Classics Translation and Classical Reception
Alexandra Lianeri
  • LAST REVIEWED: 31 July 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 July 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0335


Translation has been central to engagement with the Greek and Roman worlds and their cultures ever since antiquity. The classic, as a concept that defines inseparably the canonical status of these cultures and the modes of reading them, has been mediated by the enterprise of translation. Roman literature and philosophy were not only shaped by translating Greek works, but constructed Greek culture as a classic through the medium of translation. Because of the importance of translations for the understanding and dissemination of Greek and Latin, interest in this field has preoccupied classical scholarship. Yet paradoxically, translation remained until recently under-theorized, restricted to an educational tool for those having no access to the originals. The development of classical reception studies in the 1990s marked a shift in the discipline by bringing translation into the heart of debates about the afterlife of classical antiquity. This new approach was grounded in discussions of translation advanced in the recently formed field of translation studies, but also in a long tradition of philosophical approaches, ranging from hermeneutics to poststructuralism, to a metaphorical concept of translation. Classical scholarship offered a distinct contribution to the above discussions by deploying, but also qualifying, concepts of translation elaborated in the above fields, such as the dismantling of the simple binary opposition between translation and source text, the sociopolitical role of translations, translators’ agency, and the ethics and politics of translation practice. So an increasing number of works illuminate and theorize the seminal role of translations in shaping both the “classical” image of antiquity and its repercussions in the different contexts of its reception. A key contribution of this debate to the wider discussion of translation has been an emphasis on the mutually constitutive relationship between translation and source text, which entails that each of them actively shapes the meaning and cultural identity of the other. This bibliography does not exhaust the multifarious history of modes and practices of translating Greek and Latin texts across time. Nor does it reflect on problems pertaining to the practice of translating. However, it includes tools for the study of translation practice in history (bibliographies, reference works, databases), which feature more extensive bibliographical information. The bibliography’s key focus is on concepts and frameworks deployed for debating translations as historically-specific works that interpret the classics in terms that are multiply intertwined with the ethical, aesthetic, social, and political debates of their time.

General Overviews

The absence of a book-length survey of debates on translation seen from the viewpoint of classical reception studies constitutes a significant lacuna in the scholarship of the last decades. Important information about concepts and trends in translation theory and history can be found in Bassnett 2014, Gentzler 2001, Munday 2016, and Venuti 2012. The essays in Lianeri and Zajko 2008 explore how the history of classicism and the shifting construction of the classical canon were both sustained and undermined by translations which inscribed classical texts into a global cultural legacy. Seminal volumes on classical reception, including Martindale and Thomas 2006, and Hardwick and Stray 2011, have both theoretical and individual-focused entries regarding translation.

  • Bassnett, Susan. 2014. Translation studies. 4th ed. London and New York: Routledge.

    A seminal work in translation studies, the book argues for the centrality of translations in shaping varied forms of cultural interaction. The book combines complex theoretical discussion of certain issues, such as those pertaining to the study of translation as language and culture, problems of equivalence and untranslatability, as well as a history of translation theory featuring important discussions of translation of Greek and Latin languages and cultures. Originally published in 1980.

  • Gentzler, Edwin. 2001. Contemporary translation theories. Rev. 2d ed. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

    Important overview of key theories of translation featuring a wide range of approaches, with a focus on the key theoretical and methodological debates in the development of the field of translation studies. Originally published in 1993.

  • Hardwick, Lorna. 2000. Translating words, translating cultures. London: Duckworth.

    An important book exploring how translations from Greek and Roman literature have played a key role not only in the field of classical studies but also in wider social and political debates. Focusing especially on ancient drama, it traces refigurations of poetic and political identities mediated by the translation of myth into different cultures.

  • Hardwick, Lorna. 2003. Reception studies. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Pioneering work in the field of classical reception studies exploring how classical culture has been translated into new intellectual and political contexts to serve as both a source of self-legitimation and a field of resistance to the status quo.

  • Hardwick, Lorna, and Christopher Stray, eds. 2011. A companion to classical receptions. Oxford: Blackwell.

    A wide-ranging collection of essays engaging with both theoretical concepts of reception and historical studies and exploring the profusion of media and interpretive modes through which the Greek and Roman cultures have been transmitted and deployed in different contexts. The volume includes a section on translation that emphasizes both theoretical debates and the historical role of translations.

  • Lianeri, Alexandra, and Vanda Zajko, eds. 2008. Translation and the classic: Identity as change in the history of culture. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    An interdisciplinary approach to the relationship between translation and the classic, bringing together classicists, philosophers, historians, and practitioners to reflect on theoretical concepts and historical dimension of debates in the field. Contributors explore translations as profoundly embedded in ideological contexts which they act to both legitimate and transform.

  • Martindale, Charles, and Richard Thomas, eds. 2006. Classics and the uses of reception. Oxford: Blackwell.

    A very important collection focusing on the theoretical dimension of reception studies in classics. The volume features a wide variety of perspectives and draws material from a wide range of disciplinary fields, including translation studies.

  • Munday, Jeremy. 2016. Introducing translation studies: Theories and applications. 4th ed. New York: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781315691862

    A critical, but accessible, introduction to the most important trends in and contributions to translation studies as well as wider approaches to translation, including philosophical approaches. The book is intended for university courses on translation, but would also be of interest to a wider audience of researchers engaged in the field.

  • Steiner, George. 1975. After Babel: Aspects of language and translation. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A wide-ranging and encyclopedic study of translation as an intrinsic dimension of human communication, which also emphasizes the importance of translation in the interaction between cultures. The book contains important reflections on major theoretical debates on translation, including the thought of theorists relevant to the translation of the classics such as Bruni and Erasmus.

  • Venuti, Lawrence. 2012. The translator’s invisibility: A history of translation. 2d ed. London and New York: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203553190

    A seminal account of the history of translation into English from the 17th century to the present, the book argues that fluency shaped the canon of translating foreign literatures, including classical languages. Venuti investigates the cultural consequences of this translation strategy and identifies alternative translation theories and practices seeking to communicate linguistic and cultural differences.

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