Sarah Ruden is a poet who has produced an esteemed translation of Vergil’s Aeneid. She also wrote an interesting essay (subscribers only) about the Aeneid and the experience of translating it that was published a few years ago in the New Criterion.
Ruden’s translation of the Aeneid is published by Yale University Press. In its September issue the New Criterion published an editorial condemning the YUP’s removal of the Danish Mohammed cartoons from Jytte Klausen’s The Cartoons That Shook the World. (Don’t miss Christopher Caldwell’s review of Klausen’s book.) The current issue of the New Criterion carries Ruden’s letter to the editor commenting on the magazine’s editorial condemning the YUP. Ruden writes:
With reference to “Yale & Danish Cartoons” (“Notes & Comments,” September 2009), I believe that some expression of solidarity on the part of other Yale Press authors like myself is essential. It was just too outrageous that the Yale and Yale University Press administrations cut the images from Jytte Klausen’s book The Cartoons that Shook the World–a book about images and a dispassionate, useful book that could be objectionable only to radical Islam.
For my own part, I have already banned the Press from bidding on further books of mine. This is, first of all, a self-protective move. I don’t think there’s any coffee good enough that I’d enjoy being told over it that my finished, fully edited manuscript is going to be neutered because of a report I’m not allowed to see without swearing secrecy. Since I write about politics and religion, such a scene is a likely danger for me. But I would urge all authors who are even considering a relationship with the Press to stay away from this non-publisher. A doctor who prostitutes a patient, selling her body, shouldn’t be called a doctor anymore but a pimp. Yale Press, after breaking a crucial relationship of trust with an author’s mind and work, should be called a lickspittle of fanatics and forfeit any respect or consideration from other authors.
Perhaps those of us already under contract with the Press should follow its own example to show the full implications of its decision. My translation of the Aeneid, which has been out for over a year, is doing well, but shouldn’t this alarm me? This epic poem is arrogantly pro-Western, advocating the Roman conquest of the world in the interest of peace and justice and denigrating Middle Eastern cultures. Shouldn’t I, in the “prudential” interest of “preventing violence,” stop promoting this book that could offend Muslims? Shouldn’t I form my own confidential team of advisers and demand the removal of the inflammatory passages? And what about my book in progress, a translation of a Roman novel (The Golden Ass of Apuleius) that includes a scene of sexual congress with a donkey? How could I in good conscience do the work I contracted to and hand Yale Press an unexpurgated manuscript?
A writer’s strike against the YUP? Ruden is also the translator of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, from which she seems to have learned a thing or two.