Translation vs. Transliteration

An intriguing topic that turns up obliquely in different translations is the impact of transliterating vs. translating. In English translations, proper names are typically tranliterated, with the result that some of the meaning and impact of those names are lost.

One proper name that’s evoked often in the Iliad and whose meaning is lost in transliteration is Herakles. The name means fame (kleos) of Hera, which can seem quite puzzling if you know the extent to which Hera conspired to rob Herakles of fame. And yet. The trials Herakles underwent because of Hera’s interference—namely his 12 labors—led to Herakles’ fame. By causing Herakles to suffer, Hera created the conditions for him to become famous.

For ancient audiences who knew this, the name Herakles might invoke the way suffering and fame are tangled together in the ancient Greek psyche. And the meaning of Achilles’ name would amplify this. Achilles, which most English translations use, is the Latinization of Akhilleas. Akhos means grief and public expression of grief. Achilles grief at the loss of his beloved companion provokes him to overcome his pride and return to battle, which leads to his fame.

How far do you think we’ve come from this tragic association of suffering and kleos, meaning having one’s name on people’s lips?

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