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A Thought on Translation

December 29, 2008

John Hobbin‘s persistent postings on “dynamic equivalency” translations came to mind while reading the preface to Samuel Butler’s translation of the Iliad (the text, but not the preface, available for download here).

If, however, the mouth of the ox who treads out the corn may not be muzzled, and if there is to be a certain give and take between a dead author and his translator, it follows that a translator should be allowed a greater liberty when the work he is translating belongs to an age and country widely remote from his own. For a poem’s prosperity is like a jests—it is in the ear of him that hears it. It takes two people to say a thing—a sayee as well as a sayer—and by parity of reasoning a poem’s original audience and environment are integral parts of the poem itself. Poem and audience are as ego and non-ego; they blend into one another. Change either, and some corresponding change, spiritual rather than literal, will be necessary in the other, if the original harmony between them is to be preserved.

Butler is, of course, talking about translating epic verse; but I think that his words are equally applicable for other ancient texts.

One Comment
  1. December 30, 2008 8:35 am

    Fantastic quote! Thanks for this.

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