Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Proverbs 14 Part I

Here's a preface to this series on Proverbs 14.

Here's the first verse, or proverb, of Proverbs 14, Hebrew first then Greek:

חַכְמֹ֣ות נָ֭שִׁים בָּנְתָ֣ה בֵיתָ֑הּ וְ֝אִוֶּ֗לֶת בְּיָדֶ֥יהָ תֶהֶרְסֶֽנּוּ׃

 σοφαὶ γυναῖκες ᾠκοδόμησαν οἴκους ἡ δὲ ἄφρων κατέσκαψεν ταῖς χερσὶν αὐτῆς

What are your questions, your observations?  I have a few:
  • I believe that Sylvie Honigman is probably right about the Septuagint version, even with respect to the proverb above:  “the form is Greek, but the thematic material is Jewish” (from her The Septuagint and Homeric Scholarship in Alexandria, p. 16). 
  • Wouldn't Robert Alter, then, be correct in looking to not only the Hebrew but also the Hebraic-themed Greek?  He brings both languages into English this way: 
    Wisdom has built her house,
         and Folly with her own hands destroys it.

    [footnote] This verset is identical with the first verset of [Proverbs] 9:1, except that here the [Hebrew] Masoretic text adds nashim, "women" or "of women," after "Wisdom." That word looks suspect as idiomatic usage, and one may concur in the proposal of R. B. Y. Scott that it is a scribal gloss. Accordingly, it is omitted in the [English] translation....
  • What's with the womanly imagery?  Alter has suggested already that there is, in Proverbs 5, verses 3 and 4 and 6 and 8 and 19, that there is wordplay in the Hebrew that puns female body parts.  In his footnote on a "Hebrew term" in verse 3, for example, he says the word "sets up a strategic pun that occurs later in the poem."  Likewise, in his introduction to his entire translation, he finds it interesting that the whole set of Proverbs ends with women if it starts as a male's set of proverbs, of wisdom, to another male.  Hồ Xuân Hương seems to play with her proverbs, veiling the woman in wordplay, as wisdom for her readers, her listeners.  
So what do you think?  How would you translate this proverb?  Or what do you think is one of the best translations of it, and why?

Please feel free to leave a comment here or post on your blog, if you like.


Jared Calaway said...

What do you make of the feminine plural--not just adding "woman" or "of woman" but "women" in both versions, for which "wise/wisdom" agrees?

J. K. Gayle said...

Jared - Dr. Calaway!
First, congrats on defending your dissertation in August after working under the guidance of the late Professor Alan F. Segal; and thanks for sharing it with us all online recently! What tremendous work!

Second, great question here. The feminine plural, in Greek, points back to a theme of the ancient Greek poets and playwrights. Proverbs 14:1, then, punctuates an emphasis on "women" PLURAL being most wise, in contrast to the theme of certain ones being wise or of men being wiser. Just three examples:


Οὐδ᾽ ἴαν δοκίμοιμι προσίδοισαν φάος ἀλίω
ἔσσεσθαι σοφίαν πάρθενον ἐις οὐδένα πω χρόνον τοιαύταν.

Anne Carson, translating this fragment of Sappho (as cited by Chrysippos), makes this:

not one girl I think
who looks on the light of the sun
will ever
have wisdom
like this


πάντα γὰρ δι’ ἀρσένων γυναιξὶ πράσσειν εἰκός, αἵτινες σοφαί.

Eugene O'Neill has this for this critical early line (40) in "The Suppliant Women":

for women should in all cases invoke the aid of men, women that are discreet.


And, here's David Kovacs's translation from Euripides's "Hippolytus" where women, wives, wisdom, and the house are emphasized:

But the man with a nullity for a wife—he has it easy, although a woman who sits in a house and is a fool is a trouble. But a clever woman—that I loathe! May there never be in my house a woman with more intelligence than befits a woman! For Aphrodite engenders more mischief in the clever. The woman without ability is kept from indiscretion by the slenderness of her wit.

ῥᾷστον δ’ ὅτῳ τὸ μηδέν, ἀλλ’ ἀνωφελὴς εὐηθίᾳ κατ’ οἶκον ἵδρυται γυνή. σοφὴν δὲ μισῶ· μὴ γὰρ ἔν γ’ ἐμοῖς δόμοις εἴη φρονοῦσα πλείον’ ἢ γυναῖκα χρή. τὸ γὰρ κακοῦργον μᾶλλον ἐντίκτει Κύπρις ἐν ταῖς σοφαῖσιν· ἡ δ’ ἀμήχανος γυνὴ γνώμῃ βραχείᾳ μωρίαν ἀφῃρέθη.

Look at that Greek lexical and phonological wordplay!! But see the theme that Proverbs 14:1 LXX words against: the proverb, contra the conventional Greek wisdom, has women plural building houses and homes by / as wisdom.

I'll let somebody else talk about the Hebrew. What do you think, Jared?

But Brenton and [NETS Septuagint] translator Johann Cook also render it, "Wise women build houses [built homes]," to start off Proverbs 14:1.

Bob MacDonald said...

Here's my take on what I see in the Hebrew. http://meafar.blogspot.com/2011/06/proverbs-141.html

It is unexpected.

Kristen said...

The online interlinear renders this, in word-for-word English:

"Wise-ones-of women she-builds house-of-her and folly in-hands-of-her she-is-pulling-down-him."


Which, in light of what Bob McDonald has posted and what you have said, Kurk, leads me to wonder if it might mean something like:

"The wisdom of women builds a woman's house, and folly in her hands pulls it down."

In other words, that women can either tap into the "wisdom of women" (orally passed down?) to build their house, or reject it and just go with what their own "hands" can accomplish-- and end up pulling their house down.

Does that make sense? And why do all the major translations say "A wise woman builds her house but a foolish one tears it down" and not even tell us of the nuances?

Bob MacDonald said...

There are so many proverbs - if it takes 24 hours to read an ponder one, it's going to take an age to translate the lot.

Yes hands is plural - I missed that. Also the 'him' - the house is both male and female. (If indeed the him is referring to the house - which seems likely.)

Bob MacDonald said...

responding too quickly - house must be masculine