translation (Published in 1937, but he says ""To guard against possible mistakes I add that the translation was made before T. E. Lawrence's Odyssey was published"):

"She is full of intelligence and her heart is sound, your prudent and modest Penelopeia.
"Ah, she was a young bride when we left her and went to the war; there was a baby boy at her breast, and I suppose by this time he counts himself a man. Happy boy! His father will see him when he comes, sure enough, and he will give his father a kiss as a good boy should."

A. T Murray, 1919:

"...for very prudent and of an understanding heart is the daughter of Icarius, wise Penelope. Verily we left her a bride newly wed, when we went to the war, and a boy was at her breast, a babe, who now, I ween, sits in the ranks of men, happy in that his dear father will behold him when he comes, and he will greet his father as is meet."

Samuel Butler, 1900:

"...for Penelope is a very admirable woman, and has an excellent nature. We left her a young bride with an infant at her breast when we set out for Troy. This child no doubt is now grown up happily to man's estate, and he and his father will have a joyful meeting and embrace one another as it is right they should do,..."

See, also, the Greek text with which those very familiar with the language (unlike myself) might better judge the various translations.

On Monday, another project on T. E. Shaw's mind while serving in India: The Mint. Have an ideal weekend.

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