Ain't It The Truth?
I finally got around to reading John Lahr's Notes On A Cowardly Lion, first published in 1969. It's a biography of his father, the great clown Bert Lahr. He had a long and varied career, though most of his best performances were on stage--his work in movies and TV was minor. In fact, if he hadn't appeared in The Wizard Of Oz, he'd probably be forgotten today.
Bert starred in Aristophanes' The Birds and got embroiled in a controversy. He wanted to add certain shtick to the show, and modernize some of the lines--even ad libbing--whereas the director insisted he stick to the William Arrowsmith translation (which was not the translation he thought he'd be acting in).
Critics and academics, watching the experiment from afar, wrote about whether he had the right to do this. Some intellectuals, like poet (and translator himself) John Ciardi, wrote that Lahr should follow the original lines, while others thought his clowning was part of a tradition.
Especially Greek comedy, so obscure, and so different from comedy today. (Roman comedy we understand better. And Greek tragedy.) First, of course, any comedy loses a lot in translation. Second, Aristophanes often makes timely, local references which modern audiences wouldn't understand. Third, his style of writing, even when well-translated, doesn't necessarily play as it once did. I like to think Aristophanes would accept changes to his work, as long as they follow the intention of what he wrote. Aristophanes' work may have been many things to his contemporaries, but it wasn't stiff, so why should it sound like that in modern times?
By the way, it was intriguing to see the name William Arrowsmith. Whenever our class was about to read one of his translations (he was well known for his work on Euripides), the professor would remind us that Arrowsmith was a lousy translator, forcing his interpretation of the play on the unsuspecting reader.