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Monday, October 22, 2007

Vir et Virissa

An interesting lesson on how to - and how not to - translate word play. Last week on the way from one thing to another I had an hour at the Thomas Fischer Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto. I borrowed a camera and a tripod, found one hour free parking on the street, and paid $20.00 for a 30 minute photography session with the Pagnini-Beza Bible. I was able to photograph a considerable amount, although the images are not exemplary so I won't post them.

Here is Gen. 2:23 in the Pagnini version along with other basic translations for comparison.
    Dixitq homo, Hac vice os ex ossibus meis, & caro ex carne mea propterea vocabitur Virissa, quia ex viro sumta est ista. Pagnini

    Dixitque Adam : Hoc nunc os ex ossibus meis, et caro de carne mea : hæc vocabitur Virago, quoniam de viro sumpta est. Vulgate

    Lors Adam dit : A cette fois, c'est os de mes os et chair de ma chair. On appellera icelle hommasse car elle a été prise de l'homme. Olivétan

    Et l'homme dit: Voici cette fois celle qui est os de mes os et chair de ma chair! on l'appellera femme, parce qu'elle a été prise de l'homme. Louis Segond

    Da sprach der Mensch: Das ist doch Bein von meinem Bein und Fleisch von meinem Fleisch; man wird sie Männin heißen, darum daß sie vom Manne genommen ist. Luther

    And Adam seide, This is now a boon of my boonys, and fleisch of my fleisch; this schal be clepid virago, `for she is takun of man. Wycliff

    Then sayde man: This is once bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. She shal be called woman, because she was take of man. Coverdale
Somehow I think the Wycliff translator missed the joke! It just shows how dangerous it is to translate from a translation. Virago, however, meant at one time a strong and courageous woman, and ended up meaning a scolding and domineering shrew. I don't know that terms referring to men have the same unhappy trajectory. Pagnini retranslated the pun with vir and virissa.

Apparently Augustine toyed with translating this pun as vir - virgo, but demurred. Symmachus has already used andris from aner. Heidl page 146. Symmachus was known as an idiomatic but literary translator. The LXX does not reproduce the word play but uses gune and aner.

PS. I know I am weeks behind in answering my email. I will try to catch up. Its been a busy few weeks. Pax.


At Wed Oct 24, 02:08:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Good catch of the Wycliff translator's miss! And thanks for all the comparative notes. I'm really interested in the translator choices of Augustine and Symmachus (especially vs LXX). Who is it that classifies Symmachus as "an idiomatic but literary translator"? AND, thank you so much for sharing the results of your $20, 30 minute photo session! What great work, and helpful publication! We all need to do more of this, Suzanne.

At Wed Oct 24, 03:38:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I made up the "literary" attribution for Symmachus - he is usually described as idiomatic.

Although this verse is not a problem in English, it is interesting to see how translators over the centuries have tackled it.

If you follow the Heidl link, there is more info.

At Fri Oct 26, 09:41:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

The Heidl source is helpful. Thanks. I can see Symmachus as "idiomatic" (and perhaps unwittingly so).

Are you familiar with Willis Barnstone's conception of "literary"? There's a very much different characterization of Symmachus by Barnstone in his history / theory / practice book, The Poetics of Translation. Barnstone writes:

Here are some situations where equivalence is not only secondary but scarcely existent, and where the translator may be unaware the equivalence has been banished. Rigidly literal translation that omits connotative meaning may doggedly assume equivalence, but equivalence is not there. The extreme paradigm concerns the Bibles in Greek by Aquila and Symmachus, who in their radically literal translations created a translation language, without regard to equivalence. In their attempt at literal replication, they achieve neither replication nor equivalence. the extreme literality of gloss, crib, and marginal lexicon edges into unintelligibility rather than equivalence.

Do you think Barnstone paints Symmachus with too broad a brushstroke? (You should read how he characterizes Augustine).

Or: you say "Symmachus has already used andris from aner. . . The LXX does not reproduce the word play but uses gune and aner." Is it this particular Symmachus word play (in contrast with LXX) that makes "Symmachus . . . known as an idiomatic but literary translator"?


One reason I'm so interested in this is I'm working on a new translation of Aristotle's Rhetoric. Among rhetoricians today, the "best" translation to date is George A. Kennedy's (1991, and revised 2007). Kennedy claims it's the most rhetorical translation of all, and that philosophers and classicists who've translated before have tried to ignore how they've used (if banished) methods of rhetoric criticism in translation, such as "enthymeme." My contention is that Kennedy's translation is ironically the most philosophical, the most "literal" in Willis's sense, the most masculinistic, the most Aristotelian. Willis's sense of "literal" includes "transliteral" although the latter is my term, not his.

Hence, I'm translating by letting Sappho's fragmented literary poetic rhetoric translate Aristotle's treatise on rhetoric. It's "person above logic" as the late Kenneth Pike (a genius teacher of mine) would say. It's the "artistic translation theory [that] is a view of language as 'person-centered' or multidimensional (220)" that Louis Kelly describes (in contrast to the traditional "object-centered" theories of Aristotle, a particularly the translation theory of Cicero we have been "stuck" with) in The True Interpreter: A History of Translation Theory and Practice in the West. It's the approach Anne Carson takes and speaks of (in "The Question of Translation"), when she says:

Metaphysical silence happens inside words themselves. And its intentions are harder to define. Every translator knows the point where one language cannot be translated into another. (1)

and, Carson adds:

I was trained to strive for exactness and to believe that rigorous knowledge of the world without any residue is possible for us. This residue, which does not exist - just to think of it refreshes me. To think of its position, how it shares its position with drenched layers of nothing, to think of its motion, how it can never stop moving because I am in motion with it, to think of its tone of voice, which is casual (in fact it forgets my existence almost immediately) but every so often betrays a sort of raw pity I don't understand, to think of its shadow, which is cast by nothing and so has no death in it (or very little) – to think of these things is like a crack of light showing under the door of a room where I've been locked for years. (12)

At Fri Oct 26, 04:28:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


It seems that Symmachus and Aquila have been lumped together in the quote from Barnstone. Here is the little I know on Symmachus.

Is "The Question of Translation" a book or essay by Carson?

I do think that word play makes a translation literary. It is interesting to note that there is no particular correspondence between a version translating word play and being either literal or dynamic equivalence. For example, Luther's translation is fairly free but it maintains the word play also.

At Sat Oct 27, 05:13:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks for clarifying free translation or literal and word play (with Luther as an example).

Carson's "The Question of Translation" is a talk she gave in 2005 at Columbia University (with Alexander Nehamas, whose talk was the same title). Seems that her subtitle was "Variations on the right to remain silent" and she allowed Columbia to post most of her transcript at

(PS: The conference organizers gave this announcement:

Carson and Nehamas will discuss the principled limitations of translation, what it omits and what it distorts. They will also look at the political effects of these limitations, examining, as an example, the skewed translation of Joan of Arc's testimony and how it was used in her own trial, ultimately condemning her to death.")


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