Tuesday, December 4, 2007

ABCs of DE

This post is to look at 1) Assumptions, 2) a Berth, and 3) a Consequence of what some are calling Dynamic Equivalence (and Formal Equivalence). Hence, the ABCs of DE(&F). I almost entitled it “All Work and No Word Play” but didn’t really want to play Aristotle’s game. And I would, rather, like to have fun talking with and listening to Rich Rhodes, David Ker, John Hobbins, Suzanne McCarthy, Elshaddai Edwards, Wayne Leman, Bob MacDonald, Peter Kirk, Mike Sangrey, Stephen (aka Q), Glennsp, and Mike Aubrey.


Aristotle acts as if he were Eugene Nida. That is, he is rightly concerned about corruptions and misappropriations of the original Greek language, except he neither knew Nida nor lived long enough to read the wild Hellene translations and texts we call the New Testament. So to straighten out the untamed poets of his day, and their old mothers and ancient fathers, Aristotle writes the Poetics, which he references a few times in the Rhetoric.

For instance, in what we call “Book III,” Aristotle writes:

ἤρξαντο μὲν οὐ̂ν κινη̂σαι τὸ πρω̂τον, ὥσπερ πέφυκεν, οἱ ποιηταί: τὰ γὰρ ὀνόματα μιμήματα ἐστίν, ὑπη̂ρξεν δὲ καὶ ἡ φωνὴ πάντων μιμητικώτατον τω̂ν μορίων ἡμι̂ν: διὸ καὶ αἱ τέχναι συνέστησαν ἥ τε ῥαψῳδία καὶ ἡ ὑποκριτικὴ καὶ ἄλλαι γε. ἐπεὶ δ' οἱ ποιηταί, λέγοντες εὐήθη , διὰ τὴν λέξιν ἐδόκουν πορίσασθαι τὴν δόξαν, διὰ του̂το ποιητικὴ πρώτη ἐγένετο λέξις, οἱ̂ον ἡ Γοργίου, καὶ νυ̂ν ἔτι οἱ πολλοὶ τω̂ν ἀπαιδεύτων τοὺς τοιούτους οἴονται διαλέγεσθαι κάλλιστα. του̂το δ' οὐκ ἔστιν, ἀλλ' ἑτέρα λόγου καὶ ποιήσεως λέξις ἐστίν.

And John H. Freese translates:

The poets, as was natural, were the first to give an impulse to style; for words are imitations, and the voice also, which of all our parts is best adapted for imitation, was ready to hand; thus the arts of the rhapsodists, actors, and others, were fashioned. And as the poets, although their utterances were devoid of sense, appeared to have gained their reputation through their style, it was a poetical style that first came into being, as that of Gorgias. Even now the majority of the uneducated think that such persons express themselves most beautifully, whereas this is not the case, for the style of prose is not the same as that of poetry.

Note Aristotle’s assumptions: that poets may have and may mimic “style” but they are “devoid of sense.” If we apply binary features to some of this, we can “translate” the articulations this way:

Poetry = + imitation; + art; + popular; but - sense; - originality; - beauty
Prose = - imitation; - art; - popular; but + sense; + originality; + beauty
THEREFORE (syllogistically): Poetry (bad)  Prose (good)

Then Aristotle continues by assuming his “divide-and-conquer” binary method:

καὶ ἔτι τέταρτον τὸ ψυχρὸν ἐν ται̂ς μεταφοραι̂ς γίνεται: εἰσὶν γὰρ καὶ μεταφοραὶ ἀπρεπει̂ς, αἱ μὲν διὰ τὸ γελοι̂ον ̔χρω̂νται γὰρ καὶ οἱ κωμῳδοποιοὶ μεταφοραι̂σ̓, αἱ δὲ διὰ τὸ σεμνὸν ἄγαν καὶ τραγικόν: ἀσαφει̂ς δέ, ἂν πόρρωθεν, οἱ̂ον Γοργίας “χλωρὰ καὶ ἄναιμα τὰ πράγματα”, “σὺ δὲ ταυ̂τα αἰσχρω̂ς μὲν ἔσπειρας κακω̂ς δὲ ἐθέρισας”: ποιητικω̂ς γὰρ ἄγαν. καὶ ὡς ̓Αλκιδάμας τὴν φιλοσοφίαν “ἐπιτείχισμα τῳ̂ νόμῳ”, καὶ τὴν ̓Οδύσσειαν “καλὸν ἀνθρωπίνου βίου κάτοπτρον”, καὶ “οὐδὲν τοιου̂τον ἄθυρμα τῃ̂ ποιήσει προσφέρων”: ἅπαντα γὰρ ταυ̂τα ἀπίθανα διὰ τὰ εἰρημένα. τὸ δὲ Γοργίου εἰς τὴν χελιδόνα, ἐπεὶ κατ' αὐτου̂ πετομένη ἀφη̂κε τὸ περίττωμα , ἄριστα τω̂ν τραγικω̂ν: εἰ̂πε γὰρ “αἰσχρόν γε, ὠ̂ Φιλομήλα”. ὄρνιθι μὲν γάρ, εἰ ἐποίησεν, οὐκ αἰσχρόν, παρθένῳ δὲ αἰσχρόν. εὐ̂ οὐ̂ν ἐλοιδόρησεν εἰπὼν ὃ ἠ̂ν, ἀλλ' οὐχ ὃ ἔστιν.

