To pause and realize that the names of gods, goddesses and heroes from antiquity still ignite the imagination is to consider the power of storytelling. Perhaps, more than anything promised by any deity in any pantheon, this is true immortality.
Recently, author Madeline Miller has received praise for her book Circe that followed her extraordinary debut, Song of Achilles. Both are stories that revisit ancient Greek myths, told in a devastating manner that recalls poetry and humanity.
Closer to home than Troy (for those of us living in Florida anyway), A Classic Theatre mounts the play Lysistrata. The premise? In a mission to end the Peloponnesian War (Athens v. Sparta, 431 BCE-404 BCE), Lysistrata persuades the women of Greece to withhold sexual privileges from their male lovers until a peace has been negotiated. In so doing, a battle of the sexes ensues. If the thematic arc seems familiar, it might be because Spike Lee mined Aristophanes’ drama for the acclaimed (and blisteringly funny) Chi-Raq.
When asked about the decision to mount the play, Limelight Theatre co-founder Anne Kraft, said “… it is classic, and that is one component of our mission (we produce classic, historic and original works); then, we thought it was incredibly timely given the current social/political climate; but the biggest element in our decision was that Constantine Santas, a local resident and friend whose Greek family member [Valentina Santas] had translated the work, offered it to us. It seemed absolutely too good to pass up!”
Folio Weekly and Constantine Santas discussed his Aunt Valentina, translation methods and Lysistrata.
Folio Weekly: Tell us about Aunt Valentina.
Constantine Santas: Valentina Santas (1915-2015) emigrated from England with her parents at a young age, at the height of the Great Depression, and she and her parents lived in Palaion Faliron, near Piraeus. Her father was in the commercial navy, and the family (they also had a son) managed to survive. Valentina had an enterprising mind and sought to make a living by teaching English to native Greeks.
[She met her husband, Santas’ uncle, in the early 1930s. By 1957, she was working at the English Institute of Piraeus, specializing in the novels of Jane Austen. She also studied opera, worked with her husband on his literary projects, and established her own school on the island of Aegina.]She sent me the translation of Lysistrata some time before her death in 2015, asking me if I could edit the play and find a producer or publisher for it.
Why do you think she was compelled to make the translation?
As far as I know, the immediate aim was to generate some income for her son, who suffered (as many Greeks did) from the economic crisis. Therefore, all proceeds, loyalties, etc., will go to him. But I think Valentina had deeper inclinations. She was a strong-willed, fiercely independent woman who lived during the generations of the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, [when it was taught that] a woman’s place was in the home. She struck an independent course and made a good living for herself-and at times, for her husband during the war-and her two children. Valentina would not tolerate fools easily […] In some ways, she was a Lysistrata of her times.
You taught at Flagler for many years. What did you teach?
I taught English and American Literature; also literary criticism and film. I am a translator myself, and translated several ancient Greek plays. [The last one, Antigone by Sophocles] was staged at the Flagler College Auditorium in 2010.
In attempting a project like this one, what are the things a translator must consider?
The goal of a translator is fidelity to the original. The translator must also have a sense of the audience of today, in this case, the American audiences of 2018. Translation is an art in itself, and the translator must consider the great responsibility of transferring a classic work-written long ago-to an audience of his/her time, without distorting or altering the original.
What did you take into consideration as you edited the work?
The manuscript arrived in handwritten form-as all her writing was. I took time out, more than two months, to type it in Word, preserving the format as much as I could. I tried to preserve passages that were either chorus-like (spoken by a group), and keep some of the lyrical passages as intended by Aristophanes, who was a comedy writer, social critic and a lyrical poet. I was surprised as to how much Valentina had rendered those lyrical passages and short poems as beautifully as she did.
Why do you find this play compelling enough to revisit?
A classic work, whether in poetry, drama, music or other art form, is worth revisiting because it echoes ideas of universal value. Lysistrata is a work of art, but with a message. The rebellion of women against their own city, and their occupying the Acropolis, where the treasury was, was a daring act, perhaps only a fantasy. But Lysistrata has stood the test of time … [it] can be considered the first play/drama of a women’s movement in Western Literature.