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Vilhelm Ekelund

Two books have been published in English containing writings by Swedish author Vilhelm Ekelund, both in excellent redaction and translation by Lennart Bruce:

Agenda (Berkeley, CA: Cloud Marauder, 1976), a selection that “starts with the diary entries in the ‘AGENDA’ [Ekelund’s posthumously published diary for the years 1913–14 (Agenda, Stockholm: Bonnier, 1966)], and continues with a selection of his work throughout the years, including some writings published posthumously” (editor’s preface, p. 6);

The Second Light (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1986), a selection of essays, aphorisms, and fragments from Ekelund’s entire production (republishing all of Agenda 1976, with corrections and many additions). Still in print.

I intend to publish additional annotated translations here; in all likelihood rarely, and little; with a preference for the author’s readings of ancient Greek and Latin literature. The above-mentioned books are warmly recommended for anyone who desires more, and does not read Swedish.

Ekelund’s highly personalised idiom turns his Swedish into a language that is even for Swedes not perhaps foreign, but new and difficult. If the English translations will sound odd, I hope it will not be entirely due to the incompetence of the translator.


From Elpidi (1939)

I 51 (p. 33)

The most  u n t r a n s l a t a b l e  line, perhaps the most delightful, in the entire Latin poetry, I thought to be this one, by Horace:

virtus repulsae nescia sordidae.

But see here — how the living meet!

“A noble man has no plans at all; not even a wish. He can, accordingly, never come to shame.”  (E. A. Hermelin)

— Friherre Axel Eric Hermelin (1860–1944) was a brilliant and highly original translator of and occasional commentator on classical Persian poetry and Christian esotericism. The line by Horace (Odes 3.2.17) has been translated into English.

VIII 6 (p. 133)

Those who have seen and felt with  V i r g i l  have all seen him with the eye of folk tradition. The heritage of ancient time’s Asclepian singer’s tradition, in a beautiful, sure hand —: that is Virgil. Such he has won the heart of Dante. And of Hamann, and Swedenborg. And such is the light — the transparency force of a deep-light-imprinted face — that may still set the innermost cords of a Viktor Rydberg in vibration, as if he stood before his most tender secret-laden childhood memory. The new sign of the times with him, which with peculiar energy and concord was taken hold of by tradition and also struck the early Christians, is light of the Orphic light. (But the “Homeric” is of little value; has nothing whatsoever to do with his innermost fate.) He was truly a searcher and a scout, a  v i e w – k e e p e r:  and you might say, that  P a l i n u r u s  represented his greatest skaldic measure. The sea was his world —: as such Horace knew him — and the sea took him.

Johann Georg Hamann
Viktor Rydberg


From Atticism–Humanism (2nd ed. 1946)

IV 33 (p. 157)

K á t h a r s i s —: the simple, unresplendent way. Motus in loco natali placidus. Such lay, after all, beneath the Aristotelian explanation of the tragic. It was perhaps with an instinct towards Germanicism and mysticism, that Goethe in his most advanced age turned with such peculiar anticipation towards Aristotle. Only from muse-led experience and a unified view, this word by him may perhaps be understood —: that were he given his life to live again from the beginning, then for the bearing of his inquiry in artistic matters Aristotle would be the guiding star!

A philosopher, somebody said — when I was young — should not only be able to read Greek, he should be able to speak Greek! His intention was correct; that is — to  t h i n k  Greek.

Motus in loco natali placidus: “Movement is tranquil in the place of origin”. The phrase is found in a commentary by Catholic philospher Franz von Baader on Jacob Böhme (Baader, Sämtliche Werke II 397); I am not sure if it is a quotation or Baader’s own formulation. Ekelund may perhaps have seen it in a book by Eric Hermelin, translator of Böhme (see above). This word: Ekelund may be thinking of a letter to Carl Friedrich Zelter, 29 March 1828: “Stünden mir jetzt, in ruhiger Zeit, jugendlichere Kräfte zu Gebot, so würde ich mich dem Griechischen völlig ergeben, trotz allen Schwierigkeiten die ich kenne; die Natur und Aristoteles würden mein Augenmerk seyn. Es ist über alle Begriffe was dieser Mann erblickte, sah, schaute, bemerkte, beobachtete, dabey aber freylich im Erklären sich übereilte.”

