A Night of Tea and Translation with Sarah Ruden

A Night of Tea and Translation with Sarah Ruden

By James Nycz


High up in the attic of College Hall, Visiting Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania’s Classics Department, Sarah Ruden, treated students to an engaging collaborative lecture in the historical halls of the Philomathean Society. Sarah Ruden is a translator and poet who has taught English, Latin, and writing at Harvard, Yale and the University of Cape Town. She received her Ph.D. in Classical Philology from Harvard and has an M.A. from the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars. A sample of some of her past work includes translations of Vergil’s Aeneid, Petronius’ Satyricon, Apuleius’ The Golden Ass, Aeschylus’ Oresteia, and the Homeric Hymns among others.

As a part of the Penn Classics Board’s Facultea event series, students were invited to relax with a cup of tea, light refreshments, and the Aeneid. The night began with a short introduction by the Penn Classics Board and Professor James Ker, the Undergraduate Chair of the Penn Classics Department. Ruden proceed to jump straight into the texts as she handed out Latin passages with sample translations from various authors including herself.

Ruden encouraged students to supply their own translation, and then discussed the wide range of possibilities for translating just two sentences. She pointed to examples where authors would use crude or informal language to good effect but also showed how one can take too many liberties with the text. For instance Stanley Lombardo translates Dido’s rage in the Aeneid as “you faithless bastard” when the Latin uses the word perfide. Ruden offers alternatives such as “traitor,” which changes the connotation from a vulgar insult to a cutting slight to a Trojan War hero.

Ruden explained that Latin and its interpretation are not static or straightforward, but rather dynamic and open to interpretation. She described the use of a “translation map,” a kind of graph with axes of register and emotion. A translation of a text could fall anywhere on the continuum, and the translator must be conscious of their choices in register and emotion.

Ruden then touched on her own challenges of translating: how the industry works, what her process is, and when she stops with a text — the answer? When the deadline hits!

Finally, as an added bonus, students entered into a raffle to win copies of some of Ruden’s most well-known translations. The roundtable with Ruden gave experienced classics students an opportunity to discuss their field with a seasoned translator, but it also was incredibly entertaining for even a newcomer to Latin texts and translation.

To learn more about Dr. Ruden and her work, check out http://sarahruden.com/.