Every invention starts with a spark. It is an image so commonplace it has become a cliché: the lightbulb of a new idea, the lightning bolt, the strike of a match. Of course, nothing appears out of thin air; even ancient philosophers were swayed by notions of matter’s conservation, that no thing comes into being from nothing, meaning no thing can ever truly be destroyed—just rearranged. What better metaphor is there for translation?
The pages of this issue are full of the sparks of invention, leading us into places unknown, even (and especially) when they’re made from familiar materials. So it is that Dov Greenwood’s sound-attentive reading of Genesis glimpses the Garden as if for the first time, and an excerpt from a new Iliad by James Wilcox re-dresses the legendary Helen of Troy in words altogether unordinary. When it comes to lesser known texts, two riddles from the anonymously authored Exeter Book are spun by Aaron Hostetter into new versions that challenge traditional interpretations, while Elizabeth Raab’s take on a genre-bending political satire from ancient Rome invites our laughter alongside our critique.
Translation, we are reminded in this issue, does not exist solely to provide a substitute for an original text. In transforming a chilling Middle English rumination on death into accessible modern English, Jenni Nuttall offers not just a mirror, but a resurrection, of the original poem. Victoria Moul’s recasting of two classical Latin poems onto modern landscapes forgoes equivalence in favor of a more generative tension between translation and original. Still other pieces in this issue exploit paratextual features to multiply a text’s voices and disrupt a monolithic reading experience. So has Laurel Taylor framed a translated tapestry of classical Japanese waka within footnotes that tell a story of their own. In a similar vein, Jason McCloskey’s approach to an 18th-century Spanish verse treatise on chemistry uses an apparatus of invented and informative notes to enhance and expand the contents of the main text.
The proliferation of voices in translation, as in poetry, is nothing to be surprised by. No text is the work of a single voice, a fact with which we are constantly confronted in considering productions of dramatic works. Mary Ebbott’s synthesis of two works by Euripides into a single play reminds us of the long history of adaptation and rewriting in theatrical production. Reflecting on this very history, we join dramaturg Rob Silverman Ascher in conversation with three panelists considering the Bacchae under the lenses of translation, adaptation, and storytelling.
It is in that conversation that we find a coda to this latest issue, ending (as ever) on a question: “Why revisit the classics?” We hope you’ll explore what answers are offered in these pages—and to them, add your own.
the Ancient X team