Interview with Jo-Marie Claassen

Who are you?
I retired from the University of Stellenbosch's Department of Ancient Studies in 2001. I still engage actively in research. I am best known internationally for my work on Ovid's exile. I have published two books on exile: "Displaced Persons: the literature of exile from Cicero to Boethius" (Duckworths/U Wisconsin Press, 1999) and "Ovid Revisited: the Poet in Exile" (Duckworths/Bloomsbury, 2008) and many articles. I have also published on Cicero, women in Antiquity, the classical tradition in South African architecture and the teaching of Latin. "Germanicus" is my first published translation.
Why did you undertake this translation?
I was 16 when I first saw this drama produced in its original Afrikaans version (1956). I was at school, taking Latin, but had never heard of Tacitus, or of the hero Germanicus, for that matter. When, much later (1972), I was teaching Latin and ancient history at Stellenbosch University, I saw the Afrikaans play again, and was then struck by the powerful force of the poet's language and by the way Louw had transformed a fraught passage of history into a compelling drama. The weaknesses and strengths of Tacitus' hero are very well displayed in the weaknesses and strengths of Louw's hero. I felt then that this drama should be brought to the attention of an international audience.
Why did it take you more than 40 years to get round to this task?
The exigencies of combining an academic career ("research and publish or perish"!) with a happy family life left no time for "frills" such as translation, which is not actually "research" per se. After my retirement I set to and completed the translation in 2005.
Why did it take eight years to get "Germanicus" published?
Most publishers either don't publish verse, or think that a verse drama will not sell. At last I was helped by Lisl Haldenwang, managing editor of Dragonfly eBooks of London, to get the work published at Smashwords, an electronic publishing and distributing house. This happened with the kind permission of NB Publishers, Cape Town, Louw's copyright holders (and his original publishers).
Was it difficult to do the translation? Do you switch easily between languages?
I was born into a bilingual family. When I was small, I thought that one speaks English to women and Afrikaans to men, as that was the setup in my family home. To get the translation right, I had to ascertain the rhythm of each individual verse, and then try to fit the English into the same (or a closely similar) pattern. To see how I managed and the technical problems I faced, you will have to read my "Introduction" to the work (which comes with the drama when you purchase the e-volume). Briefly, although Afrikaans and English have many words in common, the genius of the two languages is very different and the more "Germanic" word order of Afrikaans cannot be duplicated just so in English. It was an exhilarating challenge!
So you enjoyed doing the translation?
Yes, I was quite unhappy to see the end approaching as the translation neared completion. I had seldom enjoyed an academic task as much.
Published 2013-10-18.
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Books by This Author

Germanicus
Price: Free! Words: 43,330. Language: English. Published: May 10, 2013. Categories: Plays » Ancient & Classical
(5.00 from 1 review)
This is the first translation into English of the verse drama Germanicus by the Afrikaans poet N.P. Van Wyk Louw. The work was based on the first three chapters of the Annales of the Roman historiographer Tacitus. The drama has been considered a highlight in Afrikaans literature since its publication in 1956.