Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Day 15: Sapphic fun

Hi, new readers. If you were led here by the title of the post, you might want to try elsewhere on the internet. Today's translation is an essentially pointless but enjoyable exercise, involving two assistants of varying glamorousness. The first is my friend Rachel, who helpfully responded to my request for poem suggestions by sending me this fragment of Sappho:

γλύκηα μᾶτερ, οὔτοι δύναμαι κρέκην τὸν ἴστον
πόθῳ δάμεισα παῖδος βραδίναν δι᾽ Ἀφροδίταν.

I don't speak Greek, and neither does Rachel, so this was always going to be translation in the very loosest of senses. This is where I enlisted the help of my second friend, Google, whom some of you may know.

First, I got Google to translate the fragment into English. It said this:

glykia Matera, This I am able krekin the tissue
pothῳ dameisa children dinner by Venus.
Glad to have got the matter cleared up, and reflecting that Sappho was somewhat overrated, I decided to try a 'Chinese whispers' style approach, passing this baffling piece of text through Google-approximations of various languages before bringing it back into English. The non-words in the first 'English' translation stayed the same throughout, so before trying again, I accepted Microsoft Word's suggestions as to what I/Sappho/Google meant to say. That produced this:

glycol mother, this I am able cretin the tissue
pithy demise children dinner by Venus.

It wasn't John Ashbery, but it was something I could work with. Here is the result: French, German, Welsh, Chinese, and (why not?) Zulu, via English each time.

glycol mother, This I am able cretin the tissue
pithy demise children dinner by Venus.

glycol mère, je suis Ce crétin mesure le tissu
enfants de dévolution lapidaire dîner par Vénus.

glycol mother, I am moron This measure tissue
children devolution lapidary dinner Venus.

Glykol Mutter, ich Idiot diese Maßnahme Gewebe
Kinder Devolution lapidar Abendessen Venus.

Glycol mother, I idiot this measure tissue
Children Devolution succinctly dinner Venus.

GLYCOL mam, yr wyf yn idiot mesur hwn meinwe
Mae plant DATGANOLI gryno cinio Venus.

ACID mother, I am an idiot this measure tissue
Children DEVOLUTION compact lunch Venus.


Mother acid, I was an idiot this measure tissue
Children decentralized compact lunch Venus.

Umama acid, ngase isilima lokhu izicubu isilinganiso
Izingane usabalalise kwasemini compact Venus.

Acid mother, I had this stupid muscles to measure
Children distribute lunch compact Venus.

All the languages were a bit distracting; what I wanted was an English text. I tried again, this time straining the text through five languages (in alphabetical order of what Google offered me) before coming back to English. I did this three times, and produced this gem:

glycol mother, this I am able cretin the tissue
pithy demise children dinner by Venus.

Home glycol, I can sum idiot
Children's lunch Hot Venus.

Home glycol, can be summed up with the slogan and
Pre-lunch Hot Venus.

Home glycol, can be summed up in the slogan,
Hot Venus before lunch.

Thrilling though this activity was, and despite the considerable satisfaction afforded by the very last version, I still wasn't convinced I had produced a work of art. I decided to consult a translation of this fragment (Fragment 102) by an actual person. It was a revelation:

Sweet mother, I can no longer weave at the loom
conquered by desire for a boy, because of slender Aphrodite.
(Andromache Karanika's translation)
What was I to do with this? I had two equally valid translations, produced by surely foolproof methods, but they seemed to be telling me quite different things. Which could Sappho have meant? I decided to get closer to the truth by combining the two.

Sweet glycol, I, no longer summed up, loom
conquered by desire for Hot Venus before lunch.

I feel I have gained a significant insight into life in Ancient Greece. Either that, or Google Translate is for purely pointless purposes and not to be used for actual translation. You decide.. 

Reference: Karanika, A. (2014) Voices at Work: Women, Performance and Labor in Ancient Greece, Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, p186.

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