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Stephanie McCarter

Stephanie McCarter

Nov 24, 2022
19 tweets

I'm trying not to tweet comparisons of my Ovid translation to earlier ones because I don’t want to copy something Emily Wilson has done so well with her Odyssey. But I thought I could offer just one example, from the Callisto episode. CW: rape. 1/many

I think it's important for translators to speak about their work to show how translation is never an objective process but an interpretive act, one informed by the translator's own assumptions and identity.
The Callisto story is about a girl who is raped and silenced. She chooses to keep silent because her whole life centers upon being part of Diana’s virginal retinue. The word for the rape throughout the story is crimen, “crime,” a word Ovid uses a lot for “sex crimes.”
Arachne’s tapestry, e.g., features many rapes, caelestia crimina, “crimes of the gods.” Each time the word crimen appears in Callisto's story, it’s next to word that mean “exposing” or “revealing,” making this a tale of how a crimen is exposed despite the victim's silence.
Callisto wears proof for the crime on her body, and other women are able to see and interpret these clues based on their own experiences of sex and rape. The ultimate proof is her pregnant belly.
We first see crimen when Jupiter, who comes to her disguised as Diana, reveals himself nec sine crimine, “not without crime.” In other words, he removes his disguise right at the moment of raping her. It’s clear that crimen refers to HIS crime, not anything SHE feels.
Each time crimen appears, I keep it as a reference to what he has done. Other translators, however, change it to refer to either Callisto’s sense of guilt or HER crime. The first indication of the crime is on her face, especially her blush.
We associate blushes with guilt, but in Ovid blushes often mark victimization, the redness of blood symbolizing violence. Here is Ovid's Latin:
Here is my translation:
Here is Rolfe Humphries. Not also the loss of "wounded chastity."
Here is A.D. Melville. "Wounded chastity" has become "her shame."
And Raeburn. Again, "wounded chastity" has become "lost virtue."
I could offer more versions, but they're mainly the same. Another key moment when the crimen is revealed is when the nymphs take off her clothing in front of Diana. Here's Ovid's Latin:
Again, there is a blush and a baring of a crimen. The Latin has no possessive adjectives, so the translator must decide if this is her crime or THE crime that happened earlier (i.e. Jupiter's). Here is my translation:
Here is Humphries, who loses the crimen entirely:
And Allen Mandelbaum, who translates the crimen as "her shame."
And Charles Martin, who makes it "her crime."
Again, the other translations are much the same. The problem with previous versions is that they take our focus off what Jupiter has done—he and his crime simply disappear. They suggest that Callisto feels she has done something wrong, or (maybe worse!) that Ovid thinks so.
I write about this at much greater length in an article forthcoming next month in Eugesta. I actually have a few articles forthcoming about my translation if you find this interesting.
Stephanie McCarter
Classics professor and writer of things. Translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses now available from Penguin Classics. She/her.
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