Sunshine Abroad

The trials and rewards of French translation and beyond

Greeks in France

Ancient Greeks, that is.  In French.

France loves its classics, its Antiquity, its Greek and Roman history.  Latin and Greek are still part of the basic curriculum in many high schools. But this isn't a recent love affair. Turns out, it's been going on for so long that it's affected the very language they speak.

I've talked about méduser before (here). Medusa was a Gorgon, a monster in Greek mythology whose gaze turns people to stone. Pretty badass, if you ask me. But the French word isn't even a direct reference to her anymore--it just means "to astound, astonish, or stupefy."

The verb s'adoniser  is similar. Look who's in there: Adonis, the Greek god of beauty and desire. He's considered an archetype of young, handsome men. But the French don't say that a guy is "making himself as beautiful as Adonis." They say il s'adonise : primping. "Preparing himself with almost too much attention," according to Littré.

The French don't mess around with their mythology. No one's going to "Medusa-ize" their enemy or "make like Adonis and beautify themselves." They're too refined for that.

I'm starting to feel pretty vulgar and base in comparison. Time to make like a tree and get out of here.