the war between grammarians and libertines

from Willis Barnstone’s introduction to his translation of Sappho

While the ancient Alexandrian scholars preserved and fashioned Sappho, ordering and editing her poetry, since Horace and Quintilian there has been war between “grammarians” and “libertines” over the nature of translation itself, between fidus interpres, which the Latin writers mocked, and literary re-creation and imitation. In modern times the soft war goes on between translation as a literary art or a classroom language test, which is revealed in spelling. The combatants regularly have seats in the academy, and victory depends on which audience and publisher receives and acclaims them. […] As for the transcription of names, there is no single rule book for regulating transliteration. This free-for-all mode reflects language flux, which is always with us, no matter who is emperor.

The main lesson from all of this is that whatever one does will make a lot of people furious. One cannot be consistent, therefore one is incompetent and worse. Any linguistic change troubles like new currency and stamps.


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