Archive for July, 2010

PostHeaderIcon Classics Play 2011

We are pleased to announce that the 2011 Classics Play will be Plautus’s comedy The Brothers Menaechmus (or Menaechmi).  We will be using a wonderfully stageable translation by Douglass Parker, who has graciously given his blessing for the production.  Performance dates will be January 28, 29 and 30 at 8:00 p.m. in the Fletcher Recital Hall of the East Carolina University School of Music.  Admission is free.

The Brothers Menaechmus, which was the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors and (via Shakespeare) for Rodgers’ and Hart’s musical The Boys from Syracuse, tells the story of twin boys separated as children.  With one brother presumed dead, their grandfather changed the surviving twin’s name to his brother’s.  Now adults, they find themselves in the same city.  It seems that everyone in the city—including one Menaechmus’s wife, his prostitute mistress, his father-in-law, his parasitical hanger-on, a doctor and more—meets each Menaechmus in turn, but never at the same time.  With scenes of mistaken identity, feigned insanity, real seduction, and marital dysfunction, Plautus’s comedy is a supremely well-crafted and intricate story that will leave audiences in stitches.

The Brothers Menaechmus is the third installment in the Classics Studies Program’s annual performance series.  In 2009, we presented a 15-hour reading of Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey, which we affectionately called Odyssey LIVE!.  It took place outdoors, in the center of the ECU campus (until a rainstorm chased us inside Joyner Library for the final two books).  About 200 people came for part or even all of the day-long event.  In 2010, we offered the world premiere of Peter Green’s new translation of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata.  The cast of 17 students, directed by John Given, played three performances to an audience of 700 students, staff and faculty, in the Great Rooms of the Mendenhall Student Center.  For 2011, we are excited to move to the superb performance space of the Fletcher Recital Hall, with its perfect sight lines and acoustics.  Sincere thanks go to Christopher Buddo, the director of the School of Music, for permission to use the Hall.  We are also thrilled to be using the translation of Douglass Parker, a work of art in itself.  Parker expertly captures the Plautine spirit, which ranges from sophisticated word play to hilarious slapstick.  The Brothers Menaechmus will again feature direction by John Given.

I would like to thank my student leaders who worked this summer to select a play and translation.  Samantha Canada, Kirsis Concepcion, Sara Davis, Michael Gambino, Kelly Hunnings and Celie Wall gave up several summer afternoons to read through plays and judge their suitability for our production.  We tried Greek and Roman plays, tragedies and comedies, British and American translations.  In the end, we all agreed that The Brothers Menaechmus was our best opportunity to follow-up the success of Lysistrata and to give our audience a rollicking good time—and to show that Classical Literature (even with those intimidating Capital Letters) remains vital today.

A call for actors and crew will be published during the fall semester.  The director, though, will gladly accept volunteer offers now too!  Please contact me by email at

PostHeaderIcon Liturgical Translations

There are few translations of Latin or Greek texts used in American life as frequently as the Roman Missal of the Catholic Church.  So it is with great interest to those who can read the original Latin rites when the Catholic Church decides to revise its translations.  With the urging of the late Pope John Paul II, when he published a third edition of the Latin Roman Missal, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has been studying the currently used vernacular translations for the past few years.  The vernacular, as you know, came into use after the Second Vatican Council in order to allow laity to participate more fully in liturgies and indeed to understand liturgies.  The USCCB’s approved revisions have not yet been implemented for liturgical use, but they have posted some samples on their website.  (To see the texts, go to the website, and choose a selection from the “Sample Texts” drop-down menu.)

To judge from the sample texts, the overall effect of the revised translation is a move toward literalness.  The translations are closer to the original Latin than the currently used English, including the usage of high, poetic language, although the literalness sometimes borders on obscurity.  I pick out examples from three prayers.

One of the most common phrases in the current liturgy is the call-and-response “The Lord be with you”, “And also with you.”  The people’s response is a translation of the Latin “et cum spritu tuo”.  Literally, this can be rendered “And with your spirit,” where “spirit” is clearly metonymy for the entire self.  The people are expressing the wish that the Lord is also with the priest, in particular his spiritual self.  The new translation in fact keeps this precisely literal, “And with your spirit.”  The metonymy of the Latin is preserved, and what was a prosaic wish now carries poetic license.  Will the laity understand what they are saying?  With a good education, yes; without it, it strikes me as more confusing than heartfelt.  Perhaps, however, the poetic  English will cause the speakers to reflect about what they are saying.

Similarly, in the Nicene Creed, there is a shift toward a greater faithfulness to the Latin.  The very first word of the Latin, “credo,” is first person singular; yet, the current ritual uses the language, “We believe.”  The first person plural creates a greater sense of community among those reciting the prayer, but the authors of the Latin did use the first person singular.  The new translation reverts to “I believe,” making it a stronger personal testament of faith.  Later in the Creed, we find the Latin line describing Christ as “genitum, non factum, consubstantialem Patri.”  Historically, the word “consubstantialem” is one of the most important words in the Creed.  It took a firm stand in a fourth century theological controversy whether Christ was metaphysically identical to God the Father (having the same “substance”) or merely metaphysically similar to God the Father.   The Creed asserted the orthodox doctrine that Christ shares the same substance, the same being, with God the Father.  In the current liturgy, this line is rendered “begotten, not made, one in being with the Father.”  (Compare the Anglican Book of Common Prayer version: “begotten, not made, of one being with the Father.”)  I doubt that too many lay people today understand what “one in being” or “of one being” mean.  Metaphysics is not a hot theological topic these days.  Still, the new translation seems to take a step away even from what limited understanding the laity might have by using the English cognate of the Latin.   It will now be: “begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father.”  This seems to go even beyond the poetic language of “and with your spirit,” and introduces technical philosophical language that requires much elucidation.  I am certainly not one to decry the raising of intellectual standards, but if the purpose of vernacular usage is greater lay understanding of liturgy, I am puzzled by this one.

Finally, in the Confiteor, the people currently confess, “I have sinned through my own fault.”  This is certainly a poor translation of one of the most well-known lines of liturgical Latin: “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.”  It also leaves out the Latin adverb “nimis” (greatly, too much).  The new Latin restores the “nimis”, and has “I have greatly sinned” and then renders the triple “cupla” as “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.”   I find that “most grievous” is an over-translation of the Latin “maxima”, which is a rather colorless superlative, “greatest”.  Moreover, the effect on those who do not know the Latin is going to make this seem a much harsher prayer than it was before, with the double addition of “greatly” and “most grievous”.  Partly this is a result of the old under-translation, which left out the “nimis” and the triple “culpa;” partly it is a result of the over-translation of “maxima”.  Still, the new translation does come closer to the original sense of the Latin.

One final side-note, on one line in the Confiteor still not rendered literally.  The opening line in Latin is “Confiteor Deo omnipotenti et vobis, fratres”.  This has been and will continue to be “I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters.”  The “and sisters” is not in the Latin but lends the prayer a sense of inclusivity by recognizing the female members of the prayer community.  The Catholic Church has not moved toward a more inclusive translation of the Bible, one that might render, for example, Paul’s many examples of “brothers” as “brothers and sisters.”  It comes as a welcome surprise, then, that the liturgical prayer language retains the inclusivity that was introduced in the Vatican II era.