Spring 2016

Roman Literature: Translation, Metaphor & Empire

Shadi Bartsch

The Romans understood that translation entails transformation. The Roman term “translatio” stood not only literally for a carrying-across (as by boat) of material from one country to another, but also (metaphorically) for both linguistic translation and metaphorical transformation. These shared usages provide a lens on Roman anxieties about their relationship to Greece, from which they both transferred and translated a literature to call their own. Despite the problematic association of the Greeks with pleasure, rhetoric, and poetic language, the Roman elite argued for the possibility of translation and transformation of Greek texts into a distinctly Roman and authoritative mode of expression. Cicero's hope was that eventually translated Latin texts would replace the Greek originals altogether. In the end, however, the Romans seem to have felt that effeminacy had the last laugh.

SHADI BARTSCH is the Helen A. Regenstein Distinguished Service Professor of Classics and the Program in Gender Studies at the University of Chicago. She is the author of (inter aliaPersius: A Study in Food, Philosophy, and the Figural (2015) and The Mirror of the Self: Sexuality, Self-Knowledge, and the Gaze in the Early Roman Empire (2006). She is also the editor of The Cambridge Companion to Seneca (with Alessandro Schiesaro, 2015) and Seneca and the Self (with David Wray, 2009).

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