Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sophocles' Ajax A modern translation Dennis Daly

Sophocles' Ajax
A modern translation
Dennis Daly
Wilderness House Press 2012
ISBN 978-0-9827115-6-9

“Athena! How happy I am to hear
your voice. The voice which of all
the gods is dearest to me.”

In the year 1980, restoration of the Sistine Chapel was
painstakingly begun. The general and not so general
public was dismayed by the clarity, the bright simple
colors that appeared from underneath the patina. We, as
an audience, to the masters paintings, fresco, thought
the build-up of dirt and dust that lay on the surface of
the fresco, was intentional and that the artist Michelangelo,
intended the effect that was being viewed. Perhaps, one
might view it as a natural intention and that would then
result in the decline of the pigment originally painted.
Personally, I reveled in the clean, unearthed images
in wonderful coral and blue pigments.

Daly's translation is indeed modern, not contemporary, but
modern in relating an ancient story/play that was meant
to be read and heard by a then modern audience. We being
the modern audience can now read what was then modern:


… “I am on the trail
Of Ajax, possessor of the seven-fold
Shield. I've been following him for hours.
Last night he carried out an incredible
Attack against us. Or at least we think
It was he. The facts at this point are still
Not very clear. I have offered to track down
The perpetrator of the deed and discover
His motive. This much we know: our Trojan spoils,
All of our cattle and sheep, were found
Butchered this morning...”

After the controversy of the restoration of the Sistine
ceiling was lain aside, tourists once again gazed at a
masterpiece, in the knowledge, that what was being
seen, was indeed, the original Michelangelo.

Can we ever know, truly, if  Sophocles meant what
any translation tries to translate? My criteria for any
given translation is, is that the story or the play I'm
reading, is relate-able to my present or past circumstances
or experiences or to my cultural experiences. The trans-
lation needs to relate to the culture at hand, otherwise it
become lost in translation:


I know of none greater. He is
My enemy and I hate him, yet I
Pity him also for his helplessness
In the face of misfortune and the shame,
The awful shame he will feel. For this touches
My condition as well. Are we-all living
Beings-mere phantoms, a moment's shadow?”

Daly has cleared away all the debris that so often falls onto
translations, that has fallen onto so many ancient plays. In
the introduction to Ajax, Daly writes.... “In Ajax, madness
leads to shame and shame leads to self-knowledge and
nobility...”  We come to a better understanding of
Sophocles, and his intentions in Ajax, because of the translation.
An account of nobility after a long traverse into madness,
the characters emerge clean, refreshed in understanding
the human directives as well as the feminine, higher voice,
Athena, that the characters participate with. The readers will
revel in the clear language and hear their own voices:


...O brother, let me
Lift you off this accursed weapon
Which boasts even now of your stolen breathe.
Did you guess that Hector, although gone
Before you, would be the parent of this deed?
How strange the fortune of these two men!
With the same girdle that Ajax had given him,
Hector was dragged to death under the wheels
Of Achilles' chariot. And this hateful sword
On which Ajax fell and died was a gift
From Hector. Only a Fury could have forged
This blade! Only the grim artisan
Of Hades contrived that girdle! These things
Like all others which torment men's lives...”

We the reader are in view of a great masterpiece, un-
covered, after many long years in obscurity, uncovered
after being buried beneath scholarship and rhetoric,
we the general populace, now get the gift of being
able to participate in this passionate work of art:


The matter of life a man may see
And from it learn a wisdom.
But who has sight enough
To envision the future
Or perceive his own fate?”

Irene Koronas
Poetry Editor: Wilderness House Literary Review
Reviewer: Ibbetson Street Press

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