Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Juvenal, translation and education

Tonight I began to read Juvenal -- Decimus Junius Juvenal -- one of the last of the classical Romans to write before the Christian Age triumphed in Europe.

He lived from about 55 A.D. to about 140 A.D.

As I have read the great books of antiquity, translations of course, I have become interested in the men and women who performed this service, who did the translating.

Thus, of course, with Juvenal, who didn't speak English, since the Angles were still in Germany in his day, still basically being Germans, and therefore the words in which I think and speak did not yet exist.

My edition of Juvenal's works was translated by one Dr. Peter Green, born the same year as my own grandfather. Dr. Green was -- or is, if he still lives -- an Englishman, London-born. He may have walked on some of the same stones that Juvenal did nearly 2000 years before, if the tradition can be trusted that Juvenal performed military service in then-Roman Britain. Ironically, after spending some years in Greece, Dr. Green settled in Austin, Texas, where he taught at the University of Texas. Texas, Cowboy Country USA, land of lariats and barbecue, dust devils and hellish humidity -- I can't imagine a place less like England.

And yet, that is ever the glory and the folly of an Englishman -- fervently loyal to Albion and the Crown, yet born to wander the world and to seek to change it along the way. The Union Jack once waved from Hong Kong to Tasmania, Virginia to India -- and it still flies over Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands and other places hundreds, even thousands of miles from the homeland.

In his youth, good professor Green received the type of education one just does not hear about anymore -- the sort that was scathingly deplored by Joyce in "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," alternately praised and pilloried by the late C.S. Lewis and soundly mocked by Pink Floyd: "When we were young and went to school ..."

Writes Green: "I first became acquainted with Juvenal through the good offices of Mr. A.L. Irvine, my late sixth-form master, who -- with what I took at the time, wrongly, to be pure sadistic relish -- set us to translate [Juvenal's] Satire X aloud, unseen, and afterwards made us learn long stretches of it by heart, together with parallel passages from Dr. Johnson's 'The Vanity of Human Wishes.'

"But in fact, of course, this was by far the best introduction to a notoriously difficult poet that one could hope for."

That sort of scholastic torture/discipline enabled Lewis to enjoy the classics in their original tongues all his life, and, obviously, served Dr. Green as well. But for better or for worse, that method of education has vanished from the Western world.

I do not yearn for a stiff old schoolmaster to bruise my knuckles, for bad meals of thin broth and dry meat -- but oh, to have had the classic languages drilled into me as a youth, instead of being forced to rely on the translations of others!


Janice Thomson said...

I don't know ECD - are children capable of understanding much less appreciating those noble works of the masters? And if the teacher him/herself doesn't appreciate it fully how does one pass this knowledge on to a child?

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Enjoyed this post. That's a lot of information that you gathered on the translator even before you discuss the main literary work.

Chase March said...

I agree with Janice. If a teacher doesn't have passion, the students wont' be inspired to learn anything.

We can all see your passion ECD with your great posts. Keep 'em coming!

Maria said...

I've always believed that the teacher was more important than the material.

Eastcoastdweller said...

Janice: I think that they are. We underestimate children, I think.If they can memorize a hundred Pokemon characters and all the rules of that fantasy world, they can certainly grasp the concepts of classic literature.

Lone Grey: Thank you. It adds to the whole experience of the book for me.

Chase: Passion is the key. But you, being a passionate teacher yourself, know that quite well.

Maria: You have summed it up. The teacher is indeed more important than the material. The best teacher inspires the student to keep on studying, long after the class has ended.