Interview with Sofia Podgorski (CAS ’24) Interning at the Edward Worth Library

This past summer was quite exciting for everyone in the BU Classical Studies, but we would love to highlight a particular student who has been using what she has learned from her time at BU to do some exciting work. Sofia Podgorski, (CAS ’24) majoring in Classical Civilizations, has interned at Edward Worth Library in Dublin, Ireland utilizing their vast collection for wonderful summer projects! Sofia’s recent work for the library includes two recently published articles on the library’s website. One work entitled “Translating and Transforming Homer” discusses the earliest records of Homer’s epics and the approaches translators have taken in depicting the Greek hero Achilles. Her second work was a feature for the Book of the Month with August being dedicated to George Chapman’s The Whole Works of Homer writing about Chapman’s life, scholarship, and the Worth library’s particular edition of his Homer translation. The Classical Studies department would like to congratulate Sofia for all her amazing hard work and welcome her and the rest of the Classical Studies community back for the start of the Fall 2023 semester!

Q: Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and give us a brief overview of the work you did this summer?

A: My name is Sophia Podgorski. I’m a senior in classical civilizations and a recent minor in art history. I was looking to study abroad this summer, but I knew I didn’t really want to do a dig. There were not a lot of Greece or Rome options that worked out well, and I knew I wanted to work. So I looked into it, and after talking to Professor Nelson and Professor Hutcheson, I planned on applying to Dublin because they just had a lot more research opportunities and research internships. After going through that whole process, I got placed at the Edward Worth Library in Dublin, which is owned by Trinity College Dublin. There, I had free reign to go through their entire library and all their resources to pick out my research project. I landed on different translations of Homeric material because most of my class work the previous semester had been working with Homer and Homeric Greek. I had taken Greek verse with Professor Hutchenson, and we were doing the Iliad the entire semester. I ended up deciding to just look at different translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey and see what they told me about different lenses of historical reception.

Q: Awesome. We already got into my next question: How did you become interested in the nuances of the Homeric translations?

A: I did a little bit before, but the library had so many different materials. And when they had the first female translation ever from Greek to French, I really clung to it . That struck me as very important because the collection at the library did not have a lot of the big names. It didn’t have Alexander Pope, which was the most jarring one, because he was writing at the same time as Anne Dacier, who did the first French translation. Interestingly, though, the Edward Worth collection had every edition of Anne Dacier’s work, like… everything, and this dedication struck me. One thing I’ve still been trying to wrap my head around, and we’ve been still trying to figure out, is how collectible these works were because Anne Dacier was well known, but she wasn’t as collectible as a poet.

Q: [Edward Worth] seems like a super fan.

A: He was a super fan.

Q: We’re going to come back to Anne Dacier, but given what you’ve said, what collections of translations were your favorites and why?

A: I loved hers because it was the first female one. The etchings in the book were very striking, and there’s so much resonance of those etchings in other paintings from that period on. There’s a whole art history lens with that. I got to look at a few additions from the Aldine press, which is a Venetian press, and that was the oldest edition I looked at from 1524. Of those some were Greek, and there was one that was translated into Latin. It was just really cool to hold a book that had been through so many different lives, but the one that I spent probably the most time with was George Chapman’s translation of The Odyssey and the Iliad. It was the worst book I’ve ever had to deal with. Solely because the binding combined a 1616 and 1634 edition in one, but the librarian didn’t realize, so she mis-cataloged it. I was reading this edition and realized that there was some misprinting. I said “This doesn’t match the edition that you say it is in the catalog.” Then we went through the entire book and realized that he bought two different copies, destroyed them, and made sort of a Frankenstein book.

Q: Frankenstein book?

A: Yeah.

Q: Oh, that’s ridiculous.

A: Yes, it was a pain, and sometimes Chapman could be a little flowery with his language, and it was very ridiculous. Especially when you’re like comparing it to Anne Dacier, who tried to make the translation as accurate as she could.

Q: Was there any that you particularly disliked?

A: Specifically with Chapman, he liked to institute something he called Homeric Irony. Say a Homeric hero was acting in a way he didn’t like; for example, if Achilles was acting petty, he would say, “This is Homer using irony,” sort of putting his own reading on it. The editions that we looked at had a lot of Chapman’s own footnotes, so it was a complete footnote from both the 1616 and 1634 versions since they were both combined and you could really see his evolution of thought. This annoyed me because I feel he really didn’t let the readers think for themselves. It was a wonderful translation that it introduced many English readers to the works of Homer, but there’s not as much free thought as they might have assumed when reading it.

