Hippias Minor or The Art of Translation

Sarah Ruden, the translator for Hippias Minor or The Art of Cunning was interviewed by Eric Banks in the latest issue of Bomb Magazine. Eric noted, "For years Hippias Minor and the problem of the artful liar has occupied Chan’s mind, so when he was offered an exhibition at the DESTE Foundation’s Project Space Slaughterhouse at Hydra Island, Greece this past summer, he commissioned a new translation of the dialogue as a central part of his project. He had the good fortune of turning to Sarah Ruden, whose translations of a range of Greek and Latin authors have illuminated ancient worlds for a new generation of readers." Our favorite exchange?

EB: Of course, much of Hippias Minor involves the question of being cunning, and its relation to virtue. Some have tried to translate cunning as "versatile” in the earliest part of the dialogue, when the cunning of Odysseus is being discussed.

SR: That has a nice physicality about it, because you can think of an object that is versatile, a tool that can be used in different ways. That kind of works. (laughter) Other traditional translations didn’t work for me at all, such as translating kalos as beautiful. In practice, in Greek literature kalos is so slippery. Kalos could even mean “swell.” Kalos is a word we find in graffiti—it’s the equivalent of notes that kids are writing on bathroom walls about each other. You find “So and so is kalos, he’s swell.”

EB: Wasn’t fine the word that was used in the ’60s or ’70s? Like, “She’s so fine.” Or that song by The Chiffons—

SR: Yes! Or “Oh, Mickey, you’re so fine, you’re so fine, you blow my mind.”

Read the rest of the interview here.