8 January 2018

Lawrence of Arabia, Translator

T. E. Lawrence,  Selected Letters of T. E. Lawrence, ed. David Garnett (London: Jonathan Cape, 1938), p. 625 (letter to E. M. Forster, 28 August 1928):
In translating you get all the craftsman's fuss of playing with words, without the artist's responsibility for their design and meaning. I could go on translating for ever: but for an original work there's not an idea in my head.
pp. 709-710 (letter to Bruce Rogers, 31 January 1931):
You may have thought me cavalier in preferring my own way to W.'s professional suggestions, sometimes: not his verbal suggestions, but his archaeology. Yet actually, I'm in as strong a position vis-à-vis Homer as most of his translators. For years we were digging up a city of roughly the Odysseus period. I have handled the weapons, armour, utensils of those times, explored their houses, planned their cities. I have hunted wild boars and watched wild lions, sailed the Aegean (and sailed ships), bent bows, lived with pastoral people, woven textiles, built boats and killed many men. So I have odd knowledge that quality me to understand the Odyssey, and odd experiences that interpret it to me. Therefore a certain headiness in rejecting help.
According to the T. E. Lawrence Studies web site (which is where I found these quotes), "W." is thought to have been H. B. Walters, Keeper of Greek and Roman antiquities at the British Museum, who was asked to review Lawrence's translation of the Odyssey.

My copy's title page

In Paragraphs on Printing (New York: William E. Rudge's Sons, 1943), Bruce Rogers lists this edition among his thirty best-designed books. It can still be found on Abebooks for a reasonable price.