And Freese says Aristotle says that (in English) this way:

The fourth cause of frigidity of style is to be found in metaphors; for metaphors also are inappropriate, some because they are ridiculous--for the comic poets also employ them--others because they are too dignified and somewhat tragic; and if they are farfetched, they are obscure, as when Gorgias says: “Affairs pale and bloodless”; “you have sown shame and reaped misfortune”; for this is too much like poetry. And as Alcidamas calls philosophy “a bulwark of the laws,” and the Odyssey “a beautiful mirror of human life,” and “introducing no such plaything in poetry.” All these expressions fail to produce persuasion, for the reasons stated. As for what Gorgias said to the swallow which, flying over his head, let fall her droppings upon him, it was in the best tragic style. He exclaimed, “Fie, for shame, Philomela!”; for there would have been nothing in this act disgraceful for a bird, whereas it would have been for a young lady. The reproach therefore was appropriate, addressing her as she was, not as she is.

Now see how Aristotle attacks Gorgias, that sophist poet first disparaged by Plato (Aristotle’s teacher). And remember how Plato coins the word “rhetoric” first to call Gorgias a teacher and user of that “so called rhetoric.” And recall how Gorgias, indeed, does string his readers along with his four-point multi-modal Praise of Helen, acquitting her as would Barry Scheck, Robert Shapiro, Peter Neufield, F. Lee Bailey, and Johnnie Cochran, Jr. all wrapped up in one person, until he much more like Marsha Clark casts doubt on the whole case with his very last word (play): παίγνιον. So notice how Plato hated poetic whip-lash, and how he got his student Aristotle, likewise, to teach against it in his own Rhetoric.

But does Aristotle follow through with his own assumptions? Can he practice what he preaches? Oh no. Actually, he might say in English, “Fie,” for he useth the “inappropriate” high metaphor of bird droppings to attack the use of metaphors and its users. What’s that stuff, now, on his assumptions? (“Fie” really is better than “It hurts me” or even “ouch”).

What’s the application to Dynamic Equivalence and its Formal equivalent? Well, were getting a letter or two ahead of ourselves.


Certain Big sailing vessels we call “English translations” make up an armada that’s called “The Bible,” which must dock in a single port, or berth, we call (in English) “the Word of God.” (Pardon me; I just committed the sin of using way too many Ss in that last Sentence. Look ahead:) The navy, logically, will speak a single language, because it is the Word. And the sailor can, reasonably, assume general universal linguistic absolutes regardless the specific deck or ship.

Now, to be sure, those sailing from the berths around Alexandria may be suspect. For they drift more toward Athens than Jerusalem. So get the drift (the epic “drift away”) from just a couple of couplets of well-grounded Hebrew:

ב בִּנְאוֹת דֶּשֶׁא, יַרְבִּיצֵנִי; עַל-מֵי מְנֻחוֹת יְנַהֲלֵנִי.

ג נַפְשִׁי יְשׁוֹבֵב; יַנְחֵנִי בְמַעְגְּלֵי-צֶדֶק, לְמַעַן שְׁמוֹ.

