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40 Posts

Posted - 24 Nov 2005 :  22:49:27  


I agree with George Steiner´s remark that we can never have a Science of translation, nor even is the notion of having a theory of what translation is- does, says or speaks, the issue still remains as difficult as the task of the one who somehow, makes anew in his own tongue the spirit of that "other" text. As Steiner remarks it´s not merely the case of one knowing or having an expert understanding of both one´s language and the other tongue which, the "Translator" intends to capture, meld and re- make; it´s also about entering the spirit (or immersing one´s being) in the body of that text. Steiner metaphorically equates this act to something resembling the act of Transmutation, and it´s this asymetrical mutation which occurs and grows between both textural bodies during the acts of translation, were each act is quite unique, every and each time to the translator himself, that renders a translation and the acts involved into that "undertaking" or "giving birth" that essentially remains a something that is unrepeatable; and it is this quality of "an almost mystical something that is the rough living essence of the human tongue" that cannot be made into a uniform system or thoery, that makes translating into a "singular unrepeatable work" that has the strongest affinity with the work of art even if the object itself is not a work of art.

An example of the above, would be the beautiful, and faithfully intricate translation by Stephen McKenna of Plotinus, Enneads, a task that the Translator spent numerous years on. When one reads such a rendering in a foreign language (English) of such a text, all one can do, is remain silent in awe by being in the presence of "a wonderous something" that is quite unrepeatable and, inscrutable not just in power, but beauty too.

Best regards



615 Posts

Posted - 25 Nov 2005 :  12:07:01  


Hi James,

Thanks for letting us know Steiner’s remarks on the art of translation. Besides the www.ellopos.net/elpenor/greek-texts/ancient-greece/plotinus/default.asp" target="_blank">complete text in English, there is at Elpenor an excerpt of the Enneads in McKenna’s translation www.ellopos.net/elpenor/greek-texts/ancient-greece/plotinus_soul-source.asp" target="_blank">side by side with the Greek original where one can see in action what you say.

On my part, I’d like to add only a note, that besides entering the text of the foreign language in a loving union (or: in order to be able to do that) one needs also to communicate with the author in what the author understands (beyond the text). To be more clear: you must have been in the same sea, in order to be able to translate the description of the sea by the author.

Here is an example from McKenna’s translation, where I think that the translator doesn’t know what he translates (or doesn’t stay faithful –contrary to what Plotinus’ Aphrodite does– to what he translates).

Speaking about Love, Plotinus reminds that each soul is born of Love, that there is not a single soul who is not born of Love. In Plotinus words: “ἔστι πᾶσα ψυχὴ Ἀφροδίτη” (each and every soul is Aphrodite).

McKenna translates: “the soul is always an Aphrodite”. I think that “always” causes some confusion, because it means or it can also mean, that a soul can never be something else than Aphrodite, which is the exact opposite of what Plotinus tries to explain, namely, that although born of God, the soul can (and this is what happens mostly) become an alien to God by being faithful to other things than God.

The confusion is strengthened also by the rendering of Aphrodite as “an Aphrodite” which betrays the emphasis of Plotinus to the uniqueness of each soul: each soul is THE Aphrodite and not an Aphrodite.

The same confusion continues in the next sentence, where Plotinus says that the soul wants to be united with God “ὥσπερ παρθένος καλοῦ πατρὸς καλὸν ἔρωτα” (in the good and beautiful love of a virgin for a good and beautiful father).

McKenna translates: “in the noble love of a daughter for a noble father”. The critical point that McKenna misses here is the word “virgin”, that is, the soul that is faithful to nothing else than God.

Just some notes on points I think they are critical, without wanting to diminish McKenna’s remarkable translation.


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40 Posts

Posted - 26 Nov 2005 :  01:40:09  


Hi George:

I understand, only to a certain degree of course, the absolute difficultly which any non-native speaker of language is going to encounter; I likewise agree with George Steiner when he states quite correctly that it´s largly the private meanings or meanings that only "body froth" and "make sense" within any given ethnic family, families and communities (the very name itself clearly implies a sense of unity) that give a the contours within any culture it´s form and colour.

Even within the Greek language (which I´m almost totally ignorant in my knowledge of) I imagine there must be dialects and idioms which will always be meaningless to the most "learned" and proficent speaker, from another tongue, who learns how to "communicate" rather than "speak" your language. Steiner is equally correct, and Heidegger made the same point, regarding the quality or act involved in speaking; and I think that the modern world, under the unstoptable spend of English, through the whole global "communications industry" were English is now seen as the only real language to "communicate in", is going to have a deeply harmful and adverse effect no just upon the English language, but also upon the organic understanding of other languages. Foreign languages, are now taught using the "English communication" model, in which people end up learning how to communicate in a foreign langauge through the strictures of how this public theory of langauge "functions" and how it should be applied universally to all other languages. Such knowledge of language, Steiner, maintains belongs to the most formally sterile and, banal functions of langauge; this may be communication but surely it can´t be what is mean´t by an act of speech. However, perhaps the greatest hope for this worlds future, were distinctive cultures may still develop in relative liberty from the systamatic impositions, of both globalised politics and economics, may come through that deeply rooted resistance of the "medium" that is langauge.