Porsoniana by William Maltby, edited by Alexander Dyce


These anecdotes were appended to Recollections of the Table Talk of Samuel Rogers (1856), the editor of which, Alexander Dyce, attributes them to his conversations with William Maltby (1763–1854). A good many of them are quite pointless and unfunny; and there is in fact little that is flattering to Porson with regard to intelligence and taste. There is much that is suggestive of an autistic tendency (Asperger).

Appended here are also Porson’s appearances in Samuel Rogers’ Table-talks taken from the same book. The pagination, added within brackets, refers to the following text.

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Matthew Arnold, “Spinoza and the Bible”

Copy text is the third edition of Essays in Criticism (1875), available at the Internet Archive; I have corrected it at one or two places collating the edition of R. H. Super (1962). The numbers within brackets refer to the pages of the 1875 edition, denoting the following text.

A shorter version of the essay was originally published anonymously in MacMillan’s Magazine IX, 136-42 (December, 1863), as a review of Robert Willis’s 1862 translation of Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. A better English translation by R. H. M. Elwes (1883) is available on the internet.

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Walter Headlam’s translation of Aeschylus, The Suppliants

— And what of the sense in its importance for the relationship between translation and original? A simile may help here. Just as a tangent touches a circle lightly and at but one point, with this touch rather than with the point setting the law according to which it is to continue on its straight path to infinity, a translation touches the original lightly and only at the infinitely small point of the sense, thereupon pursuing its own course according to the laws of fidelity in the freedom of linguistic flux. Without explicitly naming or substantiating it, Rudolf Pannwitz has characterized the true significance of this freedom. His observations are contained in Die Krisis der europäischen Kultur and rank with Goethe’s Notes to the Westöstlicher Divan as the best comment on the theory of translation that has been published in Germany. Pannwitz writes: “Our translations, even the best ones, proceed from a wrong premise. They want to turn Hindi, Greek, English into German instead of turning German into Hindi, Greek, English. Our translators have a far greater reverence for the usage of their own language than for the spirit of the foreign works. . . . The basic error of the translator is that he preserves the state in which his own language happens to be instead of allowing his language to be powerfully affected by the foreign tongue. Particularly when translating from a language very remote from his own he must go back to the primal elements of language itself and penetrate to the point where work, image, and tone converge. He must expand and deepen his language by means of the foreign language. It is not generally realized to what extent this is possible, to what extent any language can be transformed, how language differs from language almost the way dialect differs from dialect; however, this last is true only if one takes language seriously enough, not if one takes it lightly.”

These notes towards a poetics of translation by Walter Benjamin and Rudolf Pannwitz (translated by Harry Zohn) may possibly serve as a justification of Walter Headlam’s prose translations of Aeschylus. At least I find them curiously attractive, although I am aware that native speakers of English may take offence.*) Anyway, as a semantical commentary on the Greek text the translation more than serves its purpose. Headlam’s philological notes are also very useful, and rightly made an impression on Martin West as he was editing Aeschylus for Teubner, as evidenced by the apparatus to at least the Supplices as well as the eulogy of Headlam in West’s Studies in Aeschylus.

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A. E. Housman, The Name and Nature of Poetry

A decently formatted version of this text is availabe here.

[p. 4]

The question should be fairly stated, how far a man can be an adequate, or even a good (so far as he goes) though inadequate critic of poetry, who is not a poet, at least in posse. Can he be an adequate, can he be a good critic, though not commensurate? But there is yet another distinction. Supposing he is not only not a poet, but is a bad poet! What then?

COLERIDGE, Anima Poetae, pp. 127 f.

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