2 εἰς τόπον χλόης ἐκεῖ με κατεσκήνωσεν ἐπὶ ὕδατος ἀναπαύσεως ἐξέθρεψέν με

3 τὴν ψυχήν μου ἐπέστρεψεν ὡδήγησέν με ἐπὶ τρίβους δικαιοσύνης ἕνεκεν τοῦ ὀνόματος αὐτοῦ

Why do the translators slide the parallelism of the poem upon the middle ἐπὶ? How it turns upon (i.e., ἐπέστρεψεν) the Soul (i.e., τὴν ψυχήν); how Greek its Justice (i.e., δικαιοσύνης); how epic and wandering its Odyssey (i.e., ὡδήγησέν). Surely the English is more accurate: “He leadeth me beside . . . He leadeth me in . . . (No?! Where’d we get that parallelism then?!) We hear the poets (not King David and not those of King James) paddling, playing, passing to another place, to other people, whose names we hear in perverted unberthed nonAngloSaxon dreams.

What’s the application to Dynamic Equivalence and its Formal equivalent? Well, were still getting a letter or two ahead of ourselves. As the sheep are bleeting, which one-eyed shepherd is calling now?


It’s Cyclops calling after Odysseus on the poetic (word playful) Odyssey. The giant (not Goliath) wants an answer and needs a Dynamically Equivalent translation. If only he had two eyes to match the two ears:

Κύκλωψ, εἰρωτᾷς μ' [ὄνομα κλυτόν, αὐτὰρ ἐγώ τοι
You ask me my famous name, Cyclops? Then I’ll tell you,

ἐξερέω: σὺ δέ μοι δὸς ξείνιον, ὥς περ ὑπέστης.
but give me a guest gift, just as you promised.

Οὖτις ἔμοιγ' ὄνομα: Οὖτιν δέ με κικλήσκουσι
My name is Nobody. And they call me Nobody,

μήτηρ ἠδὲ πατὴρ ἠδ' ἄλλοι πάντες ἑταῖροι.
my mother and father and all my comrades as well.

But “Nobody”?!

No: Οὖτις is Ὀδυσῆι. And that’s both a pun and a metaphor. When the Cyclops hears it, with a single lens, he dies. That’s some consequence.


Wikipedia writers write it this way (click here). Which is equal, dynamically if informally, to how Willis Barnstone puts it. Barnstone’s own The Poetics of Translation (which is not equivalent to Aristotle’s own The Poetics) goes like this:


The question of equivalence is central to all translation theory. It is our word for describing the victory of translation. . . . (233).

So by eliminating very literal and very free translation from his premise of equivalence, [the theorist] renders [the] vision of equivalence disturbingly prescriptive.

More acceptable is the notion that although some translation, perhaps even the greater part of literary translation, desires correctness, justice, and the presumed equality of equivalence, other kinds of translation do not share those virtuous aims, and their aims are also legitimate. In a word, translation writing is no more a one-eyed traveler than is other writing. . . . (235)

Now parables should not be explained. The parable is the explanation, as the poem is the poem, not its paraphrase. When, as in religious hermeneutics, a solution or guide is imposed on a text, when “The Lord is my shepherd” takes us to dwell in eternal reward rather than to live the rest of our lives loyally in the temple around the block, this is exactly what we of faith desire and gain from the text. . . . (256)

The Italian maxim traduttore, traditore (translator, traitor) is in the end correct. It is on target, to use the discipline’s favorite metaphor. I had promised myself I would not utter this formula of betrayal in the course of this book. Now I betray that vow with the perverse and pleasant notion that I am translating the evil maxim into a prescription for imaginative translation.

If one aims at absolute reproduction, one lies absolutely; if one betrays the absolute, however, one approaches the truth of literary translation. How can faithful reproduction be false and betrayal truth? When a translation passes as original, it is profound betrayal. It is making a Briton pass as French, and, as we know, weather, food, and kisses belie the notion of English and French sameness. Translation offers neither identity nor total synonym across languages. Its art lies in the betrayal of the absolute, in necessary difference. (259)


At the risk of seeming dogmatic and jaded with terminological quibbling, I wish to offer a few prescriptive comments on whether translation is a science or an art, or worse, whether it is a craft.

Art contains craft, but craft does not necessarily contain art. If literary translation is to be classified at all, it must be as an art in its activity and its product. To translate a lyric poem is an art, and a lyric poem, an art object, must result. The art of translation also participates in all the other arts.

As for being a science too, why not? Yet, more interestingly, why yes? (232)

The recent conversations about DE(&F) are here and here. And Hobbins, so far, has been the only brave (betrayer) of just talk.

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