Metafilter has translations of a newly rediscovered poem by Sappho January 29, 2014 7:35 PM   Subscribe

You know how we get excited when a lost episode of Dr. Who gets rediscovered? As described in this thread, two new poems by Sappho have just been rediscovered. Bromius and languagehat have made provisional translations of the new "Brothers Poem." As far as I can tell, this makes Metafilter the best place on the web to go for translations-in-progress of the new Sappho. (sidebar?) If you have training in Aeolic Greek your help in this ongoing translation project would be appreciated.

Sappho was widely regarded as the greatest poet of the ancient world. She was held in high esteem even by often sexist ancient scholars. The Library of Alexandria had nine volumes of her poetry, but as of 2013 only one complete poem and four near-complete fragmentary poems had survived. That's why finding a new complete poem and a new fragment is a huge deal.

I don't want to put Blasdelb and languagehat on the spot. Both of them describe their work as provisional (Blasdelb: "rough translation", languagehat: "quick attempt at a translation") However, as far as I can google, their work constitutes the internet's best available English-language translations so far. Languagehat is continuing to improve his version. If you have the skills to help make these newly discovered works more accessible to the English speaking world please chip in.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow to MetaFilter-Related at 7:35 PM (55 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

Does it contain the word "Nantucket"?
posted by Sys Rq at 7:55 PM on January 29, 2014 [9 favorites]


Way cool!
posted by ocherdraco at 8:07 PM on January 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


There was a young site from Nantucket
Whose price to join was a ducat
Users translated Greek
With abilities sleek
While others saw Aeolic 'n' said "Fuck it"
posted by Copronymus at 8:09 PM on January 29, 2014 [27 favorites]


Blasdelb?
posted by ODiV at 8:10 PM on January 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


Tanizaki, perhaps. He knows quite bit about Greek, ancient or otherwise.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:12 PM on January 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's such a great thread!
posted by rtha at 8:14 PM on January 29, 2014


I think it's Bromius, actually, who did the first in-thread translation.

I suppose Blasdelb might have done if the poem were about bacteriophages.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:17 PM on January 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


Your two references to "Blasdelb" were supposed to be "Bromius". Blasdelb is also a very smart MeFite ...
posted by nangar at 8:20 PM on January 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


With this plus the grandmother's postcards we're going to end up being the go-to place for Solving Ancient Mysteries. "DEAR ASKME I HAVE THIS OSTRAKON ENGRAVED WITH SIGNS REMINISCENT OF LINEAR B PLZ TRANSLATE FOR ME"
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:32 PM on January 29, 2014 [12 favorites]


We were kind of promised a third translation. I hope Alice Russel-Wallace isn't intimidated by Bromius and languagehat's translations, and is just taking her time about it, and will eventually post something.

There's an on-going discussion about the poem now on languagehat's blog. (I have really looked elsewhere yet.)
posted by nangar at 9:00 PM on January 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yeah, it's Bromius. I'd expect a Blasdelb translation to go something like

AAT GGT GGA
GAC AGCTGA
AGC AGT
GAC GAT
GCG GTG GCA
posted by benito.strauss at 9:48 PM on January 29, 2014 [14 favorites]


Okay, perhaps as I am overexcited about taking microbiology this semester, I now feel the need to make real the idea of a Sapphic-style poem in the voice of one bacterium communicating to another about bacteriophages (using languagehat's translation as a basis). Warning: does not scan. Is probably also not very good.
But you keep repeating "Phages are coming
with full capsids": that, I believe, is for Democritus
and all the scientists to know; you should not be
thinking such things;

as you are a bacterium, and neither you nor I
have thought, though perhaps through quorum sensing
we can develop a way to alert our colony, keep it
safe and sound,

finding us safe as well. As for the rest,
let's entrust it all to fate—favorable growth conditions,
after all, can come from the destruction of competitors
all of a sudden.

Those to whom evolution has given restriction
endonucleases, ones who will help them forthwith
out of their troubles, they are the blessed ones
and very wealthy.

We ourselves, if our host's immune system should raise
up the alarm and one day turn on the phages that plague us,
we will be from the troubles that weigh us down
freed in an instant.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:04 PM on January 29, 2014 [45 favorites]


Mods, would you mind editing the original post: Blasdelb --> Bromius. Credit should be given where credit is due.

I'm not quite sure how/why I made that mistake. If you find you are in need of inexplicable unearned praise I'm apparently your go-to guy.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:35 PM on January 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's fine for you to note that correction here, as you've just done. If we change it in the post, then the next several comments are going to be totally nonsensical to someone reading the post and then the comments, and we don't want to delete all those comments.

