Stergiopoulou, Katerina. "Between the Lines: Seferis Anti-Writing Pound's Homer." Comparative Literature 66.4 (2014): 375-98. 

summary by Rhett Forman


While Katerina Stergiopoulou’s article “Between the Lines: Seferis Anti-Writing Pound’s Homer” aims primarily at a close reading of Giorgos Seferis’ translation of Pound’s “Canto I” and comprehensively investigates Seferis’ theory of translation, it offers much insight into Pound’s own translation methods and his influence. The article, then, serves two purposes: For the scholar of comparative literature generally, the article looks closely at a particular case of how borrowing from another language can substantially change one’s own. For the Pound scholar, the article helpfully assesses Pound’s reception in Greece, that is, his modern influence on the literature of a country whose ancient literature influenced him.

Stergiopoulou’s main point is that translating Pound enabled Seferis to challenge commonly held assumptions about the Greek language during a time in which Greek writers, linguists, and grammarians were torn between a nationalistic, more ancient form of Greek and a modern, foreign-influenced Greek (376). To substantiate her claim, Stergiopoulou divides her article into six sections: the first two are a background for Seferis’ translation, the third an overview of Pound’s methodology for translating and writing “Canto I,” the fourth and fifth a close reading of Seferis’ translation, and the sixth an argument about Seferis’ intentions as a translator.

The first section, “On (Not) Knowing Greek: Toward a Greek Hellenism,” offers an overview of the linguistic situation in Greece in the latter half of the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, namely, in the century proceeding Greece’s independence from Turkey (377-379). Stergiopoulou very clearly explains the dispute between proponents of katharevousa (academic, traditional) and demotic (common, modern) Greek, and carefully places Seferis, a modernist poet who flourished in the 1930s, above this battleground (377-378). Unlike advocates of katharevousa, Seferis appreciated the many ways in which Greek had changed since Homer; unlike champions of demotic Greek, he longed for a perceptible Greek identity as manifested in its language (378). In sum, Seferis recognized Greek as a living language in continuous contact with other influences but which always maintained its integrity (378).

In the second section, “Antigrafi or Metagrafi: Translating with or against?” Stergiopoulou erects the framework for Seferis’ theory of translation (379-381). Without assailing the reader with a legion of technical linguistic jargon, Stergiopoulou concisely delineates Seferis’ difference between antigrafi and metagrafi. On the one hand, antigrafi denotes that which translates from one language to another interlingually (380-381). On the other hand, metagrafi denotes a transposition from one form of a language into another intralingually, from ancient Greek, say, into modern (379). The barrier between these types of translations, however, crumbles when one carefully considers the question of where one language ends and another begins.

To investigate this ambiguity between antigrafi and metagrafi, Stergiopoulou examines its application to the particular case of Seferis’ translation of Pound’s “Canto I” (381-383). In the third section, “Raising the Dead,” Stergiopoulou summarizes Pound’s method as a translator in order to see how Seferis incorporated—or translated—this method into his translation of Pound. Relying heavily on Peter Liebregts’ work, Stergiopoulou argues that “Canto I” blurs Pound’s own distinction between literal and interpretive translations, contending that the poem is both a “faithful translation of a passage from Book Eleven of the Odyssey” and a substantive piece in its own right as “the opening to Pound’s own ambitious long poem” (381). In Seferian terms, “Canto I” incorporates both antigrafi and metagrafi : it is at once an interlingual translation from Divus’ Latin Odyssey, and an intralingual translation from Old English into modern (383).

To accomplish the same effect in his translation of “Canto I,” Stergiopoulou suggests, Seferis must work in reverse. In section four, “Translating Odysseus’ Bad Roots,” Stergiopoulou argues that, unlike Pound who looks back to Old English for a simpler, less formal English, Seferis must look forward to demotic Greek which is simpler, less erudite than traditional katharevousa (384-389). Thus, Seferis uses surprisingly modern words to translate “Canto I” while attempting to ignore Homer’s original. Thus, in the same way that Pound translated with both antigrafi and metagrafi, so too does Seferis translate both interlingually and intralingually from English to Greek and from Greek to demotic Greek. To distance himself even further from Homer, Seferis uses Italianate modern Greek words to echo Pound’s translation from Divus’ Latin and ingeniously recreates many of Pound’s English puns and figures in his translation  (387-389).

Having examined word choice in section four, Stergiopoulou proceeds in section five, “Anti-Writing Meter,” to assess the way in which Seferis translates the alliterative accentual meter of “Canto I” (389-393). Interestingly enough, Seferis creates a highly alliterative translation. According to Stergiopoulou, alliteration is foreign to Greek prosody—as is accentual meter—yet Seferis maintains both in order to test Greek, in order to test what it means to write in Greek. Stergiopoulou then considers Seferis’ translation of “Canto XIII” in order to locate Seferis’ fundamental principle of translation in Pound (392-393). In translating to Greek, the “character” of the Greek language (corresponding to the “characters” of Tseu-lou, Khieu, Tchi, and Tian in “Canto XIII”) must be respected according to its “nature.” In other words, the translator must not translate according to any political bias towards either katharevousa or demotic, but according to the language’s history of influence, alteration, and inclusion (392-393).

Stergiopoulou concludes with “Returns,” a more general look at Seferis’ project and how Pound influenced it (393-395). Unlike the analytical sections of three, four, and five, this section synthesizes Stergiopoulou’s findings from her study of “Canto I” with Seferis’ translation of “Exile’s Letter.” In the end, Stergiopoulou discovers a resonance between Pound’s persona in “Exile’s Letter” and Seferis’ own enterprise as a translator. Just as the letter writer feels estranged from a home that no longer exists, so too does Seferis long for Greece from within Greece. For this reason, Stergiopoulou’s argument resolves itself in a paradox: because yesterday’s Greek is not today’s, each intralingual language is also interlingual, each occasion of antigrafi, metagrafi, and Seferis’ Greece both is and is not Homer’s: a paradox only approached through Pound’s own project.

With clarity and command of style, Stergiopoulou defends an exciting argument about Pound’s influence on modernist Greek letters. The article’s six sections erect a comprehensive framework from which one might view other Pound translators. In addition, Stergiopoulou attends to figures of speech in “Canto I” in a way every Poundian should notice and emulate. Overall, the article offers a helpful guide to understanding not only Seferis’ work, but also Pound’s role as a modernist translator.