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Comparing the genres and authors translated in the first half of the 20th century

Beyond the proportion or net number of translations of Modern Greek literature into European languages, contrasting which genres and which authors were translated (and into which languages) can produce important information on the translation trends from 1850 to 1999, which may in turn provide insights into the reasons leading to a decrease in translations.


The database Modern Greek literature in translation categorises every work under one of twenty-nine genres. Since the number of translations is quite small, the twenty-nine genres have been grouped into three categories, one of which has four subcategories:

  • poetry: including erudite poetry, folk songs, epic poems and anthologies.
  • prose

о biography: including correspondence, memoirs, autobiographies, biographies, testimonies, fictionalised autobiographies and fictionalised biographies.

о children’s literature: including children’s literature and children’s novella. о essay: including speeches, historical-political essays, reviews-essays-stud- ies, albums, studies, interview-speeches and travel prose. о narrative: including detective stories, narrative, stories, historical novels, novels, myth-tales and novellas.

theatre: including theatre and scripts.

The following two diagrams (Fig. 1) show the percentage of translations into all European languages by literary genre during the two periods 1850-1899 and 1900-1949. Narrative genres increased significantly, albeit at the expense of essays, biographies and theatre. The percentage of translated poetry, the first genre to have attracted the attention of European readers, was slightly smaller. No work of children’s literature was translated during the first half of the 20th century.

Figure 1: Percentage of genres translated in the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20h century.

These changes could be expected given the new trends in Modern Greek literature. The production of Greek narrative was scant until the last quarter of the 19th century, but its importance grew steadily into the 20th century, not at the expense of poetry, but rather at the expense of other genres, such as memoirs and (fictionalised) autobiographies of war heroes against the Ottomans (Politis, Linos 123ff; 200ff).

However, when Western and Eastern European languages are analysed separately, the diagrams show significant deviations from this trend. For simplification,

Romanian was considered on its own, since translations into Romanian account for 76.3% of all translations into Eastern European languages in the period 1900-1949 (Fig. 2). On the other hand, a group made up of French, German and English was identified, since translations into these three languages accounted for 77.85% of all translations into Western European languages in the period discussed (Fig. 3).

Figure 2: Percentage of genres translated to Romanian in the second half of the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century

The most striking aspect of Fig. 2 is probably that, during the second half of the 19th century, not a single work of poetry was translated into Romanian, while narrative prose was clearly the dominant genre. Poetry was an important genre during the next period, although not at the expense of narrative prose/fiction (which kept growing) but of theatre, which shrank by 90% (from 30% to just 3%). In our discussion of the authors translated, we shall see that most of the poetry translated to Romanian was contemporary, i.e. not the traditional songs and poems which were so popular in Western Europe.

Figure 3: Proportion of genres translated to French, German and English in the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century.

The translation trends of the three main Western languages also show important deviations from both Fig. 1 and the new literary trends taking place in Greece. In both periods, poetry represented the largest share of translation, increasing at the end of the 19th century at the expense of narrative and theatre. Both essay and biography increased slightly. When comparing vertically (i.e. Fig. 2 and Fig. 3) we can see that the diagrams are very different, although both clearly show a preferred genre that increased its share in the 1900-1949 period: narrative for Romanian and poetry for the three Western languages.

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