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Loeb Renovates Classical Literature Series


The next time a student peruses a copy of Aristophanes'' collected works or investigates a new edition of Homer's Iliad, he or she may find these classics a little racier than before.

The works may even be considered downright raunchy.

The green-colored Greek and red-colored Latin works from the Loeb Classical Library are, in fact, among the latest renovations of the 86-year-old classical literature series. The change was initiated by the Harvard University Press, publisher of the Loeb classics.

According to Peg Fulton, administrative editor of the Loeb Classical Library at Harvard, the recent changes are "part of a process which began in 1990 to replace old translations at the rate of four a year."

This year, in addition to two revised volumes of Aristophanes' plays and what Fulton describes as a more-accessible version of Homer, the Loeb plans to introduce new editions of works by more obscure Latin authors, including the Roman social critics Valerius Maximus and Aelianus and the writer Chariton.

What may attract attention and raise pulse rates, however, is that the latest re-translations in the Loeb series, which are published in both their original language (either Greek or Latin) and English, are more sexually explicit and easier to understand than the older texts they replace.

"Every generation people have new ideas," Fulton said. "In the past, it has been considered that we should not introduce sexually explicit material, even if the Greeks themselves were sexually explicit."

Among the revised authors, Aristophanes' works stand to undergo a significant face lift, said Jeffrey Henderson, the playwright's new translator and a professor of classics at Boston University.

Henderson explained that the Loeb's current version of Aristophanes "may be a little dated" and that its author, 19th century classicist B.B. Rogers, "was only as Aristophanic as the Victorian Age would allow."

In his revision, Henderson plans to reintroduce some of the original ribaldry, political satire and rampant sexuality that was endemic to Greek culture, but which Rogers edited out.

"The sexual, erotic and political aspects are really central to Greek civilization," Henderson said. "You can't just throw out the dirty laundry, pretending it doesn't exist."

Henderson even drew parallels between some of the themes covered in Aristophanes' plays and the nation's contemporary political drama, nothing that the playwright accused the Athenian leader, Pericles, of irresponsible sexual behavior in his play Archarians.

"Clinton has at least one thing in common with Pericles, in addition to both of them being Democratic leaders," Henderson said.

The political relevance of this and other Loeb re-translations notwithstanding. Fulton said the revised texts "will be quite a revolution, because the current Aristophanes is like Gilbert and Sullivan."

However, classics students are more reserved in their praise of the changes.

Classics concentrator Jennifer T. Stager '00 pointed out that while she was "in favor of making the translation more faithful to the original text, you have to concede something to the social context of the reader, who may or may not belong to that of the author."

For Harvard University Press, which does a brisk business of 100 to 1,400 issues for each of its 488 Loeb Classical Library titles, the re-translation of Aristophanes and the other authors comes at a time when interest among non-academic readers is growing.

"There is a lot more exposure for the classics in the media," said Henderson, who re-translation of Aristophanes comes out this spring.

Still, Fulton said the Loeb series, which over the years has become a mainstay on college campuses, remains faithful to its stated policy of giving "access to all that is important in Greek and Latin literature."

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