Saturday, July 10, 2010

Appreciation: Hammond on Translation

An undocumented extra accompanying my foray into the Greek New Testament is the discovery of Gerald Hammond's essay on "English Translations of the Bible," in The Literary Guide to the Bible, edited by Robert Alter and Frank Kermode. Hammond is fhe ideal choice for such a topic, there being few who know it better. A lifetime of scholarship permits him to say with authority that "translation is one of the most influential forms of literary criticism, for it both interprets and recreates the text it addresses." In the briefest compass, Hammond pretty well demonstrates how any translation is doomed to failure--doomed to make compromises that will sacrifice something out of the original. He's particularly good, I think, on the way in which modern translations tend to smooth over and defang some of the gnarly otherness of the original. Of Jesus' Lazarus' (!) body (John 11:39). the Bible in Basic English says "by this time the body will be smelling;" the New International says "there is a bad odor;" the New American Standard, "there will be a stench;" the King James "he stinketh." The Greek is "otsei," from "otsō." To be fair, the the big Liddell & Scott dictionary (the Great Scott) includes some 30-40 lines of definitional material from the Classical age, most of which has little to do with foulness.

Another Hammond example that I can't evaluate at all comes from the Hebrew Old Testament: the New English Bible gives "every mother's son;" the New International, "every last male;" the King James, "him that pisseth against the wall" (cf. link).

Evidently one among Biblical scholars was the neighbor of Colette, as set forth here.

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