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PREFACE - Aeschylus, The Lyrical Dramas of Aeschylus 
The Lyrical Dramas of Aeschylus, translated into English Verse by John Stuart Blackie (London: J.M. Dent, 1906).
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Some men of literary note, in the present day, observing the great difficulties with which poetical translators have to contend, especially when using a language of inferior compass, have been of opinion that the task ought not to be attempted at all—that all poetical translations, from Greek at least into English, should be done in prose; and, in confirmation of this opinion, they point to the English translation of the Hebrew Bible as a model. But if, as Southey says, “a translation is good precisely as it faithfully represents the matter, manner, and spirit of the original,”* it is difficult to see how this doctrine can be entertained. Poetry is distinguished from prose more by the manner than by the matter; and rhythmical regularity or verse is precisely that quality which distinguishes the manner of poetry from that of prose. In one sense, and in the best sense, Plato and Richter and Jeremy Taylor are poets; in another sense, and in the best sense, Æschylus and Dante and Shakespere are philosophers; but that which a poet as a poet has, and a philosopher as a philosopher has not, is verse; and this element the advocates of a prose translation of poetical works are content to miss out! That the argument from the English translation of the Bible is not applicable to every case, will appear plain to any one who will figure to himself Robert Burns or Horace or Beranger in a prose dress. In the Bible we seek for the simplicity of religious inculcation or devout meditation, and would consider the finest rhythmical decorations out of place. Besides, the style of the Hebrew poetry is eminently simple; and the rhythmical element of language, so far as I can learn, was never highly cultivated by the Jews, whose mission on earth was of a different kind. The Greeks, on the other hand, were eminently a poetical people; the poetry of their drama, though not without its own simplicity, is, in respect of mere linguistic organism, of a highly decorated order; and by nothing is that decoration so marked as by a systematic attention to rhythm. I consider, therefore, that prose translations of the Greek dramatists will never satisfy the just demands of a cultivated taste, for the plain reason that they omit that element which is most characteristic of the manner of the original.
I am persuaded that the demand for prose translations of poets had arisen, in this country, more from a sort of desperate reaction against certain vicious principles of the old English school of translation, than from a serious consideration either of the nature of the thing, or of the capacity of our noble language. In Germany, I do not find that this notion has ever been entertained; plainly because the German poetical translations did not err, like our English ones, in conspiring, by every sort of fine flourishing and delicate furbishment, to obscure or to blot out what was most characteristic in their originals. The proper problem of an English translator is not how to say a thing as the author would have said it, had he been an Englishman; but how, through the medium of the English language, to make the English reader feel both what he said and how he said it, being a Greek. Now, any one who is familiar with the general run of English rhythmical translations, of which Pope’s Iliad is the pattern, must be aware that they have too often been executed under the influence of the former of these principles rather than the latter. In Pope’s Homer, and in Sotheby’s also, I must add, we find many, perhaps all the finest passages very finely done; but so as Pope or Sotheby might have done themselves in an original poem written at the present day, while that which is most peculiarly Homeric, a certain blunt naturalness and a talkative simplicity, we do not find in these translators at all. The very things which most strike the eye of the accomplished connoisseur, and feed the meditations of the student of human nature, are omitted.
Now, I at once admit that a good prose translation—that is to say, a prose translation done by a poet or a man of poetical culture—of such an author as Homer, is preferable, for many purposes, to a poetical translation so elegantly defaced as that of Pope. A prose translation, also, of any poet, done accurately in a prosaic style by a proser, however much of a parody or a caricature in point of taste, may not be without its use, if in no other way, as a ready check on the free licence of omission or inoculation which rhythmical translators are so fond to usurp. But it is a mistake to suppose, because Pope, under the influence of Louis XIV. and Queen Anne, could not write a good poetical translation of Homer, that therefore such a work is beyond the compass of the English language.* I believe that, if Alfred Tennyson were to give the world a translation of the Iliad in the measure of Locksley Hall, he would cut Pope out of the market of the million, even at this eleventh hour. We are, in the present epoch of our literary history, arrived at a very favourable moment for producing good translations. A band of highly-original and richly-furnished minds has just left the stage, leaving us the legacy of a poetical language which, under their hand, received a degree of rhythmical culture, of which it had been before considered incapable. The example of the Germans, also, now no longer confined to the knowledge of a few, stands forth to show us how excellent poetical translations may be made, free, at least, from those faults from which we have suffered. There is no reason why we should despair of producing poetical versions of the Classics which shall be at once graceful as English compositions, and characteristic as productions of the Greek or Roman mind. I, for one, have already passed this judgment on my own attempt, that if I have failed in these pages to bring out what is Greek and what is Æschylean prominently, in combination with force, grace, and clearness of English expression, it is for lack of skill in the workman, not for want of edge in the tool.
The next question that calls for answer is: it being admitted that a rhythmical translation of a Greek poem is preferable to a prose one, should we content ourselves with a blank rhythm (such as Shelley has used in Queen Mab, and Southey in Thalaba), or should we adopt also the sonorous ornament of rhyme. On this subject, when I first commenced this translation, about twelve years ago, I confess my feelings were strongly against the use of rhyme in translations from the antique; but experience and reflection have taught me considerably to modify, and, in some points of view, altogether to abandon this opinion. With regard to this matter, Southey has expressed himself thus:—“Rhyme is to passages of no inherent merit what rouge and candle-light are to ordinary faces. Merely ornamental passages, also, are aided by it, as foil sets off paste. But when there is either passion or power, the plainer and more straightforward the language can be made, the better.”† This is the lowest ground on which the plea for rhyme can be put; but even thus, it will be impossible for a discriminating translator to ward off its application to the Greek tragedy. In all poetry written for music, there will occur, even from the best poets, not a few passages on which the mere reader will pronounce, in the language of Horace, that they are comparatively
“Inopes rerum nugaeque canorae.”
