Translation as revelation

If translating from one language into another is, as for Giacomo Leopardi, being “in the shadow of a a language” due to the scale of the task and the irreducibility of one scriptural Lebenswelt to another, then the duty of a translator is not so much to create as to reveal. Reveal other worlds, disclose unsuspected integuments without breaking them, school the mind to become ever more hungry for distant nourishment.

Translatus in Latin means ‘carried across’, and is constructed using one of the most common Latin verbs, fero, to carry, also the root of ‘transfer‘. A translation ferries the reader on the next shore. A translator schleps the cargo of a worldview to homebase.

Some translations are better than others. Some capture more colour, more vividness, without contaminating it too much. But some contamination is inevitable. Every translation bears the sign of the translator, however secret.

The story of Europe is an exciting tale of translations and translators, shadows pilled upon shadows of texts. Rome and Greece, medieval science and the Islamic world, scholastic Europe and Aristotle. Each age is marked by the texts it translates, the worlds it absorbs, the dialogues it mediates.

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