So, for folks skimming comments who may be confused: "Blasdelb" in the last paragraph of the post was a typo, and should have been "Bromius".

Carry on!
posted by taz (staff) at 10:57 PM on January 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yo, where's the Theory on translating poetry? Cause I kinda feel like maybe you can translate the words that are there but I am not so sure you can translate a poem.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 11:06 PM on January 29, 2014


The original Greek is there for you in the linked paper. Απολαύστε το!
posted by benito.strauss at 11:51 PM on January 29, 2014


I'm a little heartbroken that this is too busy a period for me to do much on this - I can't decide whether to try to save it, or nibble around the edges...
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:50 AM on January 30, 2014


Like, everyone else's translations are bound to be _better_, but .... Sappho, man. How often do you get to attack a piece of Sappho you haven't read before?
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:51 AM on January 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


save alive nothing that breatheth: Yo, where's the Theory on translating poetry? Cause I kinda feel like maybe you can translate the words that are there but I am not so sure you can translate a poem.

Anything can be translated as long as there are people who know the language. That includes poems. Though of course there are translations of different quality. Like any other text, poems are a conglomeration of letters and/or sounds and they can be remade in another language. Because no two languages are perfectly alike, any translated poem will have a different effect on its readers than the original. However, given that no two human beings are perfectly alike, it can be said that every reader of a poem will be perceive it differently from all other readers. The difference between two readers in the same language and two readers in two languages is a matter of degree, not category. Therefore, a translated poem is just as much a poem as the original, and is the same poem as the original. It's just in a different language.
posted by Kattullus at 4:20 AM on January 30, 2014 [7 favorites]


Request for next MeFi podcast: that the brilliant Bromius and lovely languagehat each be called upon to provide a reading of (a) the Greek1; and (b) their translations thereof into English; so this artwork of antiquity and their modern erudition may coexist within the ear of every listener.

I would call upon people to vote #1 for this proposal, but they may need to use that particular octothorpe-and-numeral combination for other, quite legitimate purposes.

1 Obviously I have no idea how difficult that would be so please excuse any ridiculous demand(s).
posted by the quidnunc kid at 5:29 AM on January 30, 2014 [26 favorites]


I second the motion.
posted by rtha at 5:31 AM on January 30, 2014


Thirded, and amended: maybe we could get running order squabble fest to read it in Greek.
posted by nangar at 5:47 AM on January 30, 2014


Fourthed. This is amazing to see.
posted by cmyk at 6:35 AM on January 30, 2014


Do want. Meaning, yes, I want to hear Bromius and languagehat (and anybody else who cares to take a whack at it) read aloud their Greek and English versions.
posted by cgc373 at 7:17 AM on January 30, 2014


ocherdraco: very nice. You could work in something about the bacteria using vesicles as a decoy.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:42 AM on January 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Cause I kinda feel like maybe you can translate the words that are there but I am not so sure you can translate a poem.

Douglas Hofstadter wrote a book exploring that very question if you'd like to investigate the topic more deeply.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:45 AM on January 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


I want to hear Bromius and languagehat (and anybody else who cares to take a whack at it) read aloud their Greek and English versions.

and then they should engage in an ancient greek rap-battle of cyclopean fury.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 7:54 AM on January 30, 2014 [6 favorites]


It'll be epic!
posted by ODiV at 8:04 AM on January 30, 2014


Technically speaking, it'll be lyric.
posted by Kattullus at 8:24 AM on January 30, 2014 [21 favorites]


Technically speaking, it'll be lyric.
posted by Kattullus


Eponysterical.
posted by KathrynT at 8:32 AM on January 30, 2014 [11 favorites]


"I'd kill my own father to hear a MeFi ancient greek poetry-slam and rap battle!"
-- Oedipus Rex

"Me too!"
-- Zeus

"Uh, yeah ... me too actually."
-- Chronos

"Totally."
-- The Peliades

"I dunno about that but I'd sure kill my mom."
-- Orestes

"I'd do a step-dad."
-- Perseus Eurymedon

"Count us in for a brother each."
-- Eteocles and Polynices
posted by the quidnunc kid at 8:49 AM on January 30, 2014 [20 favorites]


This is fantastic! Also, agree re podcast.
posted by corb at 8:50 AM on January 30, 2014


I disagree with these greeks and highly recommend we change blasdelb to bromius because...

because blue_beetles that's why because

*wanders off for nasi goreng*
posted by infini at 10:44 AM on January 30, 2014


oh, and i love the quidnunc kid ... have i spoused you already?
posted by infini at 10:44 AM on January 30, 2014


Put all your effort into the translations, though, and relax about your work for the podcast. Since it's not recorded in-person, but over the Internet, you can just…

[puts on sunglasses]

...phone it in.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:51 AM on January 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


Am I the only one who absolutely loves the fact that lesbiassparrow made the first comment of the FPP?
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:51 AM on January 30, 2014 [11 favorites]


we hindus do believe in reincarnation of immortal souls
posted by infini at 10:52 AM on January 30, 2014


have i spoused you already?

