The Challenge of Translation

Louis Petrich + Stella Zhu

If one could perfectly translate a literary work, would that translation make the original idea of the author universally understood by all readers? Or do the greatest translations bring new layers of creativity and meaning to a work, making its latent textures relevant for another culture or time—such as feminist translations of the Odyssey and Christian translations of Plato—even as they may dampen the original intentions of the author? In this episode, Annapolis tutor Stella Zhu, who is also a translator of Chinese poetry, joins host Louis Petrich to discuss the complexities of translation, including the role of interpretation and emotion, as humans attempt to understand and communicate ideas across linguistic boundaries through literary translation and dialogue with each other. Their conversation, which itself exemplifies the mystery of communication, continues by exploring the idea that perhaps math and music provide universal languages that literary works never approach; that translating oneself to others may hold the same challenges as translating literary works into new languages; and that multiplicities of understanding may be an inescapable, and perhaps a beneficial condition of human life.

In this Episode

  • Stella Zhu
    Guest Stella Zhu

    Stella Zhu (A16) is a tutor at St. John’s College. This semester, she is leading students in translation of Ancient Greek in freshman language, evaluating Euclid in freshman mathematics, and exploring Plato in freshman seminar.

  • Host Louis Petrich

    Louis Petrich is a tutor at St. John’s College. This semester, he is exploring Euripides in freshman seminar, teaching Pascal in freshman laboratory, and leading a philosophy and theology tutorial in the Graduate Institute.

Featured Release

Socrates says that the intellectual practice of philosophy is a practice for dying. But what if the body is the vessel that can best prepare us for the end of life? In this episode, martial artists (and Santa Fe tutors) Krishnan Venkatesh and Claudia Hauer explore the problem of the philosophical separation of mind and body through the lens of two essayists—the 13th-century Japanese author Dogen and the 16th-century French essayist Montaigne.

Browse All Episodes

Executive Producers Welcome

Continuing the Conversation was funded through the philanthropy of donors to St. John’s College. If you’d like to give to the college’s Annual Fund, your gift will go to support the kinds of inquiry and conversation that comes to life at St. John’s College. It also frees up money for creative projects like this one, which brings great conversation and great books into homes across the world.


Subscribe for Updates

St. John’s College invites the community to awaken their intellect by engaging in mindful exploration. The college offers an array of online and in-person events, ranging from world-class concerts and art exhibitions to lectures and theater performances, as well as tutor-led seminars that provide lifelong learners opportunities to study the Great Books.

Sign up to learn about upcoming events.