issue 20 :: September 2011

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LITERATURE: Variations in Aristophanes Translations

In 405 B.C.E. Athens, the hottest play was The Frogs, Aristophanes' sardonic and pointed attack on the melodramic playwrite Euripides, who died the year previous. Parodying the plot of Euripides 438 B.C.E. play Alcestis, The Frogs sends the god Dionyses to Hades to rescue Euripides, but after a battle of words with Aeschylus, Dionyses agrees that Euripides is a terrible poet and leaves him in the underworld. The titular Frogs appear only as a chorus on Dionyses' boat ride to Hades, and their buzzing song annoys the god of drink to no end. In a battle of song, perhaps foreshadowing Euripides' battle with Aeschylus, Dionyses pleads with the Frogs to shut up. After failing to out croak the Frogs, Dionyses succeeds in silencing them with a monstrous fart, an act not out of place in Aristophanes' baudy, low brow humor. However, most of the translations of the play refuse to include this, and instead write Dionyses out-croaking the frogs. Below are several translations. We start with Dudley Fitt's correct 1959 translation. Contrary to my initial hypothesis, not even modern, post-Farley brothers/post-South Park translations include the fart.
Translation: Dudley Fitts
Published: 1959, Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.

DIONYSOS: I will, by God, if it takes all day!
   Brekekekx kox kox!
   Go and kox yourselves away!
[He breaks wind hugely; the FROGS are silent.
   There! That settles your dammned kox!
Translation: Alfred Corn
Published: 1998, University of Pennsylvania

D. I’ll croon and shout until I’ve won:
   Brekekekex, ko-ahx, ko-ahx!
   So there! Who sings the last ko-ahx?
Translation: J. Hookham Frere
Published: 1911 (from 1820? translation), Everyman’s Library, Jim Dent & Sons, LTD.

Bac. I’ll subdue your rebellious, noisy crew-
   -Have amongst you there, slap-dash [Strikes at them.
Frogs. Brekeke-kesh, koash, koash.
   We defy your oar and you.
Char. Hold! We’re a shore just- shift your oar. Get out.

Translation: Paul Roche
Published 2005, New American Library, Penguin

D. You’ll never beat me
   And if necessary
   I’ll brekekekex all day
   Brekekekex koax koax.
{The Frogs retire.}

Translation: ?
Published: 1928, Horace Liverlight

D. Oh yes, I will. I shall cry the whole day, if necessary, until I no longer hear your coax.
   (He begins to cry against the frogs, who finally stop.)
   Ah! I knew I would soon put an end to your coax.
Translation: Gilbert Murray
Published: 1908, George Allen & Sons

D. I’ll make you cease your song
   If I shout for it all day long;
   My lungs I’ll tax with co-äx, co-äx
   -I assure you they’re thoroughly strong-
   Until your efforts at last relax:
   Brekekekex co-äx, co-äx!!
[No answer from the FROGS
   Brekekekex co-äx, co-äx!!!
   I knew in the end I should stop your quacks!
Translator: Richard Lattimore
Published: 1962, University of Michigan Press

D. I’ll croak away
If it takes all day,
brekekekex ko-ax, ko-ax,
And I’ll croak you down in the grand climax
brekekekex ko-ax, ko-ax,
Frogs slink away. Silence.
Ha ha. I knew I could beat you. You and your ko-ax!
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