Rachel Carman

Translation Paper

ENL 360


            Translations can offer many different ways to look at a literary work. Translators use their own interpretation of the text in its original language in order to render it into English. With this need to interpret ancient texts, different meanings of the same text arise. In the case of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, there is a plethora of differences to be found between translations. Jeffrey Henderson’s and Douglass Parker’s translations of Lysistrata offer two very different ways to read the text. These translations are meant to appeal to certain things, while leaving others unexplained. Diction and word choice are key differences between these two translations, as is evident in the two scenes of the arrival of the women at the beginning of the play.

            The following is the Jeffrey Henderson translation of the passage of Lysistrata I will focus on (Norton):

LYSISTRATA           Greetings, my very dear Spartan Lampito! My darling, how

dazzling is your beauty! What rosy cheeks, what firmness of physique!

You could choke a bull!

LAMPITO      Is true, I think, by Twain Gods. Much exercise, much leaping

to harden buttocks.

KALONIKE   And what a beautiful pair of boobs you’ve got!

LAMPITO      Hey, you feel me up like sacrificial ox!

LYSISTRATA           And this other young lady here, where’s she from?

LAMPITO      By Twain Gods, she come as representative of Boiotia.

MYRRHINE  She’s certainly like Boiotia, by Zeus, with all her lush bottom-


KALONIKE   Yes indeed, her bush has been most elegantly pruned.

LYSISTRATA           And who’s this other girl?

LAMPITO      Lady of substance, by Twain Gods, from Korinth.

KALONIKE   She’s substantial all right, both frontside and backside.

LAMPITO      Who convenes this assemble of women here?


            This is the same excerpt but from Douglass Parker’s translation:



And here’s our lovely Spartan.

                                           Hello, Lampito


        Why darling, you’re simply ravishing! Such

A blemishless complexion—so clean, so out-of-doors!

And will you look at that figure—the pink of perfection!


I’ll bet you could strangle a bull.


                                              I calklate so.

Hit’s fitness whut done it, fitness and dancin’. You know

the step?


              Foot it out back’ards an’ toe yore twitchet.

The women crowd around Lampito.


What unbelievably beautiful bosoms!



what fer you tweedlin’ me up so? I feel like a heifer

come fair-time.


Turning to Ismenia.

                              And who is this young lady here?


Her kin’s purt-near the bluebloodiest folk in Thebes—

the First Fam’lies of Boiotia.


As they inspect Ismenia.

                                                    Ah, picturesque Boiotia:

her verdant meadows, her fruited plain…


Peering more closely.

                                                                        Her sunken

garden where no grass grows. A cultivated country.


Gaping at the gawking Korinthian.

And who is this—er—little thing?


                                                      She hails

from over Korinth, but her kinfolk’s quality—mighty

big back there.


On her tour of inspection.

                              She’s mighty big back here.


The womenfolk’s all assemblied. Who-all’s notion

was this-hyer confabulation?


Dialectical Differences

            In the footnotes of the Henderson translation, it is mentioned that while Lampito is from a different “country”, her dialect, along with the other women’s dialects, will be understood by all the other characters. The Henderson translation, however, does not address, in the text, this difference. It seems to be truer to the original text, and it doesn’t allow for certain crude terminology to be changed for purposes of propriety. The Henderson version, however, displays a less obvious difference. The only obvious difference in speech between Lampito and the other women is that she omits common words, causing, in a sense, a “grunting effect”. An example of this is in Lampito’s explanation of how she maintains her physique. “Is true, I think, by Twain Gods. Much exercise, much leaping to harden buttocks” (Norton 725). She doesn’t form complete sentences, but her meaning is understood by the other women.

            In the Parker translation, there is a very distinct difference between the speech of Lampito and the other women. He allows for the reader to understand there are dialectical differences in the language of the women’s diverse cultures. Lampito speaks with what could be considered a southern, uneducated “drawl” of sorts, using phrases such as “calklate”, “whut done it”, and “git”. There is an obvious informality in her speech, yet the other women are still able to understand her. In Lampito’s introductions of the women, she says things such as “her kin’s purt-near the blueboodiest folk” (22), “her kinfolk’s quality” (22), and “who-all’s notion / was this-hyer confabulation” (23). This contrasts with how the other women speak, who use more formal, traditional language, used in a proper “English” manner, as in “darling”, “ravishing”, and “picturesque” (21-2).  

            It is important to realize the significance of these differences. A reader may not even pick up on Henderson’s attempt to display dialectical differences. They are subtle differences that are noticeable only through a close-reading of the text. Parker, however, has chosen to lead readers to the conclusion, through obvious textual differences, that these women are from different places. The observable difference between the women in Parker’s translation may cause the reader to more fully understand that the women are traveling from a variety of places.

            Word Choices and Diction

            Seeing as Lysistrata is such an explicit text, it is important to investigate the word choices used in each translation. The choice of the translator lies with whether or not he/she wants to be as close to the original text as possible, or change the text to avoid offending the reader. This decision can determine what audience reads the translation, as well as how the translation is interpreted by the reader.

