Thoughts on translation, part 2

“ό τι καλόν φίλον αεί.”
Bacchae 881, 901

I’ve read this line from Euripides’ Bacchae translated into English three very different ways:

Gregory Nagy: “Whatever is beautiful is near and dear forever.”
Emily Wilson: “We always want the best.”
Robin Robertson: “Honor is everything.”

If you know the Greek words, Wilson’s and Robertson’s translations can seem out there, εκτός θέματος, to use a modern Greek phrase that I love. Nagy translates the Greek words most literally among the three, while also being rather lovely to the ear.

When you’re reading a text in translation, what is most important to your experience?

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