With regard to the proper choral odes—the most difficult, and, in my view, the most important part of my task—I have allowed myself a licence, which some may think too large, but which, if I were to do the work over again, I scarcely think I should contract. In very few cases have I given anything like a curious imitation of the original; and, when I have done so—as in the Trochaic Chaunt of the Furies, Vol. I. p. 212, and in the Cretics mingled with Trochees, in the short ode of the Suppliants, Vol. II. p 107‡ —it was more to humour the whim of the moment than from any fixed principle. For, to speak truth, rhyming men will have their whim; and I do not think it politic or judicious to deprive the translator altogether of that rhythmical freedom which is the great delight of the original composer. But another, and the principal reason with me for not attempting a systematic imitation of the choral measures, was, that many of them failed to produce, on my ear, an intelligible musical effect, which I could set myself to reproduce; while, in other cases, though I clearly saw the rhythmical principle on which they were constructed (for I do not speak of the blind jargon of inherited metrical terminology), I saw with equal clearness that in our English poetry written to be read, systematic imitation of ancient metres written on musical principles, and with a view to musical exhibition, is, in the majority of cases, altogether absurd and impertinent. I confined myself, therefore, to the selection of such English metres as to my ear seemed most dramatically to represent the feeling of the original, making a marked contrast everywhere between the rhythmical movement of joy and sorrow, and always distinguishing carefully between what was piled up with a stable continuity of sublime emotion, and what was ejaculated in a hurried and broken style, where the Dochmiac verse prevails.*
So much for metres With regard to the more strictly linguistic part of my task, I have only to say that I thought it proper to assume Wellauer’s cautiously edited text as a safe general foundation, with the liberty, of course, to deviate from it whenever I saw distinct and clearly made out grounds. The other editions, old and new, which I have used are enumerated in an Appendix at the end of the second volume. There also will be found those Commentaries and Translations which I have consulted on all the difficult passages; my obligations to which are, of course, great, and are here gratefully acknowledged. I desire specially to name, as having been of most service to me, Linwood, Peile, and Paley among the English; Wellauer, Welcker, Müller, and Schoemann among the German scholars. My manner of proceeding with previous English translations was to borrow from them an occasional phrase or hint, only after I had finished and carefully revised my own. But my obligations in respect of poetical diction to my fellow-labourers in the same field are very few, and are for the most part specially acknowledged.
The introductory remarks to each play are intended to supply the English reader with that particular mythological or historical knowledge, and to inspire him with those Hellenic views and feelings, which are necessary to the enjoyment of the different dramas. The appended notes proceed on the principle, generally understood in this country, though apparently neglected in erudite Germany, that translations are made, not for the learned mainly, but for the unlearned. I have, therefore, not assumed even the most common points of mythological and antiquarian lore. Some of the notes, especially those on moral and religious points, have a higher view than mere explanation. They are intended to stir those human feelings, and suggest those trains of moral reflection without which the most profound scholarship issues only in a multitudinous cracking of empty nut-shells, and a ghastly exhibition of gilded bones. The few notes of a strictly hermeneutical character that are mingled with these, are mere jottings to preserve for my own use, and that of my fellow-students of the Greek text, the grounds of decision which have moved me in some of the more difficult passages, where I have either departed from Wellauer’s text, or where something appeared to lie in the various renderings fraught with a more than common poetical significance. In the general case, however, the translation must serve as its own commentary; and, though I do not pretend to have read every thing that has been written on the disputed passages of this most difficult, and, in many places, sadly corrupt author, I hope there is evidence enough in every page of my work to show that I have conscientiously grappled with all real difficulties in any way affecting the meaning of the text, and not leapt to a conclusion merely because it was the most obvious and most convenient one. If here and there I have made a rapid dash, a headlong plunge, or a bold sweep, beyond the rules of a strict philology, it was because these were the only tactics that the desperation of the case allowed.*
In conclusion, I am glad to take this opportunity of publicly returning my thanks to two gentlemen of well-known literary taste and discernment, who took the trouble to read my sheets as they went through the press, and favour me with their valuable suggestions.
[* ]Life, Vol. I. p. 192.
[* ]Southey requested a Frenchman ambitious of translating his Roderick, to do so in prose, not because he preferred that method in general, but because he believed that “poetry of the higher order is as impossible in French, as it is in Chinese!”—Life, Vol. IV. p. 100.
[† ]Life, Vol. III. p. 44.
[‡ ]Mitchell (Aristoph. Ran. v. 1083) has remarked, with justice, that Æschylus is particularly fond of this verse. I was prevented from using it so often as might have been desirable in the choric odes, from having made it the representative of the Anapæsts.
[* ]On the Dochmiacs, Ionic a minori, and other rhythmical details, the reader will find occasional observations in the Notes; and those who are curious in those matters will find my views on some points more fully stated in Classical Museum, No III. p. 338; No. XIII. p. 319, and No. XXII p. 432. The Dochmiac verse was, in fact, equivalent to a bar of [Editor: illegible character] in modern music.—See Apel’s Metrik.
[* ]The corrupt state of the Æschylean text is no doubt to be attributed mainly to the rhetorical taste which, in the ages of the decadence, prevailed so long at Rome, Athens, Alexandria, and Byzantium, and which naturally directed the attention of transcribers to the text of Euripides, the great master of tongue-fence and the model-poet of the schools.—See Quinctil. X. 1.