            The most obvious wording to explore would be the descriptions used for the women in the chosen scene. Henderson’s translation seems to have tried to maintain, as closely as possible, the meaning of the original text. He uses terms such as “buttocks”, “boobs”, and “bush” ( Norton 725). This word usage significantly affects the reader’s reaction to the scene. With such restrictions on pornographic materials, it is difficult for people in today’s society to read these words without reacting in an adverse way. However, it is important to realize the impact of the language on the interpretation of the text. Lysistrata is a comedy, and therefore the usage of words is important in understanding the humor of the play. Sex is being portrayed in a comedic fashion, and it is important not to censor it.

            Parker, on the other hand, changed these words dramatically. Rather than using the explicit terms Henderson does, Parker only mentions one term referring to the sexuality of a woman’s body—“bosoms” (22). This, in my opinion, makes the text rather boring, which needs to be avoided in a comedy. This omission of sexual slang terms doesn’t allow the reader to fully grasp the nature and genre of the play—comedy. This, however, is not the only place in which the Parker translation substitutes more reserved words for explicitness.

            When Ismenia is examined, Parker takes an interpretive leap in his translation. Rather than use explicit language, or try to tone it down, Parker has chosen to change the entire section into a metaphor for farming—“her verdant meadows, her fruited plain…/ [KLEONIKE] Her sunken garden where no grass grows. A cultivated country” (Parker 22). In his introduction, Parker notes that he translated the text to appeal more to modern society. This translation could be appealing to the farming emphasis of the generation of the 1960s and 1970s, when his translation was published.

            Another way to read this passage is as merely a description of Boiotia, rather than of Ismenia. Lysistrata begins by saying “Ah, picturesque Boiotia: her verdant meadows…” (Parker 22). If not for the italicized text, indicating the inspection(s) of the women, this passage would more than likely be understood as a description of Boiotia. The italicized text is the only clue to the reader that a metaphor is being used to describe Ismenia.

            Henderson chose to emphasize womanly parts in a more explicit, uncensored manner. His translation shows the emphasis on Lampito’s “bush” and “lush bottomland”. Ismenia is being admired by the women. “Her lush bottomland…her bush has been most elegantly pruned” (Norton). These are not used in a farming sense, as is Parker’s translation. Rather, these terms are used in a general slang sense. Another example would be when Lampito says “you feel me up like a sacrificial ox” (Norton). This line is much more explicit than Parker’s: “whut fer you tweedlin’ me up so” (Parker 22). By allowing the reader to see a graphic representation of the slang of Greek times, the genre of the comedy is more strongly maintained.

            When the Korinthian woman is examined, there is a glaring difference to me as a reader: the different areas described. In the Henderson translation, both the frontside and the backside of the Korinthian are complimented, which ties in with the description of Ismenia’s “bush”. “She’s substantial all right, both frontside and backside” (Norton). By focusing on the frontside, as well as the backside, I feel Henderson is showing the reader a more uncensored look at sex, which adds to the comedic value of the work.

            Parker’s translation, on the other hand, only emphasizes the backside of the Korinthian woman. “She’s mighty big back here” (Parker 23). In conjunction with the description of Ismenia (the lack of mentioning her trimmed “bush”), it is easy to see that Parker avoided using the frontside of women as a reference to the importance of sexuality in the Greek culture of Lysistrata. He doesn’t mention a woman’s “bush”, and he replaces it with a farming metaphor. Again, with the Korinthian, he omits the references to the frontside of the female body. This may have been to appease a highly sensitive culture. However, by omitting more uncensored descriptions, I feel Parker has not done justice to the comedic, graphic nature of Lysistrata.


            As is evident, there are many differences between the text of Henderson’s Lysistrata, and that of Parker’s. Parker was writing to appeal to a more modern audience, whereas Henderson seems to be trying to stick closely with the original text. However, the differences allow for multitudes of interpretations, as has been represented. The important thing to ask ourselves is: what are we losing or gaining by either changing or maintaining an original text? Parker’s translation seems to be lacking in comedic value, simply because of his lackluster descriptions. Henderson, on the other hand, has not let censorship take over the meaning of his translation.

Diction is also vital when reading a translation. As has been explored, the obvious dialectical difference between Lampito and the other women in Parker’s translation significantly adds to the understanding of the diversity of the women. He portrays this difference using a proper, “English” way of talking, and a southern accent. This is a difference that many Americans can understand easily.

The differences in translations can determine whether the reader understands certain vital parts of the work. In the two translations analyzed here, there are instances in which the translator helped the reader to understand something different: the Henderson translation emphasizes the importance of the woman’s body as sexual, and the Parker translation emphasizes farming and the differences between dialects. Both translations work, but for different audiences, and for different purposes.


Works Cited

Henderson, Jeffrey, trans. “Lysistrata.” The Norton Anthology of Western Literature. New York, London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006. 722-756. 

Parker, Douglass, trans. Lysistrata by Aristophanes. New York: Penguin, Inc., 1970.

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