Tomorrow is the 150th anniversary of the original delivery of the Gettysburg Address. This morning’s New York Times Op-Ed section has a couple items on that speech. An editorial (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/18/opini ... ef=opinion) cites a former classicist, Gary Wills, “all modern political prose descends from the Gettysburg Address” noting the double sense of “descends” as a judgment of relative merit. In another (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/20 ... ef=opinion) Allen C. Guelzo notes a comparison of Lincoln’s speech with the epgram of Simonides on the Spartan dead at Thermopylae:
ὦ ξεῖν, ἀγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις ὅτι τῇδε
κείμεθα, τοῖς κείνων ῥήμασι πειθόμενοι.
I’ve been thinking about both of these remarks repeatedly throughout the day, and also of something a visiting British professor of history said to an undergraduate class I attended more than half a century ago to the effect that there are only two great political speeches in history: Pericles’ oration over the Athenian dead of the first year of the Peloponnesian War and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
Guelzo refers to a volume of translation of the Gettysburg address into several languages but doesn’t cite it; I’ll check it out. But the idea of translating the Gettysburg Address into Greek strikes me as an interesting exercise.
In one of my last years before retiring I taught a class in Latin Prose Composition in which I assigned sections of several political speeches including Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, FDR’s First Inaugural, and JFK’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech for conversion into Ciceronian Latin. I picked the Second Inaugural rather than the Gettysburg Address because of the marvelous rhetorical wrestling with the question of theodicy in Biblical passages cited there.
I’m not seriously proposing a common effort to convert the Gettysburg Address into Greek. I don’t doubt that it has been done before and probably done well. I’d like to see what’s been done and I might like to give it a shot myself.