Friday, April 4, 2008

Our English Hosts Their ελληνικοις

Broadly defined, the study of translingual practice examines the process by which new words, meanings, discourses, and modes of representation arise circulate, and acquire legitimacy within the host language due to, or in spite of, the latter’s contact/collision with the guest language. Meanings, therefore, are not so much ‘transformed’ when concepts pass from the guest language to the host language as invented within the local environment of the latter.
--Lydia He Liu,
Translingual Practice: Literature, National Culture, and Translated Modernity--China, 1900-1937

Here I offer my translation of two passages and two Greek words some of you have commented on this week. The aim has been to free up the word play sacrificed in previous translations. The goal has been to host μιωβλια and σταδους into English, to invent concepts born out of these guest words. I welcome the former as “half pieces of silver” and the latter as “arenas.” Now in the local environment of the English language blogosphere and in the verses below, I’m welcoming the concepts.

What do you think? Could these phrases for concepts work in the various historical and cultural contexts in which we find their counterparts in Aristotle, in Luke, and in their contemporaries and forebears? Are they comprehensible to you in your English? To use some of your language, is it both “accurate” and “believable”? And do we now still need footnotes?

δκημα δ μεζον, σ ν π μεζονος δικας: δι τ λχιστα μγιστα, οον Μελανπου Καλλστρατος κατηγρει, τι παρελογσατο τρα μιωβλια ερ τος ναοποιος:

An injustice gets big when it’s from an injustice that’s bigger. The smallest thing can get to be the biggest; this happened when Melanopus was indicted by Callistratus for a miscalculation of three half pieces of silver consecrated to the temple makers.

π δικαιοσνης δ τοναντον. στιν δ τατα κ το νυπρχειν τ δυνμει:

With justice it’s different from that. It is rather out of the original capabilities within.

γρ τρα μιωβλια ερ κλψας κν τιον δικσειεν. τ μν δ οτω τ μεζον, τ δ' κ το βλβους κρνεται.

A thief of three half pieces of silver consecrated should be capable of any injustice whatever. What’s bigger really comes out of what’s been judged harmful.

Aristotle, Rhetoric Book Α Chapter XIV Verse 1

Κα δο δο ξ ατν ν ατ τ μρ σαν πορευμενοι ες κμην πχουσαν σταδους ξκοντα π ερουσαλμ, νομα μμαος

Now look at this: two out of the group, on that very day, were going into a village (a distance of sixty arenas from Jerusalem) that’s named Emmaus.

Luke, Narrative Chapter 24 Verse 13

Now that you’ve read in contexts above, what do you think?

What’s the difference in “half pieces of silver” and the previous English attempts: “vessels of small price”; “vessels”; “half-pence of money”; “half farthings of property / money”; “half-obels”?

What’s the distance between “arenas” and stadia,” “stades,” “kilomètres,” “miles,” and “furlongs”?

As I have argued elsewhere, one does not translate between equivalents; rather, one creates tropes of equivalence in the middle zone of translation between the host and guest languages. This middle zone of hypothetical equivalence, which is occupied by neologistic imagination, becomes the very ground for change.”
--Lydia He Liu,
Tokens of Exchange: The Problem of Translation in Global Circulation

“It is a commonplace that verbal signs are not stable and can change with time and usage; but as two, three, or multiple languages are involved and implicate one another, can we recapture the foreignness of that which has penetrated the opacity of the indigenous? . . . a hetero-cultural signifying chain . . . always requires more than one linguistic system to complete the process of signification for any given verbal phenomenon. . . .the semiotic operations of translingual speech and writing . . . acting out the verbal unit of one language and simultaneously displacing its signification onto a foreign language or languages, always in what one might call an occulted movement of thrown-togetherness. . . Suppose we transpose Peirce’s hypothesis onto Defoe’s island and imagine a European outcast and a Caribbean ‘savage’ being thrown together in this remote place and cut off from the rest of human society. . . .”
--Lydia He Liu,
The Clash of Empires: The Invention of China in Modern World Making


Nathan Stitt said...

Finally! Apparently I don't handle suspense well. While I like what you've done in translation I can think of a few alternatives.

If we have a proper term for a coin — such as a 'half-dollar' — if I were not going to refer to it by it's name then I would likely refer to it as a 'silver coin.' So if 'half-obel' doesn't cut it, then I'd be more inclined to go with "three silver coins" or perhaps "three consecrated pieces of silver." I attribute the 'hemi' or 'half' to it's proper name and so drop it from translation if it weren't used. "Half pieces" conjures up an image of a coin that has been sliced in two, not one that is half in value of a larger denomination coin.

