Tragedies of Euripides (Way)/Preface 3
While with respect to some of the plays in vol. ii, the translator might almost regard himself as challenging for them the attention of the English reader and the average student, he has, in this concluding volume, to take up the burden of attempting an adequate presentation of works whose fame so raises expectation as to add not a little to the formidable nature of his task. Hence I have, I trust, been not ungrateful for the strictures of some of my critics on preceding volumes, and have endeavoured to profit by them, the more willingly, as I cannot but recognise that their general tendency is in the direction of making the translation metrically more satisfactory, and so more readable. If in my blank verse these my counsellors (may I call them fellow-helpers?) still detect some of the old blemishes, I would ask that, before condemning me of obstinacy or of insensibility to rhythm, they will take note of the special difficulties involved in attempting to combine the four objects I have kept constantly before me, three of which seem to me to be essentials of every translation which claims to be more than a paraphrase. First, the English reader demands, not lexicon-language, but clear, straightforward, idiomatic English, free from all meaningless inversions which are simply evasions of metrical difficulties. Secondly, the scholar requires a close adherence to the original, omitting nothing that is vital to the author's meaning, inserting nothing that is not at least latent in the text, and not neglecting nuances of signification conveyed by particles, tense-forms, and the like. Thirdly, both alike will expect that, where the order of words in the original gives a special effect of emphasis, energy, or emotional colour, the translation should, if possible, preserve this. In imposing upon myself the fourth condition of a line-for-line correspondence with the original, I stand, so far as I know, alone among translators of the Greek drama, and fully recognise that opinions may well differ on the question whether its advantages outweigh its drawbacks. For there can be no dispute that it greatly enhances the difficulty of achieving blank-verse worthy of the name as the vehicle for a translation uniting the above-mentioned essentials. He must be a consummate artist indeed, who, with such a fourfold object to keep in view, never admits a resolved foot, or the spondaic effect of concurrent monosyllables, save where the sound is designed to echo the sense.
A translator who does not wish to burden his work with notes, which have their proper place in a commentary, must continually make his choice, without remark, between various disputed readings and interpretations. He will probably, ceteris paribus, choose those which seem best adapted for poetic treatment; and may not unreasonably hope that critics will not assume that he has neglected his obvious duty of acquainting himself with the views of the various commentators, before making his silent choice.
The Rhesus has been placed last of the plays in this concluding volume, in deference to the doubts which many competent judges entertain with respect to its authorship. The arguments in favour of ascribing it to Euripides, summarized by Paley in vol. i of his large edition, make it impossible for me to omit it; nor on its own merits would I have wished to do so. That it is the earliest of bis extant works there can be little doubt: its comparative weakness in dialogue and individualization of character suggest immaturity; but, while we miss the ripened judgment and the sure touch of the practised hand, which were developed later, we already find the firstfruits of genius, the lyric gift, and the imaginative faculty, in the lovely nocturne chanted by the sentinel-chorus (527–37, and 546–56), in the picturesque description of the night-march of an army through the forest, and in the weird dream of the charioteer.
The Cyclops I have omitted. It did not come strictly within the scope of the task I had set myself, the translation of the Tragedies; and the English reader has already the version by Shelley, which is at least free from that frigidity which is apt to be the snare of the classical translator.
I have to express my grateful acknowledgments to Dr. Sandys and to Prof. Tyrrell for most kind assistance in revising the Bacchanals.