“Do you sacrifice cultural context or comprehensibility? Personally I usually prefer a translation to be more careful with context if I can educate myself about what I don't understand…Ideally we want a word that is both comprehensible and keeps more of the context.”
--Daniel, Commenting on a Post
“My concerns are to have a Bible that is as accurate to the intended meaning as possible, with as little doctrinal bias in either text or footnotes, that represents the literary features of the original and is true to the English language. Quite frankly, I think that these are common goals of our bib[l]iosphere and I find the ongoing argument and counter argument delightful.”
--Suzanne, in a Post
“Monetary translations in the Bible are a pet peeve of mine. I prefer the commonly accepted transliterations such as drachma, denarius, etc….The Bible is a historical work and I'd rather see the facts of history correctly retained within it's pages, and my preference there would carry over into any other historical work. I would say this is particularly true when specialists already use English terms for ancient sources.”
--Nathan, Commenting on a Post
Three of my blogger friends have expressed preferences for translation, as quoted above. In this post, let me try to ignore the question of the “Bible” as a special case for Greek language translation into English. I do want to reflect, nonetheless, on what Daniel, Suzanne, and Nathan are saying as it relates generally to problems and solutions in translation.
Daniel brings up the use of the Greek word σταδίους (transliterated “stadious”) by Luke and how four translators have translated it. I’m going to talk about that word but will leave the Bible for a bit since I’m looking at rhetorical and feminist and translational things with respect to Aristotle and his Rhetoric. And I’m going to add this: Daniel is really on to something that might help me, and might help those arguing over Bible translation. He says, “I can educate myself about what I don't understand.”
“Personally,” Daniel has started. And what a great start! There’s no mere ideal in “personally.” “Personally,” may include God if you will. But God’s not doing any of the translating.
Suzanne and Nathan echo Daniel with “My concerns are” and “a pet peeve of mine…I prefer.” Hooray for the honest, humble, subjectivity!
Hence, we return to “the Bible’s” σταδίους (transliterated “stadious”). But as I warned, we’re going outside the Bible a bit. With this term there are things that are profoundly personal. What we mean is this: Each one of us throughout human history who uses the word, who has ever used it, has some attachment to it. So we start there. And we look at others’ attachments to the word. (I’m tempted here as an English language user, and an ESL teaching specialist, to throw in a few “English” grammar or phonological examples that mark us as outsiders or unmark us as insiders, aka “native speakers of the English language.”) When you read or hear σταδίους, you have some degree of relationship to the word. It’s your etic-ness if you’re focused on how foreign, or secondary, the word is to you; it’s your emic-ness if you’re focused on how familiar the word is for you. (So there I go, using English words—i.e., etic and emic —which you may be familiar with. If not double click the words with your mouse to see what happens—your information gap begins to close as you open answers.com and scroll down to read the things of curiosity and interest to you and as you ignore the rest.)
Here’s my search for σταδίους. I find it in the Illiad a few times. Homer’s characters or his narrator are using it. The contexts? The term’s for “standing” as in a battle, in a very close fight. Then it’s in Nemean by Pindar. There it’s a “foot race.” Elsewhere in Pindar in a Pythian ode of his, another word makes explicit that this time the foot race is a “naked race” or some sort of “bare course.” Now, in Aristotle, it’s used overwhelmingly although never in the Rhetoric, which is the work I’m translating. Aristotle uses the term for his science of “nature” which he divides into the study of first principles (the Physics), the study of bodies and magnitudes (De Caelo and De Generatione), and the study of plants and animals that have bodies and magnitude. For example, Aristotle talks about trying to measure an animal, imagined, “ten thousand stadia in length.” He measures the circumference of the earth at 400,000 stadia. On the Constitution of Athens, he speaks of enumerated “city-wardens…who supervise female performers on the flute or harp or lyre, and see that they do not charge more than two drachmas for an engagement, and, when several persoansl want to engage the same performer, decided by casting lots which is to have the preference. It is also their duty to hinder scavengers from discharging sewage within ten stadia of the city wall.” Aristotle even famously uses “stadia” in paraphrase of Zeno to make his logic, his syllogisms, “against motion,” to say that the earth does not move. Now the Bible: Daniel gives one New Testament use of the term. And, for translation of the Hebrew, there’s the Septuagint use in one of the variants in Daniel 4:9(12) in Ziegler’s edition of the Old Greek. And for novel Greek bible use, there’s five uses of the word in 2 Maccabees.
My questions: Is the logic of Aristotle reigning supreme here? Does he not also imagine even the “nature” of this word? Hence: what English phrase might best allow all these senses immediately? I’m asking about all of Aristotle’s plural connotations and uses, and then the others’ as well? Is it the best choice in English really a transliteration such as “stadia” or “stades”? How is it that σταδίους can be so ambiguous in Greek, diachronically and synchronically as linguists say, and still no English word is allowed to do the same? I’ve got an idea for a true English phrase but would like to hear others’ proposals as well. Size may matter in translation.
(So let me be critical now. I don’t see any of the “either / or” binaries as entirely necessary. Daniel asks: “Do you sacrifice cultural context or comprehensibility?” Suzanne wants a translation “that is as accurate to the intended meaning as possible.” Implicit here is another “either / or” choice in the “ongoing argument and counter argument” that she finds “delightful” anyway. Are our translation choices really between “accuracy” and “bias”? Between plus “literary features” or minus such features? Must we choose between either “intended meaning” that’s both “true to the English language” and the original or meanings—anything goes meanings—never meant by some original “the author”? Nathan wants to “see the facts of history correctly retained within” as if “the facts” of “history” are impersonally and objectively recorded and observed. Implicit assumptions of the logic here are this: that “cultural context” and “comprehensibility”; that “accuracy” and “authorial intent”; that “facts” and “history” are fixed or are to be fixed in ways that I, a human being made in God’s image, have no influence over and little involvement in constructing. And when I perceive, rightly or wrongly, that I have no influence or that someone has “bias,” then I’ll just “idealize” God’s Truth in ways that are really more like “idolatry” of ostensible Truth. One of the “ideals” is I can come at the “Scripture” as “fully inspired,” made untouchable to translators by the touch of God.
To suggest otherwise is to be labelled a “postmodernist” or a “feminist” or some other such ostensibly derogatory name. The ad homomen fallacy of such logic aside, it’s tough for many Bible readers and translators not to fall into the rigid logic. As if God is Aristotle, and heaven and earth were birthed from syllogisms. As if God is Plato, transliteratating “syllogism” so that the Greek language is realized, and idealized now into English, as something fixed and accurate and factual, immutable. As if God does not communicate with the people who’s languages don’t have many numbers or formal logic--and I’m not talking about digital amoebas.
Notice what Daniel adds: “I can educate myself about what I don't understand.”
Again, a reference to the personal. It would be no less subjective if Daniel asks God or another person to help him understand personally.)