The use of 'arena' is great. I know my current vernacular is to refer to distance in lengths of football fields. Depending on the audience you could translate it "sixty football fields" though I'd prefer something less colloquial. Given the root word, I'd probably prefer 'stadiums' to 'arenas.' When I think of an arena, I think indoor basketball. When I think of a stadium, I imagine an outdoor football field.

Either way, I've really enjoyed the last few posts. Oh, and I would definitely footnote both terms with the historical name/value/distance.

J. K. Gayle said...

Great points on "half obels" and "coins," Nathan. I am going for how three half pieces of silver consecrated sounds.

Thanks for the endorsement of "arenas" (with your caveats noted). Here, I was looking for English (albeit it's a Latin cognate) that gets at the battle stuff of Homer, the naked footrace stuff of Pindar, and all the stuff of Aristotle (outside of the Rhetoric of course). I am surprised how well "arenas" works.

Daniel said...

I'm glad to see Kurk's translations. I like the three half pieces of silver. But I have to agree with Nathan when he says, "'Half pieces' conjures up an image of a coin that has been sliced in two, not one that is half in value of a larger denomination coin." A half dollar makes sense, but a half bill of paper is a different idea.

I don't understand why 'arenas' would be a good translation for ''. It is just as borrowed as stadium is, but doesn't convey an equivalent meaning as well since it is usually indoors in our culture and less connected with the idea of a track. I would choose 'stadium' over 'arena'. They are both equally "English", but 'stadium' is closer to the original idea. I think 'furlong' was better than 'stadium' and an easy choice for the best translation before it cease to be commonly used in our language. (It is still used in horse racing.) Now that we stopped using 'furlong', I don't think we have a good equivalent word to use.

I read Kurk's translation separately to two of my kids (one 13 the other 21). They both said (looking confused), "Arena? You mean like a sports arena?" Then I asked if they knew how long an arena is. One said I guess it means the circumference of an arena. The other one said he didn't know. Out of the choices of 'arena', 'stadium', and 'furlong' they both chose 'stadium'. When I added miles, they both acted more comfortable about what the distance was, but one of them said the idea (of 60 arenas, stadia, furlongs vs. 7 miles) is a little different.

Nathan Stitt said...

I had no idea furlongs were still in use... I googled the term and now that I know the history it does make a great option, but I don't think that I know a single person who knows how long one is. Maybe I'll start asking around.

J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks Daniel and Nathan.

By half pieces of silver, I do really want to "conjure up an image" not necessarily of coins but of fragments (i.e., "sticks") of precious metal. Aristotle seems to be suggesting something of very very little value, and I'm suggesting that there was hardly any official nature to money (i.e., coins as for the Romans later) back in his day.

Then, I'm glad you ran the test on your two kids, Daniel. No surprise they have no idea about what a furlong is (as it takes google or an encyclopedia or dictionary, Nathan, to really get at it today).

Arena does evoke something in your kids' minds. It's much better than stadium for two reasons. First, stadium evokes the way too precise stadia/stades, which we have such an evolved technical history with now. Second, if we view stadium as a mere synonym of arena, then the former is more limited. Take a look at for each of the three words (furlong, stadium, and arena), and I think you'll actually see what I mean. Arena gets at the "close battles" and even the "naked foot races" of Homer and of Pindar. Arena does make Aristotle work a little harder, and before him the others who were using such an ambiguous Greek work for measurments of substantial distances (as in the battlefield and for other contests). Stadium doesn't. (And look at stadia on that visual thesaurus.

After you’ve heard what I’ve said here, and looked at the visual thesaurus, can you agree with what I’m thinking?

J. K. Gayle said...

Nathan Stitt said...

I am following your arguments but I have my own preference I guess. I'm certain it's my scientific background swaying me here. Either way, I still like your translation and it does invoke specific images that you seem to be going for.

I am curious as to whether he was referring to a pre-coinage monetary system. I may try to find some more information on early Greek coinage in the future just cause I like that sort of thing.

Daniel Olson said...

With your explanation of the fragments (sticks) of precious metal, I like the half pieces of silver.

I still don't think arena is a good word to use for translating Luke. We could argue whether 'arena' is better or 'stadium' is better, but I don't think either one is good.

No one would not think about the "evolved technical history" of 'stadia', except for the type of person who would read Aristotle in the original Greek. (And that kind of person does not need the passage translated in the first place.) Nor would people think about the "'close battles' and even the 'naked foot races' of Homer and Pindar." People would think of an arena as an enclosed area for sports and other events and a stadium as an outdoor sports facility. Neither word is currently used to measure distance.

Google trends shows that more people have searched for 'arena' than 'stadium' in the past few year, but few more news articles have used the word 'stadium'.

Neither word would provide an easily comprehensible text that flows naturally.