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Translation and the ClassicIdentity as Change in the History of Culture$
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Alexandra Lianeri and Vanda Zajko

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780199288076

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199288076.001.0001

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Translation and the ‘Surreptitious Classic’: Obscenity and Translatability

Translation and the ‘Surreptitious Classic’: Obscenity and Translatability

Chapter:
(p.278) 13 Translation and the ‘Surreptitious Classic’: Obscenity and Translatability
Source:
Translation and the Classic
Author(s):

Deborah H. Roberts

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199288076.003.0014

This chapter is concerned with the translation into English (chiefly between 1800 and 1950) of obscene or erotic elements in classical texts. Cultures vary widely in their construction of sexual and excremental behavior, and in the acceptable context of usage and emotional register associated with sexual and excremental language. Where the target culture considers such language obscene and therefore taboo, the translatability of the text may be called into question; the presence of obscenity in a work that is considered a classic poses particular problems given the presumed status of the text as elite and of public value, and an understanding of obscenity as vulgar or suitable for private consumption. This chapter investigates the complexity and diversity of responses to obscenity in expurgated and unexpurgated versions of several ancient authors and genres, identifying in the varieties of both euphemism and directness a commitment to the special standing of the text.

Keywords:   expurgated, unexpurgated, obscene, taboo, euphemism, classical, classic

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