Tuesday, May 13, 2008

τὸ λεχικόν ἀναχρονίζεται.

The dictionary is anachronous.

H.G. Liddell and R. Scott's Greek-English Lexicon (more fondly “The Big Liddell”) was first published in 1843, and the ninth and most recent edition in 1940. As such, this necessary tool for translators contains more than a few words with definitions that feel...more than a touch out of date. These have set many a novice student translator stumbling and mumbling through a “yea, verily” or three. But while interjections and transitory particles may be the most conspicuous culprits, there are other words which lie beneath the surface, awaiting the unwary.

I wrote a short piece on one such word a year or so back. Entitled a “Rarely Udder-ed Word,” it takes a look at a particularly rare word in the ancient Greek corpus. I would like to initiate what I hope to become an ongoing theme here at DeGrypis with my take on this word, revamped a bit for clarity and brevity.

εθηλος, εθηλον- adj. with distended udder

This word is rare in the Greek corpus. In fact, in all its forms it appears only four times in all Greek texts according to LSJ and the Thesaurus Linguae Gracae. However, because of its slightly strange definition, when I first came across it in Euripides’ Bacchae in line 737, I was mystified, at a loss for a good way to render the word in English. The presence of ε at the forefront indicates it as a positive quality. Research on distended udders reveals that a distended udder is both a sign of the udder being full of milk and the approach of birthing. However, the top Google returns for “distended udder” are almost uniformly negative (almost uniformly-one result is a cheerful classicist directly rendering Horace's Odes). In these unfortunate cases, it is a painful symptom of mastitis, which stems from negligence in a farmer’s milking and thus of the brutality common in the beef and dairy industries. The overhwelmingly negative modern connotations alone suggest that it the implications of word to Mr. Liddell and Mr. Scott must be reconciled with those of the modern reader. But further issues arise.

It can be found in the Greek corpus as follows:

1) Euripides’ Bacchae line 737
καὶ τὴν μὲν ἂν προσεῖδες εὔθηλον πόριν

2) Euripides’ Ipigenia Aulidensis line 579
εὔθηλοι δὲ τρέφοντο βόες

3) Anthologia Graeca Book 9 epigram 224 line 1
Αἶγά με τὴν εὔθηλον, ὅσων ἐκένωσεν ἀμολγεὺς

4) Lycophron Alexandra line 1328
Μύστῃ Τροπαίας μαστὸν εὔθηλον θεᾶς

All four appearances are in poetry, three of these in tragedy. In translation, “with distended udder” seems terribly awkward in translating poetry (especially in the final example, in which it describes the breast of a goddess, no less!), which leads me to search for a more colloquial or at least, verse friendly, translation. In pursuit of this end, I look to the origins of this word.

LSJ places the adjective under the verb εθηλομαι- “to be well-suckled, to be fatted up”. The participial form of this verb appears earlier in tragedy:

5) Aeschylus Fragmenta Tetralogy 44.A.616a line 2
‘ἐγὼ δὲ χοῖρον καὶ μάλ' εὐθηλούμενον
τόνδ' ἐν νοτοῦντι κριβάνωι θήσω.

The participle refers to a young pig here, and well-suckled seems to fit in this description. “Well-suckled” implies having spent a great deal of time at the mother’s teat until it has become “fatted up,” and thus the secondary meaning of the verb. However, while these may present more aurally pleasant options in translating εὔθηλος, referring either to cows or goats, it still fails to provide an adequate translation in the final context, that of the breast of a goddess, or in the description of the mother animal, as opposed to her young. Nevertheless, the verb does yield some clues. The next step is to break down the word further:

ε- well adv. + θλη, - n. teat, nipple

The most basic convergence of the meanings of these two words yields something along the lines of “well-nippled” or “nicely-nippled.” Such a translation is quite effective. A “nicely-nippled” cow or goat has fine udders, full of delicious milk and an indicator of joyous birth impending, and from the verb, a plump youngling is "well-suckled." These definitions also avoid all the negative animal cruelty connotations of “distended udders” which seems to arise in modern discourse. Furthermore, now there is a far more fitting way to describe the “nicely-nippled” divine breast of a goddess in Lycophron’s Alexandra, for should a poet dare to describe a heavenly teat (even of ox-eyed Hera---the adjective is surely a pun, but the Liddell translation would still not do) as “well-uddered,” surely he would bring down the wrath of gods, or at least literary critics, upon himself.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Obviously a goddess with "good tits"; they knew a good thing when they saw it !