Translation Blues

Sometimes even a simple phrase can give me grief, such as the following:

ὁ δὲ Ἀλκμαίων ἐνδὺς χιτῶνα μέγαν καὶ κόλπον βαθὺν καταλιπόμενος τοῦ χιτῶνος

translated very literally, this reads

and Alcmaeon having worn a tunic great and fold deep having left behind of the tunic

My guess here is that καταλείπω takes a genitive (τοῦ χιτῶνος), since verbs of leaving often take a genitive of separation. So my best stab at a meaningful English translation is this,

and Alcmaeon cast aside his tunic and put on a large and deeply folded tunic

This follows after Croesus gave Alcmaeon big pile of gold (as much as he could carry), so a “large, deeply folded tunic” is probably likewise a reward, right? Such a tunic, I presume, uses much more material, requires more complex stitching, and is a sign of wealth and prestige. But I really want to double-check this, because it comes off so clunky. Also, there’s no possessive associated with the second mention of the tunic, and nothing, really, to differentiate it from the first mention of a tunic, nor any clear indication of which participle occurred first (ἐνδὺς and καταλιπόμενος are both aorist, indicating simple action–as opposed to continuing action– or action that occurred prior to the main verb). In fact, since ἐνδὺς occurs first in the sentence, there is a suggestion that it has chronological priority. Perhaps, somehow, both participles refer to the same tunic? How have other translators dealt with this passage? For this I generally turn to the free translation available at the Perseus website (shout out to which is simply indispensible.)

This story is taken from Herodotus’ Histories Book 6, section 125. Herodotus’ Greek is almost identical to the Atticized and abridged Greek of Farnell & Goff:

ὁ δὲ Ἀλκμέων … ἐνδὺς κιθῶνα μέγαν καὶ κόλπον βαθὺν καταλιπόμενος τοῦ κιθῶνος

The available translation of it, however, departs from mine:

Alcmeon … donned a wide tunic, leaving a deep fold in it

Woah! Here, I think that Farnell & Goff have led me astray a little, in two ways. First, they elided Herodotus’ digression, which helps explain Alcmaeon’s behavior, (roughly translated)

Alcmaeon, considering that the gift was of this sort [i.e. as much as he could carry], employed preparations as follows:

Second, their vocabulary list translates καταλείπω as, “leave behind, leave over,” neither of which fit very well in this context. I must however cast some blame upon myself. The text shortly following this line translates as

he went to the treasury

which, if I had put it together with the statement that he was given as much gold as he could carry, would have cleared it up for me. There is a lesson here about getting stuck on a tricky phrase and wasting time on it. Often, of the best solution is to press on and uncover the whole context of the passage. Sorting out the true meaning of the tricky parts can often be made much simpler that way.

Ultimately I choose to translate the phrase like this,

and Alcmaeon wore a large tunic, and left a deep fold in the tunic

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One Response to Translation Blues

  1. Teresa says:

    Great to see your translation process!

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