28 May 2013

Multiple translations of foreign-language classics into English, part 2

Now let me link you to a review of a new translation of Dante’s The Divine Comedy by eminent Australian poet and critic Clive James. The article, by Joseph Luzzi, is entitled This Could Be ‘Heaven,’ or This Could Be ‘Hell’.

Yet another review mentioned that there over one hundred translations of The Divine Comedy in English have been published over the centuries and that each leaves something to be desired.

While translating technical journalism is in no way comparable to translating a classic like this, the fact that one hundred or more translations have been produced and that all have their shortcomings is a useful reminder to monolingual translation buyers just how challenging and variable the process can be.

A footnote in passing: Occitanists claim that, before writing La Divina Commedia, Dante Alighieri hesitated for some time between Occitan, the language of troubadour poetry, and Tuscan. He chose the latter, helped establish the Tuscan dialect as the standardized Italian language, and in the process earned the title of 'Father of the Italian language'.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, I didn't know about Dante and Occitan.

    I got to know Dante through a 19th-century English prose translation of the Inferno by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. It was in a bilingual edition with Italian and English on facing pages, so I learnt a little Italian (Tuscan?) in the process. I mention it to illustrate a point, namely that different translations of the same work may be justified by being of different types and for different purposes. But in cases like that of Dante, I think there's also the lure of the challenge and of comparing oneself with the very best.


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