I don't believe so but let's talk dowry. I desire overlordship of all humanity, if that is within your gift. Or a Twinkie.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 11:08 AM on January 30, 2014 [9 favorites]


When I glanced briefly at that FPP at the beginning and saw the poem, I was basically lost here, but wow was that a great thread.

ocherdraco: "I now feel the need to make real the idea of a Sapphic-style poem in the voice of one bacterium communicating to another about bacteriophages"

Holy shit this is seriously the best thing ever.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:12 PM on January 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


benito.strauss: "The original Greek is there for you in the linked paper."

You're Goddamn right, I love it when that happens.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:14 PM on January 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't believe so but let's talk dowry. I desire overlordship of all humanity, if that is within your gift. Or a Twinkie.

Something about that makes me want to reread Browning's My Last Duchess.
posted by Diablevert at 1:18 PM on January 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


This, this right here, languagehat and Bromius and Blasdelb's delightful take...

This is what I come to Metafilter for. Thanks everyone for making my day even brighter.
posted by WidgetAlley at 2:34 PM on January 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


have i spoused you already?

I don't believe so but let's talk dowry. I desire overlordship of all humanity, if that is within your gift. Or a Twinkie.


first mr kid, check your profile page, we've been spousenated for years
second, hindu weddings turn the bride and groom into gods
and third, no twinkies here but here's a pulla
posted by infini at 2:39 PM on January 30, 2014


NOM NOM NOM
posted by the quidnunc kid at 2:49 PM on January 30, 2014


If i called you an idiot would this comment get deleted or just FIAMO'd?
posted by infini at 2:57 PM on January 30, 2014


Well, you wouldn't be wrong, so I think you'll be fine.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 3:02 PM on January 30, 2014


This, this right here, languagehat and Bromius and Blasdelb's delightful take...

What have I done?

I'd like to take a moment to thank Blasdelb for his contributions to the Apollo program and congratulate him on his victory at the battle of Austerlitz.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:27 PM on January 30, 2014 [12 favorites]


hey blasdelb, fix brussels while you're at it, won't you please? ;p
posted by infini at 3:50 PM on January 30, 2014


Well, you wouldn't be wrong, so I think you'll be fine.

ah, i see i spiced the right kid
posted by infini at 3:50 PM on January 30, 2014


This is just the best.
posted by bedhead at 7:57 PM on January 30, 2014

"hey blasdelb, fix brussels while you're at it, won't you please? ;p"
I can't fix Brussels because Brussels isn't broken, being something far worse, Brussels works precisely as it is intended to.
"...and congratulate him on his victory at the battle of Austerlitz."
Oh please, you're too kind, I only provided the artillery.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:50 AM on January 31, 2014


I'd expect a Blasdelb translation to go something like

AAT GGT GGA
GAC AGCTGA
AGC AGT
GAC GAT
GCG GTG GCA

posted by benito.strauss


Nice work, Benito. You spelled out "Blasdelb's a mother who scolds horses with hemp!" in nucleotides.
 
posted by Herodios at 1:37 PM on January 31, 2014


I still think Blasdelb should get the Nobel peace prize for single-handedly demolishing the Berlin Wall after saving all of those orphans from that fire. He helped someone change a flat tire on the expressway in the rain on the way back.

That was before breakfast. By lunch, he had donated a kidney to a stranger and proved the Goldbach Conjecture. He was going to cure cancer that afternoon, but took a nap instead.

Oh well, nobody's perfect.
posted by double block and bleed at 10:59 PM on January 31, 2014


and he's making excuses for Brussels ;p
posted by infini at 12:41 AM on February 1, 2014


Yo, where's the Theory on translating poetry?

Of interest: "To reveal the myriad choices open to translators of renga and haiku, the author provides an in-depth analysis of one of Japan's most famous haiku, Basho's poem about a frog in a pond, and presents a compilation of over one hundred translations and variations of the poem. " -One Hundred Frogs by Hiroaki Sato
posted by jammy at 7:22 AM on February 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


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