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Revisualizing Translation: How Multimodality Can Benefit Translations of Latin Poetry

Year: 2023

Presenter Name: Jay Paine

Because the grammar of Classical Latin allows for a greater freedom of word order than Modern English, translators confront a problem when adapting lines of Latin poetry containing word pictures, a poetic device that allows writers to create meaning by ordering words in artistic arrangements. This problem begs the question: Is it possible to preserve this striking poetic device and its communicated meanings, and if so, how can translators optimize the device's effect for a modern English-speaking audience? To answer this question, I turn to the Phaethon passage found at the beginning of Book II of Ovid's Metamorphoses. In one instance from this section, Ovid describes vicious beasts (i.e., constellations) surrounding the character Phaethon, but Ovid does not communicate this image using traditional syntax. Instead, he arranges the noun and adjective denoting the vicious beasts to surround the adjective and verb referring to Phaethon, creating a word picture. This is possible because Latin uses case endings to indicate how a word is operating in a sentence. However, Modern English has lost its case endings, so it relies on word order for communication, restricting writers to conventional syntax. To explore how translators navigate this issue, I compared three translations of the Phaethon passage to Ovid's original, and I discovered that the translators Miller and Martin disregarded the word picture entirely, losing its meaning in translation. In contrast, Humphries was careful to communicate the meaning created by the word picture using conventional English syntax, though the effect feels mundane compared to the Latin original. Based on my comparisons, it is clear that translators who utilize written text alone will inevitably fail to preserve the vivid images and effects created by word pictures. Therefore, translators should consider adopting multimodal approaches, which are gaining popularity among literary artists. For example, some poets are pairing their poetry with animated shorts, producing video poetry. Other artists are combining their creative nonfiction with comics to create cartoonish or heroic representations of their lives. After considering the shortcomings of the three translations and the usefulness of visual effects, I hypothesized that incorporating multimodality into the translation process would preserve the intended effects of word pictures in translations targeted toward a modern, English-speaking audience. To test this, I produced a multimodal translation of the Phaethon passage using both my own translation as standard text and concept art, which I will later transform into a short animation or comic. During this process, I discovered that although the poetic device itself cannot be preserved in full, adopting multimodal approaches can help communicate the meanings underlying many of the word pictures while simultaneously preventing translators from having to sacrifice imagery and effects for poetic English.
University / Institution: Utah State University
Type: Poster
Format: In Person
Presentation #A50
SESSION A (9:00-10:30AM)
Area of Research: Humanities
Faculty Mentor: Frances Titchener