by Gavin McDowell
South Bend, IN—For many years now, the University of Stella Maris of northern Indiana has offered the popular course “Epic Poetry in the Western Tradition,” a core component of their acclaimed “World Literature in Translation” major. Despite its popularity, the course has its discontents. Freshman Rufus LeKing, in an assessment of the course, has publicly voiced his dissatisfaction that neither the library nor the campus bookstore offered a “decent” translation of “Paradise Lost,” the 17th century epic by John Milton.
“The translation was incredibly stilted,” LeKing said. “And it didn’t even rhyme. I mean, this is a poem, right? It was written in this arch-Victorian, Gothic style, like the translator was some prurient know-it-all. You could hardly call it English.”
LeKing’s disappointment was reinforced by his initial love of the course. “I used to think that literature was all about rich people getting married and crap like that. But then I looked at the syllabus and recognized a few titles. I knew Dante’s ‘Inferno’ from the video game, and I liked the ‘Beowulf’ movie from a few years back, so I thought I’d give it a shot.”
For the first few months, LeKing, a “self-professed geek,” thought he had found a new fandom.
“I basically realized that this stuff was fantasy literature before there was fantasy. It was all part of this huge tradition: Homer passed stuff on to Virgil, Virgil to Dante, Dante to Milton, and Milton to the guys that made ‘Dungeons and Dragons.’” His favorite part of the course focused on the “Nibelungenlied,” which he described as “basically an orgy of sex and violence. That [girl] just goes ‘Kill Bill’ on everyone in the end.”
His enthusiasm came to an end with the final segment of the course, dedicated to Milton and his magnum opus. “All the other stuff was translated out of the Latin or Armenian or whatever into something readable,” he said. “This dude didn’t even try. If the poem is so great, why hasn’t anyone in the past century tackled it?”
LeKing admits to resorting to the book of Genesis as a guide to understanding the final lectures of the course. “At least that was written in English,” he said.