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
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.
The power and beauty of Homer’s imagery in the Iliad is undeniable, and his scenes of battle often prompt vexing questions about ancient and modern virtues. Can killing and dying in war be beautiful? Is a just cause required for glory to be gained? Is war a courageous way of fulfilling human nature and, ultimately, of embracing the reality that death awaits us all? This episode, in which Annapolis host Louis Petrich and tutor Erica Beall delve into the dramatic contrasts that make Homer’s work powerful and war potentially beautiful, invites us to question our own modern perspectives on this ancient text.
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What are the limitations and possibilities of perception—and what do the ancient mathematics of Euclid’s Optics and the modern literature of Proust have to say about this question?
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What is home? Santa Fe tutor Paola Villa, Italian by birth, begins this episode with the Elvis Presley cliché “Home is where the heart is.” But for Villa, the heart is the crossroads between the stomach and the brain—and, in her native language, “to know” and “to taste” have the same root, a reminder that food and mind are one, each mediated through the tongue. This episode, rich in metaphor and poetry, connects gastronomy, language, thought, and community to a theme to which all humans can relate: wanting to know and be at home in the world.
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In the Gettysburg Address, President Lincoln proclaimed that soldiers gave their life at the battle of Gettysburg for a “new birth of freedom.” But what did he mean? This conversation explores important Lincoln speeches and ideas within their Civil War context, eventually delving into the difficult contemporary question: how has, and hasn’t, the nation realized Lincoln’s vision at Gettysburg?
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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.
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? This episode explores the complexities of translation, including the role of interpretation and emotion, as humans attempt to understand and communicate ideas across linguistic boundaries.
What is the relationship between sports and war? And what is seminar's relationship to both? In this episode, St. John's host Santa Fe tutor Sarah Davis and Santa Fe tutor Julie Reahard talk about Reahard’s passion for sports, her long-running commitment to the St. John's ice hockey team, and whether her experiences on the court are similar to those that play out on the battlefield of great texts like the Iliad and War and Peace.
Why is it difficult for people to talk to one another? Annapolis tutor Howard Zeiderman proposes a likely culprit: the difficulty that most humans have with listening. This episode explores the value of hearing and understanding those who are unlike us, and of building true community through the committed practice of listening.
The power and beauty of Homer’s imagery in the Iliad is undeniable, and his scenes of battle often prompt vexing questions about ancient and modern virtues. Can killing and dying in war be beautiful? Is a just cause required for glory to be gained? This episode delves into the dramatic contrasts that make Homer’s work powerful, inviting us to question our own modern perspectives on this ancient text.
In the ancient world, art and religion provided a sense of meaning and order that was upended by science and technology. Today, our world is defined by consumerism, self-expression, and a gnawing lack of meaning. Can the contemplative life of the mind play a central role in addressing this void?
This episode takes us through a close reading of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 94, which many consider to be his most enigmatic. Annapolis tutor Eva Brann brings a clear argument to the poem, taking us quatrain by quatrain through the poet’s descriptions of the beloved’s power over the poet through cold detachment and contingent self-mastery.
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.
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