Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...
KEY TO THE TRANSLATION AND GLOSS
Now, practically speaking, it is quite possible to set this translation up as basically another iteration of the Loeb edition approach. The screen shot to the right from the Loeb text I am using shows what I mean. However, there hardly seems a point, since instead of coming here for that, you could just download or read the Loeb volume yourself from the Internet Archive. This is a website though, so there is some extra help that the scan of the Loeb volume can't provide, based on the nodictionaries.com approach to text glossing rather than that of the Perseus Project.
Practically this means that each poem has an accompanying translation and gloss, but how much you see of them can be adjusted. You can just look at the glossed text and never see the translation, and in the glossed text itself you can adjust how much information you see. You can even just look at the translations if you'd prefer. Overall, up to three levels of text glossing can be viewed.
Nouns and verbs are glossed with the basic information you would find in an intermediate level dictionary. For nouns, the nominative and genitive singular, declension, and basic meaning; for verbs, the conjugation type and the basic meaning.
Level one material plus the basic information for all adjectives.
Level two material plus glosses of the adverbs, conjunctions, and some particles.
In addition, hovering over personal and place names will reveal a tool tip with some basic information in any view. If there is more information available, it will be provided in a footnote. If you are having trouble teasing apart the elisions so common in ancient greek poetry, try hovering over that part of the line, and a tool tip will pop up showing the full words.
To see how this works, let's return to the sample snippet from the Odyssey used previously in Meters:
but indeed everything produces, untilled and unploughed...
All that is left now is to explain the usage of brackets in the greek text and the translation. Square brackets, i.e. , indicate where scholars have restored lost text. Such scholars are the true experts in meter, because they use it along with the surrounding words and letters and any other information they may have about the poem in the task. In a way, they are engaged in an especially difficult type of crossword puzzle. Round brackets or parentheses, i.e. (), only appear in the translation and indicate where words have been added to produce idiomatic english.
Last Warning to Those Interested in Deep Poetic Analysis
That isn't what this project includes. To be clear, I understand deep poetic analysis in the context of ancient greek poetry to be something like this snippet from Page duBois' Sappho is Burning:
The word akroi is repeated, with variation, in the polyptoton of the following line, where the connotations of excellence and perfection are further stressed. Akron, at the beginning of the line, echoes the -on ending of oion at the beginning of the fragment, while also referring, by means of lexical and grammatical repetition, to the end of the preceding line.
No analysis of this kind will be done here, basically because it is outside of what this little project is meant to do, which is make it possible to read Sappho without having to spend excessive amounts of time identifying unfamiliar vocabulary in multiple dictionaries. There are many scholars who have engaged in this type of analysis, starting of course with Page duBois, whose books are widely available.
That said, this is not an implementation of nodictionaries.com for greek, although I would love one and am looking into how it could be made to happen.
The primary dictionary used will be the edition of LSJ provided by the Perseus Project, with some assistance from Sappho, Works: English & Greek, translated by C.R. Haines and including a glossary.
Yes, these are not in the usual textbook order, and that is deliberate.
There is a pay off to having a basic knowledge of the homeric epics under your belt when reading Sappho. Among her surviving works are wedding songs and at least one long poem featuring Hector and Andromache, and in others her commentary on the values expressed in epic are pointed. So far the material available seems to take up themes and characters we know mainly from the Iliad. It is tempting to think this is because Aphrodite is an actual character in the Iliad but absent from the Odyssey. However, plausible as this may sound, it can't be assumed because it is an argument from silence. In Sappho's time, far more epic poetry was in circulation, as were many more variants and shorter poems dealing with the greek war on Troy. It is entirely possible that she was working within a variant aeolic tradition that we are unable to recognize based on the information available to us, but we can't know if that is the case either for lack of evidence. These are the tantalizing questions that keep people transcribing and working with endless bits of papyrus from ancient egyptian garbage dumps.
In terms of translation, I don't share the opinion of many translators of ancient languages, who feel that all approaches to such translations should apply an absolutely idiomatic approach. To my mind, that approach pretends to an understanding of ancient authors we simply can't have, and personally I appreciate the original language poking out a bit, especially in terms of an ancient idiomatic expression which will be of great help for me reading other authors writing in the same ancient language. This of course gives away what my perception of the main purpose of a translation for ancient languages: to help the person learning to read them. There are certainly more general reader-oriented translations, and rightfully so. Unfortunately, a scholarly translation that won't even reveal the original ancient language idiom in a footnote is one that effectively says, "You can't get from the original language to here? You're obviously not a member of the club." This is highly unfortunate, but no surprise because classics has a highly problematic social history. For better or worse, most scholarly translations were not produced with learning students in mind, even for the texts students were expected to learn from.
On the other hand, I do think that translations of modern languages can be reasonably expected to be idiomatic. It is genuinely possible, if still by no means simple or easy, to develop a reasonable understanding of the author's intent. When historians vaunt the presence of a rich historical record that permits them to reconstruct aspects of different societies a few centuries ago, they aren't just being obnoxious. That is quite true, and intensely useful for all manner of scholars and non-scholars, not just translators working hard to translate idiomatically and well. We genuinely do have the understanding an idiomatic translation implies if we make use of that record and are able to take due account of our biases when we translate. At the very least, we can come ever closer to that understanding as we learn more. There is no way to claim a translation reflects perfectly its source, but we can at least say it does so respectfully and as accurately as we can manage.
As duBois goes on from this quote she begins breaking the words apart by syllable and arguing for various images and interpretations on that basis. This is by no means wrong or inappropriate of course, it simply isn't a form of engagement with poetry in any language that I enjoy. If you do though, duBois' book and its bibliography are excellent for tracking down more work by scholars who analyze poetry in this way.