Saturday, April 14, 2012

Gained in translation

Here's one difference between the two translations of The Táin  that I've been reading. Where Joseph Dunn's 1914 version has
"`It was a wealth, forsooth, we never heard nor knew of,' Ailill said; `but a woman's wealth was all thou hadst, and foes from lands next thine were used to carry off the spoil and booty that they took from thee.'"
 Ciaran Carson's 2007 version offers
"`If you were, I never heard tell of it,' said Ailill, `apart from your woman's assets that your neighbour enemies kept plundering and raiding.'"
© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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12 Comments:

Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Hah, modern simplification. And we lose the flavor of an ancient tale.

April 14, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

But we gain something, too. The newer version is more explicitly (and amusingly so) a reference to sex, and that is highly appropriate to the story and character. It picks up on an aspect of the original that the older translation does not, at least not to readers today.

Besides, who's to say that a 1914 English translation of a tale told and set down in Old and Middle Irish in the eighth, twelfth, and fourteenth centuries is more appropriate than a 2007 English translation?

April 14, 2012  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

The translator should know what the meaning is. Is the sexual double meaning in fact part of the passage in Gaelic (Old/Middle Irish)? And I don't just mean does it fit the facts of the story in general. How free should a translation be? And does that depend on whether the subject is a literary piece or simply a fairy tale or legend?

April 14, 2012  
Blogger Scott Phillips said...

It's not translation, it's summary.

April 14, 2012  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Ah, that's different.

April 14, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Funny this should come up. I was in a foreign-language bookstore today, and I thought I'd look for a parallel-text edition of The Tain just so I could compare the original Irish with the various English renderings. But the luck of the Gaelic was not with me, and I found no Irish section.

Ciaran Carson is a poet as well as a translator, so he may be more prone to freer interpretations.

I did buy a book of La Rochefoucauld's maxims, so if my blog posts get suddenly more witty, pithy, and jaded than usual, you'll know why,

April 14, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And the answer is that I don't know the connotation of the language in the various original versions. Carson is listed as a translator, so I presume he translated as opposed to freely rendered.

April 14, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

A lot depends on what we think a myth is supposed to sound like, doesn't it? I have to admit that I kind of like the flowery voice of the first, but if reading the whole thing, I might have an easier time with the terser language of the second.

April 14, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I think you're probably right. I gave the matter some thought earlier, and I figured that if the Dunn translation appeared in 1914, Dunn was almost certainly educated in the Victorian Era and certainly under the influence of scholars who had been so educated. The first scholarly translators of the Tain were, of course, German. But among English translators, Victorian notions of what constituted proper prose style were likely to the fore. And those notions probably influence our ideas to this day of what "elevated" prose is supposed to sound like.

April 14, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Oh, rah-THUH, Petuh.

April 14, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Quite.

April 14, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

More like, "Get thy fundament from my sight lest I should feel compelled to administer a sound thrashing."

April 14, 2012  

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