The extraordinary importance of translating the Greco-Latin classics into a cultural tradition has been shown time and again in literary history: among us, one of the authors who most esteemed this work was undoubtedly Menéndez Pelayo, never sufficiently vindicated , which he dedicated to the subject, among other works, Horacio in Spain (1877), Spanish translators of the Aeneid (1879) and Spanish translator library (1952-1953). And it is that translating is not a minor endeavor but, surely, the chain of transmission of culture par excellence throughout history, as well as one of the best literary schools there can be. To note the importance of translating the classics, for example, in English literature, one can recall Borges’s old essay on the Homeric versions. Many times, literary fashions, artistic trends or aesthetic ideology are conditioned, when not marked, by the revision of the classics through translations.
That is why it is a wonderful sign that the translation of Greco-Latin classics is enjoying good health in the Spanish publishing scene: our country had gradually caught up with other western traditions – I think of Les Belles Lettres or the Loeb Classical Library – with the Hernando Classical Library or the Hispanic Collection of Greek and Latin Authors of the CSIC, but above all with the more systematic work that has been carried out since the end of the last century thanks to initiatives as laudable as the collections of the Gredos Classical Library, the classics Greco-Latin artists from Alianza Editorial, Cátedra or Akal, who have excellent translations of the greatest authors of antiquity in their catalog. Not surprisingly, those collections of what can be called the “golden age” of the translation of the classics in Spain set out to translate the bulk of Greco-Latin literature to make it available to the educated reader who did not handle the classical languages. In contrast to other traditions, normally monolingual volumes were chosen –except for the aforementioned Alma Mater collection of the CSIC and some university editions, such as that of the UNAM– without the text to front, Italian-style (BUR or Mondadori): perhaps there you can see the weight of the Italian Lyceum which, even in its scientific version, has five years of Latin.
But once most of the classical legacy could be read in Spanish thanks to those collections, with their excellent versions, it was the turn of another generation of editors who have gladly taken on the task of translating back to the Greco-Latin classics: the classics par excellence. They are independent publishers who are committed to giving voice to the classics through bold collections, directed in some cases by experienced translators in the great collections of that “golden age”. An example is the suggestive collection The secrets of Diotima (Guillermo Escolar editor), focused on great works and authors (Plato, Seneca, Cicero, Plautus …) with no other nuances than its own excellence. Works that do not need presentation, not only Greco-Latin in scope (there are also Gracián or the Book of Job, in the version of Fray Luis de León) are made available to the general public in pocket and at an affordable price. On the other hand, without eagerness to be exhaustive but to select texts that still have a lot to say to the current public, The wool yarn collection (Marmara editions) focuses on classics – and also some late texts, Callimachus and Chrysorroe, forthcoming in translation by Carlos García Gual– of great importance in the cultural evolution of the West: the Physiognomics of Pseudo Aristotle, The excellence of women (belonging to the Moralia Plutarch) or The book of poisons by Dioscorides (translated for the first time in 500 years) easily connect with the interests of today’s reader. In a parallel line, “Classical Wisdom for Modern Readers” is he motto by Ediciones Kōan, an independent publishing house specialized in self-knowledge, which has the rights to a collection from none other than Princeton University and which presents selected texts by authors such as Seneca, Cicero or Epictetus (whose Inquiry, the famous Stoic manual, will appear shortly) accompanied by introductions and comments by specialists: for the Spanish version, translations from Greek and Latin have been commissioned from Spanish experts, which speaks very well of the interest of this publisher in the subject matter and the importance they give to the translator. Special mention deserves the Editorial Rhemata, which has taken on the task of editing a collection of bilingual paperbacks with classics from different periods accompanied by new translations into Spanish, introductions and notes, meeting all the quality requirements required in academic publications. The series of classics from the Cátedra or Dykinson publishing houses have also recently chosen to explore the difficult territory of bilinguals, taking up old companies such as the Erasmo collection (Bosch publishing house), with editions by young researchers: I hope they find the success they deserve .
The classic trails also lead us to Galician or Catalan, like the worthy books of Vétera (Rinoceronte editor), classics in general but with a special presence of Greco-Latin, or the renewed Col·lecció Bernat Metge, one of the essential and pioneering series of translations annotated in bilingual version and with erudite introductions in our country, which has published its essential books such as La Casa dels Clàssics. So did Gredos himself, in his new career: after being a small and familiar publishing house, it passed into the hands of the RBA group and reissued its basic collection of classics in varied formats. But, as can be seen, the good news is that, beyond the reissues of these great collections, small publishers are encouraged to put the great Greco-Latin authors in the hands of new voices. That says a lot, on the one hand, of the vigor of our classical studies and, on the other, of the public interest in great texts, which continue to speak to us very closely.
Let the classics always be our school, as readers or writers. Well, if translating is another way of writing (“The superstition of the inferiority of translations –said Borges– comes from a distracted experience”), in the case of the classics, you can take the pulse of a literary tradition, synchronously or diachronically, in any language and field cultural through the translation company. After all, as Steiner wanted, translation, an act of communication and transmission of human knowledge, is one of the defining marks of civilization. Thus, in new and inexhaustible journeys, we can be sure that the classics will continue to address each of us in updated versions.
David Hernandez de la Fuente (Madrid, 1974) is a writer, translator and professor of Classical Philology at the UCM. He is the author of books like The awakening of the soul. Dionysus and Ariadne. Myth and mystery‘(Ariel) and has translated several volumes in the Gredos Classical Library.