Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Maybe someday you will rejoice to recall even this

From Virgil's Aeneid, Book 1. They have just been shipwrecked and Aeneis calls for his followers to maintain perspective.
Forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit (Maybe someday you will rejoice to recall even this.)
There are two ways to read this. One way might be rendered in the modern vernacular, "enjoy it, its only going to get worse." That might be wise and true but not a sentiment well suited to our times. When man was still so nearly completely subject to chance and nature, stoicism and perspective was just about the only palliative available in the face of reverses. Today, any such reverse is an assault on our self-perception as problem solvers. The only perspective accepted is that of how to fix that which is ultimately unfixable.

The alternate, and perhaps more common way to interpret this might be a call of interpretative perspective. Yes, this is bad, but it might set us on a better road with more desirable outcomes.

All of this is to get at the benefits of translation. There is no right answer per se but the translator is forced to consider many nuances, all of which might be correct and yet each has its own margin of interpretation.

Four different translations of Forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit

Maybe someday you will rejoice to recall even this
This suffering will yield us yet| A pleasant tale to tell.
An hour will come, with pleasure to relate| Your sorrows past, as benefits of Fate.
Maybe one day we shall be glad to remember even these things.

So which is it? Remembrance because things got better or because they got worse?

All of this is brought to mind by the discovery recently (Theodore Roosevelt, author of forty books) of how common it was for our past Presidents to speak and translate Latin and/or Greek prior to World War II. I wonder if that practice of translation and humility in the face of nuance, might have made them better Presidents. When everything is black and white and subject to purely technical answers, I wonder if something is lost in terms of effectiveness as well as in terms of humanity.

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