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

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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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.


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