Arts The Good One
posted by May 23 at 13:44 PMon
Guy Davenport’s translation of a fragment by the pre-Socractic philosopher Heraclitus:
By cosmic rule, as day yields night, so winter summer, war peace, plenty famine. All things change. Fire penetrates the lump of myrrh, until the joining bodies die and rise again in smoke called incense.
How superior it is to Kathleen Freeman’s translation of the same fragment:
God is day-night, winter-sumer, war-peace, satiety-famine. But he chances like (fire) which when it mingles with the smoke of incense, is named according to each man’s pleasure.Sense can not be made of the last sentence, and Davenport’s “by cosmic rule” is so much better than Freeman’s “God is.”
Now, what is it about selection and approach that makes one writer better than another? More importantly, how is it that the choices a writer made in another context, another language, culture and time, can be recognized by us as poor or rich, bad or good? As with Parmenides, one suspects that literary change might be an illusion. The real (the good) might always be the same, always the one.