'The Loeb Library, with its Greek or Latin on one side of the page and its English on the other, came as a gift of freedom...The existence of the amateur was recognised by the publication of this Library, and to a great extent made respectable...The difficulty of Greek is not sufficiently dwelt upon, chiefly perhaps because the sirens who lure us to these perilous waters are generally scholars [who] have forgotten...what those difficulties are. But for the ordinary amateur they are very real and very great; and we shall do well to recognise the fact and to make up our minds that we shall never be independent of our Loeb.”
Virginia Woolf in the Times Literary Supplement, quoted on the Loeb Library home page, though without a precise citation, which I shall look up tomorrow, when I have access to the TLS Archive.
I feel less guilty, now I have Woolfian authority, about reading the Loeb translation of Aeschylus' The Persians, by Herbert Weir Smyth, to support my faltering Greek in preparation for next week’s visit to the Kings College London Greek play. Annoyingly, I learnt that in Cambridge, at the end of the month, Emmanuel are staging an abbreviated production of Oedipus at Colonus in the original, with a discussion. If I were free, and still had a house in Cambridge, I’d be up there like a shot. The dates of this autumn's Cambridge Greek play still aren’t announced: I scoured the Arts Theatre website.
In using the Loeb, I find myself wondering at some of the archaisms Smyth use. Some examples:
'Trusty of the Trusties', 'venerable partner of my bed', 'nay, methinks thou shalt learn anon the whole account in very truth'.
Why should Smyth use this language,which must have sounded old-fashioned in the extreme in 1928 when he prepared this translation?
I quickly rejected one theory, that he might choose antiquated vocabulary to fit the metre, for the translation is rarely in verse, expect for some of the choruses. Neither could it be that the choice of words is made to make a suitable translation for dramatic performance. These translations are designed to help the reader, not for performance on the stage, and in some cases, even to the ears of an audience eighty years ago, the translation would have been near-unintelligible. Is it that he wanted the translation to mirror the Greek word order? This would be helpful to readers like me, yet it is clearly not always the way Smyth translated. Sometimes the archaisms do preserve some of the effects in the Greek, such as assonance and alliteration, but not all the time.
I fall back on the theory that he felt that, as this is one of the oldest plays we have, it should be made to sound old. Unfortunately, even to my ear, and as my family often complain, I am not free from guilt of deliberate archaism and circumlocution, they grate.