With posters bearing the name and slogan of the man in the front of the classroom, audience members might have thought they were at a basketball game or political rally. But in the Whitney Humanities Center Thursday afternoon, the posters hanging from the balcony announced “D.S. Loves Fagles” and greeted Robert Fagles, an eminent scholar and translator of epic poetry.
Fagles spoke to Directed Studies students as part of a colloquium for the humanities program. He spoke about translation as an art and the specific challenges he faced in his own work translating “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey,” which D.S. students read this fall.
Fagles described the idea of creating a completely accurate translation as futile.
“It’s not only impossible, it’s also irresistible,” he added.
Fagles stressed that the main challenge of translation is remaining true to the original text as much as possible. At the same time, he said, the translator must maintain a type of split personality, trying to strike a balance between self-effacement and self-expression.
Fagles also told students how he began translating Homer’s works. After his mother died in 1976, Fagles said, he began translating scenes of “The Odyssey,” beginning with the reunion of Odysseus and his mother in the underworld.
Students said his lecture showed the strong connection Fagles feels to his work.
During the question and answer period after the lecture, Baolu Lan ’06, asked Fagles about his relationship to the texts he translates.
“Hearing you speak today, I couldn’t help but think that, more than an act of scholarship or intellectual effort, yours is an act of love,” Lan said. “I was wondering if you ever felt conflicted between your role as critical scholar or as passionate lover?”
Fagles answered that the true essence of translation is found in combining the two.
“If a work does not compel us, it is untranslatable,” Fagles said, quoting a French translator.
Other students said they were impressed by Fagles’ passion for his work.
“You get the impression that all he has done for the last 20 years is research and translate Homer and he loves it,” Peter Aronoff ’06 said. “He made us think more about the process of translation and the consideration that we were not reading the original text.”