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The Bee and the Butterfly: Translation Practices in Modern Greek Decadence

Boyiopoulos, Kostas



By the end of the nineteenth century, Greek literature was breaking away from its insularity and regionalism as it absorbed European models through translation. Such activity of literary translation took place against a cultural background marked by the so-called Language Question, the desire to move away from archaic Greek and toward simplified Greek. Drawing on the poet Tellos Agras’s apposite metaphor of the translator as a fickle butterfly as opposed to the diligent bee, this article argues that decadent translations in Greek were mercurial and capricious creative statements that cared little about accurate transmission of the source text or about elevating national literature. As a result, Greek decadent translators were criticized for their “xenomania,” practices of imitation, and self-indulgent exoticism. Decadent translations appeared in two distinct waves: in the 1890s as part of the New Athenian School, and then during the neo-symbolist or neoromantic 1920s. Greek decadent translators were cosmopolitan dandies who simultaneously translated and emulated Oscar Wilde, Gabriele D’Annunzio, Jean Moréas, Edgar Allan Poe, and others. Their translations stood out in magazines and newspapers by making use of a format that might be called the “tiny anthology.” The article focuses on translations by the short prose stylist Nikolaos Episkopopoulos, the aristocratic dandy-poet Napoleon Lapathiotis, and Agras himself. The concluding section examines a few notable instances of translation by C. P. Cavafy and, briefly, Nikos Kazantzakis, in which Agras’s “butterfly” metaphor is pushed to extremes of invention and individualism.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 1, 2022
Publication Date Aug 1, 2023
Deposit Date Jun 28, 2024
Journal Modern Philology
Print ISSN 0026-8232
Electronic ISSN 1545-6951
Publisher The University of Chicago Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 121
Issue 1
Pages 82-103
Public URL