Cross-cultural Translation Studies as Thick Translation
Theo Hermans (University College London)
1 Aristotle Let me begin with two specific examples. Both will have a familiar ring. I do not intend to discuss either example in any detail. They merely serve to illustrate, however briefly, the kind of problem I am trying to address. My first case concerns Aristotle, and more particularly John Jones’ book On Aristotle and Greek Tragedy (1962, 1971). In the history of readings, of interpretations, and therefore also of translations of Aristotle’s Poetics, Jones’ book is regarded as a landmark which altered our modern perception of the way in which Aristotle conceived of ancient Greek tragedy. Crucially, Jones demonstrated that Aristotle did not operate with a concept of a ‘tragic hero’ in an individualized or romantic or Hamlet-like sense. Instead he argued that Aristotle thought of tragedy in ‘situational’ terms, and that a notion like the ‘change of fortune,’ so crucial in Aristotle’s description of tragedy, should be understood not in a ‘personal’ but in a ‘situational’ sense. Jones pointed out, for instance, that Aristotle does not speak of ‘the change in the hero’s fortune’ (as e.g. Ingram Bywater’s 1909 translation has it) but simply of ‘the change of fortune’, the reference being to ‘a state of affairs’ rather than to ‘the stage-portrayal of one man’s vicissitude’ (Jones 1971: 14-16). A different understanding of Aristotle’s meaning means a different translation. A translation into English may then need to make an extra effort to wrap itself around the specificity of the Greek words as understood, or understood anew, by the modern commentator. Jones shows his awareness of this in his rendering of one of the terms that crop up in connection with anagnorisis, the ‘recognition’ of the fatal error in a tragedy. The current Penguin version of the Poetics, which in this instance has not followed Jones, translates Aristotle’s definition of anagnorisis as a change from ignorance to knowledge, [which] leads either to love or to hatred between persons (Dorsch 1965: 46; my underlining, TH). Jones translates the definition rather awkwardly as a change from ignorance to knowledge, and thus to a state of nearness and dearness [philia] or to a state of enmity, on the part of those … (Jones 1971: 58; my underlining, TH). His comment picks up the Greek term philia, which, he says, I render, hideously, “state of nearness and dearness” in my determination to avoid “love”, the word favoured by English translators (ibid.). Jones’ reason for so emphatically sidestepping the seemingly obvious rendering of philia as ‘love’ becomes apparent when he quotes a fellow classicist, Gerard Else (Aristotle’s Poetics: the Argument, 1957), who explains why ‘love’ will not do as a translation of philia:
[philia] is not friendship or love or any other feeling, but the objective state of being [philoi], ‘dear ones’, by virtue of blood ties. When Oedipus ‘recognizes’ Laius – that is, realizes who it was he killed at the crossroads – he changes from ignorance to knowledge, and at the same moment, since Laius was his father, he moves into a state of [philia] … his feelings do not count as much as the new situation into which he has moved with his shift from ignorance to awareness. (Else quoted in Jones 1971: 58). Another, more recent translation of the Poetics, by Richard Janko (1987), speaks of ‘recognition’ as a change from ignorance to knowledge, and so to either friendship or enmity (Janko 1987: 14; my underlining,TH) While Janko has gone for ‘friendship’, his annotations, which are more than double the length of the actual translation, point out that the Greek term philia ‘is much stronger’ than the English ‘friendship’ and ‘has connotations of kinship by blood, marriage or ties of hospitality’ (Janko 1987: 95-6). These additional glosses help us appreciate why Jones felt pressed to steer clear of standard dictionary phrases and opt instead for...
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