Comparison of Allen Mandelbaum’s and Charles Martin’s Translations of the Myth of Hippomenes and Atlanta

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            The purpose of this paper is to critically analyze the translations of the myth of “Atlanta and Hippomenes” from  Ovid’s Metamorphoses (8 CE) by two writers namely; Allen Mandelbaum, which was first published in 1993, and Charles Martin published in 2004.

Both translations are extremely good but I prefer Mandelbaum because while his version is easy to read it doesn’t compromise on the details of the story, Martin on the other hand uses a more archaic language that gives the translation a feel of the classic poetry yet at times the narrative is hard to follow. The structure of this essay will be divided in to three main parts; the first of these will analyze the scene in which Hippomenes decides to make a wager for a race with Atlanta, the second section will evaluate the scene in which Hippomenes throws the last apple to divert Atlanta, and the third and final part will evaluate the final transformation of the Atlanta and Hippomenes into lions.

            Hippomenes witnesses Atlanta racing some of her suitors, falls madly in love with her and  at that point makes a decision to participate in the deathly race himself:

Allen Mandelbaum      (1993)

Charles Martin          (2004)

“But why don’t I risk it too? Why not Compete?” he cries; “The god helps those who dare” he is pondering this course…


…he asked himself why he was leaving the outcome of this competition unventured: “God helps those who improve their condition by daring,”


            The words used by Mandelbaum in these lines hints that the decision Hippomenes was making to race Atlanta was a very reckless act. He uses the word risk to signify the magnitude of the gamble Hippomenes was deciding to partake in.  Moreover, the line “The god help those who dare” is also suggestive of a courage that seems to spring from uncontrolled, passionate nature as Mandelbaum presents Hippomenes as having cried these lines out loud.  On the other hand, the translation of these lines by Martin of Hippomenes’ process of coming to the decision to race Atlanta is more of an internal dialogue than an outward display of passions. Martin’s translation seems to diminish the recklessness making it look more like a rational decision. The line “God helps those who improve their condition by daring,” suggests that God’s help is granted for that risk that is taken to improve upon oneself.

            As the finishing line draws near Hippomenes throws the last golden apple that Venus gave him in order to distract Atlanta and win the race:

Allen Mandelbaum      (1993)

Charles Martin          (2004)

With all the force of youth he throws the gleaming golden fruit – obliquely, distantly – off course. The girl seemed hesitant – uncertain of her choice: to let it lie or pick it up.


With all the strength of his youth he flings the last apple to the far side of the field: this will really delay her! The maiden looked doubtful about its retrieval. (674)

The translation by Mandelbaum is more accurate in this extremely crucial scene of the race because he stretches it out. Moreover, he stresses upon the difficult choice Atlanta has to make and it suggests that Atlanta is aware of the consequences of going after that apple which is why she hesitates. The lines hint that Atlanta’s choice is not dictated by the gleam of the golden fruit but rather by the appeal of the youth whom she races. Martin’s translation of these lines is different as he presents it more from Hippomene’s perspective “this will really delay her” while Mandelbaum had described it as an observer. Yet Martin fails to put the complexity of Atlanta’s feelings as she struggles to make her choice.

            Finally, let’s examine how each translator depicts the final scene when Apollo makes Daphne his tree:

Allen Mandelbaum      (1993)

Charles Martin          (2004)

She wraps their necks in tawny manes; their fingers take the shape of cunning claws; their arms are changed to legs; their weight moves forward to their chests; and they grow tails that sweep along the ground; their faces harden now; they speak in growls, not words; the wild woods are their mating place, as lions they strike terror into all:


So now their elegant pale necks are cloaked in tawny manes; curved claws are their fingers; arms are now forelegs; and all the weight of their bodies shifts to their torsos; and now their tails sweep the arena; fierce now, their faces; growls supplant verbal expression; the forest now is their bedroom; a terror to others, meekly these lions…


A comparison of this passage in the two translations shows the different approach of both writers. Mandelbaum writes in a way that represents the act of transformation as it takes place so that the reader imagines the transition happening in that moment, while Martin simply describes their altered appearances. Moreover, the words used by Mandelbaum are much simpler and that is what makes his translation more powerful as simple words are easily pictured. On the other hand, Martin makes use of laborious words ‘forelegs,’ ‘torsos,’ ‘arena’ etc. which add grandeur to the narrative but doesn’t have the strong impact that reading Mandelbaum does.

            In conclusion, for me Mandelbaum’s translation was much better because he seems to understand not just the narrative but the story of Atlanta and Hippomenes in a more profound way and aims at providing the reader with the same. I think that Martin’s translation is more focused on translating the myth in a certain linguistic style and which I felt made it lack in emotional depth.

       Works Cited

Mandelbaum, Allen. The Metamorphoses of Ovid.

New York: A Harvest Book-Harcourt Inc., 1993.

Martin, Charles. Metamorphoses. W.W. Norton, 2004.

November 24, 2023



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