Sunday, April 3, 2016

Opening Sentences

My newest translation project is The Meno, by Plato. It starts with Meno asking a series of questions about virtue. How do people become virtuous? Is virtue something that can be taught? Is it acquired through habit, or genetics, or some other way? Interesting questions.

Socrates responds with a long and grammatically complex sentence. It reminded me of the Gospel of Luke, which was also written in Greek. Both works start off with a long, complicated sentence. Then they immediately revert to normal, spoken language which continues until the end of the work.

I guess it's a literary tradition to have long, complicated sentences at the start of a work.

You can see this in 1800's authors like Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson. It was almost like there was an unofficial competition to see who could write the longest opener; I seem to recall one book where the first sentence went on for more than a page, thanks to editors using tricks like "extra-big font" and "chapter starts on the bottom half of the page".

Let us have a moment of silence for all the high schoolers who gave up on these books, after reading the first sentence, not knowing that the rest of the book isn't like that.

2 comments:

Unknown said...

This does seem to be a theme throughout early literature. I'm translating book 9 of Homer's Odyssey from Ancient Greek to modern English, and there are some seriously ridiculous sentences.

Also, DICKENS! <3 Authors from his time, if I remember correctly, were paid by the word. So basically, longer and more complicated sentences meant more money to pay the bills and help the needy.

Unknown said...
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