Moby Dick: a Great Work – a Great Translation in Greek

By Aggelos Zikos

For those of us who were lucky enough to be studying in the Ionian University during 2006, we would probably find it really difficult to forget of that speech by A.K. Christodoulou, the translator of Moby Dick. Looking at that day retroactively, after all these years of grappling with translation, I feel very happy that I did not let my bad habits -which translated into boredom regarding student activities- take over my mind once again and lead me to a cafeteria, instead of the university. Unfortunately, whether this habit of avoiding academic seminars and workshops is inherent or acquired during Greeks’ student life, it undoubtedly constitutes the “unhealthy” reality.

During the speech of Mr. Christodoulou, I realized how nice it feels to be the translator of a literary book. For those who haven’t heard of A. K. Christodoulou, I have to say that he is one of the most respectable literary translators in Greece. He had been a professional lawyer for years, until he read Moby Dick in its only existing translation at the time, which was a shortened version of the original work, aiming mainly at children. At first, A. K. Christodoulou did not have but a basic knowledge of English – he was a so called “rookie”. However, due to his deep attachment to the book and its writer, he decided to perfect his knowledge of English, in order to read the work in its original language, the language of Melville. Such was his enthusiasm for the book, that sooner or later he acquired the necessary English background, so as to start translating the book in Greek. Obviously, the outcome is magnificent – I would recommend everyone to read Moby Dick: not only as a masterpiece of literature, but as a masterpiece of translation as well. It took about 10 years for the translation to finish, according to Christodoulou himself; nonetheless, the outcome is really worth the attempt. Until today, the translation of Christodoulou remains prominent among the various translations of the book, and probably the most faithful and worthy of the original.

What is even more interesting in our case, though, is the relationship that this man, the translator, managed to build with Herman Melville. A relationship that resulted in a flawless translation, accompanied by “A Double Prelude to Moby Dick”, i.e. a complementary book with comments on a particular paragraph of Moby Dick. A relationship that goes beyond economic motives and professional interest and extends to something much more complex. Proof thereof, A. K. Christodoulou has not translated anything else ever since.

Unfortunately for us, professional translators, such a relationship may sound like a utopia, given that our choices are primarily guided by economic motives and not personal preferences. After all, translation means not only pleasure, but also survival in a competitive world.

My suggestion: do not get lost in translation…

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