Translating Aristophanes

01/July/2010

In the Translator’s Preface of this edition of Aristophanes’ Clouds (on p. 90 and p. 94) are a couple discussions of grammatical gender in Greek, and the way in which it presents problems for the translator.

In one case, some jokes that are dependent on grammatical gender cannot easily be rendered in English. I.e., it’s not really a joke if you have to read a footnote to get it. What should translators and editors do in a case like this? Translate literally and the sentence doesn’t read like a joke at all. Readers will go right past it not realizing it is a joke. Add a footnote (and footnote after footnote after footnote) and you slow the reader down and make the text less enjoyable to read. There’s really no good answer here, but pertinent to this discussion it’s notable that it may be possible to translate the joke intact if Aristophanes’ ancient Greek is translated into a language that employs a system of grammatical gender.

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