Finally George, I´m always slightly jealous (if that´s the correct word to use in this context) of someone who is a native Greek speaker, I can´t imagine what you must feel or comprehend, within yourself when you as a Greek, whose culture remains the wellspring, regarding, well, perhaps the majority of "what" we as humans "are", in the fulsome sense of the word. I can barely contemplate that specific vivdness or sudden nearness between text, thought and the making into "sense" that you must experience.

Your language is perhaps Gods gift to man.

Best regards

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615 Posts

Posted - 26 Nov 2005 :  13:42:30  


You turn the conversation to another crucial point. To use a metaphor, a language is given to a people as a child is given to a couple: it is born in and of their communion, and then the child transforms further its parents, the parents the child, and so on.

The crucial is communion, a word which in Greek is called Koinonia. With this word we refer also to the communion of a nation. In English the communion of a nation is described as ‘society’, in Latin ‘societas’, that is: a company, contract, partnership and alliance.

Think also of the words ‘man’ and ‘human’. Man in Greek is anthropos, a word related with ano (up), anthos (flower), anoixis (spring), opsis (seeing, face), etc. In Latin (and English) human comes from humus (dust).

So, if a person is born in England, or Ireland, France, Germany and anywhere except in a Greek-speaking nation – is that person doomed? Yes, if language was a decisive factor, but it is not.

Persons are saved in persons’ _immediate_ communion, languages or cultures are not saved, as Paul reminded, and to all is given what is necessary in order to come to knowledge of truth.

Think an alternative: your non-speaking Greek may make you more sober and less ignorant of your limitations, while my speaking Greek may make me arrogant and empty – a very devil. The same in the level of the nations. England, for example, the more it admires Greece may become sober, while in the same time Greece may cancel God’s gift and become empty and devilish.

The greatest the gifts, the greatest the danger, while each and every one of us becomes real, exactly by going _beyond_ this and that gift, no matter how great it is. Because, if indeed all are _gifts_, then in their Source are all equal, and in those who receive them, are what they exactly need, unless God is unfair.

Thus, an English-speaking person should not be dissapointed with his language, _especially_ if he realises that something is missing from Engish: it is something he has to add in his personal life, in a level that is beyond languages. It is something that is born (if it is born) in a communion so immediate, that no language can stop and no language can provide or force.

And, to return to the level of history, of what-so-great use is Greek to Greeks, when they antagonize western Europe in transforming the Greek _Koinonia_ to a commercial society and a company? Do you know that the Greek parliament decided to abolish the accents of the greek words in talks that lasted for just a few hours?

Everyone who knows what a language is, understands the meaning and consequences of such a change – but not the parliament and the ‘intellectuals’ who supported this change, “the beasts with four legs”, as Castoriadis called them.

The Church and many people still use them, many books are published as always with accents, but even this may change in the future, while the impressive thing in this case, is how irresponsible the leaders of a nation may become and they become in the Greek Company of today.

In all our history, whether in ancient times, or in Byzantium or even during the four-hundred years of turkish occupation, I haven’t heard of an intellectual commiting suicide. In modern Greece many of our best intellectuals do it. Why is that happening? Because Greece becomes a better place? Yet, we still speak Greek...

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40 Posts

Posted - 29 Nov 2005 :  23:04:58  


Hello George:

I do understand the point you make about that "something" beyond the film of what language is- I´m reminded of Wittengensteins remark that the real value of his own philospohy was that portion- one suspects the majority- which remained unwritten or better still, unstated, as he knew that it couldn´t be expressed in the form of any language, we speak and by default must think, and be a part our being.

I think that this "something" remains the ground from which the poet hopes to plant some of his seeds which may give voice, not just to him, but to many also. Perhaps it is enough to know that this "something" does exist and, it would perhaps be folly to attempt to classify or define what no-one can name, except in the mad revere of song or music, and that´s the poet rather than the philosphers calling.

In the Greek tradition there was always, I suspect good reason for that division that had to be maintained between the divine and the human, and the price for transgressing, not just the world of man, but more importantly the language of man, was his death or madness or exile, to a place were none could comphrehend what he said.

Yet despite the danger, it would be foolish to forget this "something" which can only be imagined in the thoughts of what cannot be said.

Best regards

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