Tuesday 19 August 2014

Found in translation: aliens in the Aeneid

I met a Dutch guy in a queue at Loncon 3. We discovered we were both translators (among other things) so things looked fair set for a nice professional bonding experience. I told him what I was working on and he looked blank, then he told me what he'd just finished. It came with a nice business card and many allusions to space travel and alien technology. I'd been thinking a lot about translation throughout this Worldcon so I was very curious to see which piece of Sci-Fi he was translating for the Dutch. The ensuing conversation went like this:

Me: So... what language did you translate this from?
He: Latin.
Me: Latin?!!! (reading the business card) 'Aeneis liber sextus'. Wait a minute... is this what we call the Aeneid?
He: Yes.
Me: But there were no aliens in the Aeneid?
He: Ah but what people don't realise is (insert complicated Ancient Aliens theorising).
Me: So basically, you've rewritten the Aeneid?
He: No, I translated it.
Me: But... isn't it a bit hard when you're translating, to introduce words about space technology and aliens when the original talks about sailing ships and gladiators?
He: Ah, well, I'm convinced Virgil himself didn't know what he was talking about.

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen: Virgil's Aeneid as it would have been if Virgil had known what he was talking about. It turns all my carefully worked out professional translating ethics on their head but the fact is, the Aeneid is well inside the public domain. While I might want to insist on calling this particular version a rewrite, anyone can do anything they want with it.

Should you want to find out what Dirk Bontes did with it in Dutch, look up Aeneis Liber Sextus. Disclaimer: my new acquaintance said people were finding his version 'complicated' an assessment which I'm in no position to comment on.

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