Monday, May 29, 2006

Poenulus, Persa et Curculio

Jag måste erkänna att jag är helt betagen. Från Bryn Mawr Classical Review:

"One of the most interesting plays of the Roman comedy writer Plautus (ca. 200 B.C.), the Persa, opens as follows in the Loeb translation by Paul Nixon:

Enter Toxilus, in low spirits, from the forum. 'The lover that first set out on the highways of love with an empty purse went in for harder labours than Hercules. Why, I had rather wrestle with the lion, or the Hydra, or the stag, or the Aetolian boar, or the Stymphalian birds, or Antaeus, than with Love. Such a devil of a time as I'm having, just looking for a loan--and the people I ask, all they know how to answer is "Can't be done"'.

This is how the same passage reads in a new, exciting translation by Amy Richlin:

Bowman (to himself): 'The dude who first set out to go on the road of love without no dough, / this guy had to go through way more shit than all them Labors of Hercules. / Man, I'd rather duke it out with the lion, the snake, the deer, that A-rab mummy,/ the birds that swamp in ancient Greece, or even with the Incredible Hulk,/ than with Love; that's why I'm goin nuts and tryin to borrow some dough, / but folks I ask don't know how to say nothin to me but "ain't no way"'.

This small sample immediately shows some of the major characteristics of Richlin's daring approach: Plautus' Latin is not neutrally rendered as if it were no different from classical prose of the highest standards. Instead it is radically transposed into fully modern forms, in this case a rap text, with all the stylisticelements and effects that go with the genre, even down to the level of orthography.


Amy Richlin (hence: R.) is a distinguished scholar, who has taught classicists many things about the functioning of Roman humor, notably in her famous study The Garden of Priapus: Sexuality and Aggression in Roman Humor from 1992. But examining the working of fun is one thing;making it actually work in texts is quite something else. R. is to be highly praised for accepting the challenge and having undertaken what may be considered the ultimate test in literary research into ancient texts: writing a translation. She has chosen three plays by Plautus, Curculio, Persa and Poenulus and translated them into current American English, with the explicit aim of providing material for actual performance on stage. The result is fascinating and may be warmly welcomed, not only by directors and actors, but also by students and scholars of Latin.

R.'s choice of plays is brilliant: all three plays in some way deal with the problem of 'other cultures', an issue which is acutely relevant to contemporary western society. The almost camp-like title Rome and the Mysterious Orient, along with the brightly coloured cover of the book (in light pink, orange and green) add to the suggestion that these are texts that actually concern our modern world and are not merely monuments of the 'language museum' to which Plautus has often been relegated. The plays themselves have also been renamed, with Iran Man for Persa as the absolute winner, although Towelheads for Poenulus is not bad either. Furthermore, the protagonists and minor characters in the plays have all been renamed to bring out the comic effect and meaning of their original Plautine forms. I have already mentioned Bowman (Toxilus), who in the rest of the play meets, among others, Einstein (Sagaristio), Fat Jack (Saturio), Brain Muffin (Sophoclidisca), Georgia Moon (Lemniselenis) and the cheeky Toyboy (Paegnium).

All Plautine lines have been translated in verse, mostly in the equivalent of the original metres and with the same variety. The English idiom too shows great variation in style, from the streetslang of slaves and foreigners to the pompous, mock-epic diction of conceited persons. The cantica have not been given musical scores, but are marked as song texts or as rhymed rap, as in Iran Man.

The primary axiom of the translator has been that the plays must be funny in translation, and that to make them work, functional equivalents of original elements must be given, rather than literal translations. In other words, all kinds of features are transposed, transformed into modern elements, rather than rendered as literally as possible.

This clearly shows in many minor issues as well, such as references to food (we meet characters drinking 'beer') and money ('bucks' and 'cash' are normal here), all kinds of puns and intertextual references (modern film, pop music and American comedy are the most important sources). This drastic transformation is reinforced by stage directions concerning locations (Towelheads is set in Sarajevo), and dress (actors in Weevil are told to wear 'loud sports jackets and ties', with male actors' costumes intended 'to be on that unblushing borderline between preppie and garish, with a touch of Liberace' (p.65)."

Och så kritiken:

"If R. invokes the likes of 'Public Enemy' and 'Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back' to illustrate the music of a play (p.116), who will understand this in a few years time? Personally I do not get the point even today, since I know neither. R.'s survey of catchphrases employed in the book to parallel Plautus' allusions almost exclusively contains puns that seem very difficult to follow for a non-American audience. Likewise, the cast is characterized by detailed references to, I assume, modern American actors. For instance, in Iran Man, for the part of Einstein (Sagaristio), R. imagined Jason Lee: 'the lines are written for Lee's slightly whiny, smart-ass voice' (p.118), while she saw Brain Muffin as 'a smart-mouthed Chicana, like Rosie Perez in White Men Can't Jump' or, alternatively, as Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinnie or Ariyan Johnson in Just Another Girl on the IRT (p.119). Someone who is, as I confess to be, totally unfamiliar with all of these actors and names, might easily feel lost or even excluded and think: 'this is obviously not intended for me.' The translation, then, has become too specific, too much targeted for a special audience. The smarter and more up to date the translation, the greater number of readers it threatens to exclude."

1 comment:

(K) said...

Marisa Tomei gör en helt fantastisk prestation i nämnd film, och jag går faktiskt till och från med följande replik ringande i öronen (tänk er en riktigt gnällig, tuggummismackande jobbig röst):
"We-ell, my FATHER was a me-ech-ahnic, and HIS father was a me-ech-ahnic, and my UNCLE was a me-ech-ahnic, and my BROTHER is a me-ech-ahnic..." Helt oefterhärmlig.