Q: I know you mentioned Anne Dacier, and her translation also caught my attention. Did you encounter any translations that took as few liberties as she did?

A: Out of the collection, the only other ones that were as accurate were Greek and Latin since they are declinable languages. There was one Greek prose transformation that was pretty accurate because it changed the Greek words and got rid of the meter to fill in some blanks. But out of the indeclinable languages, the French one was very striking. She also wrote essays about her approaches to translation, which were very enlightening into the process, and even a few essays calling out Alexander Pope for using her translation and calling his final product fully accurate. She, even in her essays, often said, “This is where I couldn’t be 100 percent accurate,” so it was interesting to see that. Initially, I wasn’t even going to look at her translations because my French was not up to par when I first went there, but I spent my first two weeks in Ireland speaking French.

Q: Really?

A: I was just trying to review my high school French. By the end I was able to read both of them in French, but it just took a very long time.

Q: That’s what I was going to ask. Do you have a background in French, Latin, or Greek?

A: I did two years of Greek here and am going into my third semester of Latin. Most of my background was in Spanish. I’m a fluent Spanish speaker, but I added French at the very last minute in high school. I hadn’t done that much research with French, but I knew I needed to build it back up because it is one of the scholarly languages, so I’m glad I was able to revive it.

Q: That is incredibly impressive! You posed an interesting question in your exhibition. Is it better to be true to the original text, or is it better to make changes to the source material to appeal to new readers? Where do you fall on that after all the work you’ve done?

A: I keep hitting this question because I’m taking a lot of classes right now that keep asking it. I’m at a point where I want as many people to have access to this material because I just want people to enjoy classics and find a way in. Of course, I want the themes to be kept true because that is part of the integrity, but sometimes – some slight changes I think – are okay if it broadens the perspective. I think there are different degrees. We’re not saying totally rewrite everything, but I would love to see a translation that really uses modern lingo. I think that would be funny, but it would need to be taken as a slight transformation. I’m not precisely answering it. As long as people get involved with classics, that’s my main concern.

I think there needs to be more emphasis on the essays that these translators are also composing with their translations because most of them acknowledge that they can’t be 100 percent faithful to the true text. When they do that and it is taken critically with the translation, I think it brings a fuller story to everything. People jump to criticize certain translations even when they have not read the introduction and that’s where I get a little bit like “Okay. It wasn’t supposed to be a hundred percent accurate.” But, as long as more people are reading, that’s my biggest thing. I want people to read. Sell people on classics.

Q: I concur. Now, what ways do you feel the department supported or prepared you for your research endeavors?

A: Professor Hutchinson was my biggest supporter throughout the entire process. As soon as I heard that this was my potential placement, I went to her and said “I need my Greek to be up to standard.” After that, I was in her office hours all the time. And once a week, I would also do the language group. That environment was full of serious students who were working all together. Getting immersed in the languages helped immensely. And then, before leading up to everything, I met with the Greek and Latin tutor Kit, who helped revive some of those skills. Also, Ilsa, who’s a grad student here. She was my Latin teacher, and she helped me look at the progression of Latin since Latin has changed based off of different time periods. And the language department and the language staff here have really helped and made it so much easier. I was able to open one of these books and read it right off the page, which was an exciting experience because I had never done that before. I was just like, “Oh my goodness, I can understand this.”

Q: Reading stuff in class is different than going into a library and picking up a book in a different language and saying “Wow, I actually know what’s going on here.” Were there any classes in particular besides the languages that helped prepare you?

A: Well, right now, I’m actually taking a Classics to Modern Literature course, and I’ve been looking a lot at translation – again, of tragedy- so I’ve been reusing a lot of that right now. Last semester I was doing a lot with Greek art and I was looking at how different depictions of these stories survive in art. It was, of course, classical art and then when I transferred that skill to looking at etchings in books I thought “What elements are they picking from their translation to put in these drawings?” Some of them take liberties. There was one, a French author of my least favorite translation (Chapman was low on my list), but my least favorite was Antoine Houdar de La Motte. His drawings were very interesting and very supportive. He completely rewrote scenes, but he owned up to the fact that it was a full transformation of the original text. He didn’t know Greek or Latin, but just wanted to make it super flashy, and it was amazing. The book was 100 pages, so short.

Q: Oh, I’m sure [Anne Dacier] was thrilled.

A: Oh yeah. Reading Anne Dacier’s rhetoric at that time period was one of the funniest things ever. She called out everything she didn’t like from translators, but I liked that she did that, because you can really see what informed her translation theory in general. It was just enjoyable—the whole experience.

Interview Conducted by Grace Thomas