Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Knox on Translation

"For every common word in every living language has, not one meaning, but a quantity of shades of meaning. If you set out to give salus the meaning of “salvation” all through the New Testament, you find yourself up against St. Paul inviting the ship’s company during the storm to take a little food for the sake of their salvation. It is a capital heresy among translators, the idea that you must always render so-and-so in Latin by such-and-such in English. We sometimes get the idea that this must be a holy principle; is it not, after all, we are asked, the way in which the Vulgate proceeds in translating the Greek of the New Testament? If anybody harbours that delusion, he is recommended to consult Plummer’s edition of II Corinthians; he will find there an appendix giving about 250 Greek words in the epistles, each of which the Vulgate renders in two or more ways. The word euclokein, he points out, is rendered in no less than ten different ways in the epistles alone. He appears to be scandalized by this procedure, which shows that he knew very little about translation. It is true, I think, that the Vulgate very often picks on the wrong rendering, the word with the wrong shade of meaning for that particular context. Over that, Plummer is welcome to have a grievance. But let him not demand that eudokein should be translated “be well pleased” wherever it occurs, simply for the sake of uniformity."
--Knox On Englishing the Bible


Leonardo said...

I think that a translation of a text is better if it is made by a group of people, at least the translator and other who corrects the flaws, the style, the consistency with other parts of the text. The great part is to translate, but the other part is important to the final work.

The most difficult part, I think, is to jump from one way of saying something, into another who tries to say the same, but has to consider the way of saying things in the other language.

Best regards.

Jonny said...

It seems that Msgr. Knox philosophy is self-defeating. It is indeed true that one word can have multiple shades of meaning in different contexts... but on what authority does he make himself the judge of which meaning is accurate regarding the use of ancient languages in Sacred Scripture?

St. Jerome had access to the old Latin manuscripts, editions of the Septuagint no longer extant, and knowledge of the usage of the ancient languages simply not available today. Yes, we can gain insight to expand our knowledge of the ancient Greek and Hebrew by studying various historical documents... but do those types of documents accurately reflect the use of language in Sacred Scripture? Of course, no one knows for sure.

The more I contemplate Msgr. Knox's statements and his translation, the less I consider the Knox Bible to be a translation of the Vulgate. I think it is more of a paraphrase of the Vulgate, and his "On Englishing the Bible" is his attempt to justify his own infidelity to the Vulgate based on his interpretation of the Hebrew and Greek.

I certainly do not support the "Douay Rheims-only" philosophy, nor do I think the Clementine Vulgate is, on a critical level, a perfect representation of the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic, or even a perfect transmission of St. Jerome's original work. But how much more absurd would it be for a modern translator to place himself on a pedestal above the ancient interpreters, and say they didn't understand their native languages?

I think if Knox had a more conservative approach to keeping traditional renderings when possible, and cut back on the paraphrase and just translated the Vulgate I think he would have done much better. But apparently it was unacceptable to him that his translation have the savour of centuries of tradition in the Roman Catholic Church, and not whatever it was he was smoking in his pipe! I am not saying that his translation is wrong, or evil, but just that it is kind of a literary paraphrase that and should be recognized as such.

CJA Mayo said...

I agree, and I believe Knox would too, for, in one of the essays (I can't be bothered to find it now), he says of a learned doctor:

"Whenever I met his standard for translation, I failed my own; and whenever I met my own standards, I failed his" (paraphrase).

Knox is definitely on the paraphrase-end of dynamic in the parts that I've read in the OT. However, in the NT, he is quite a bit more literal, especially in the Epistles (but even in the Gospels as well). This has lead me to wonder if there was not some major difference in his working environment (or merely a major change in opinion) separating the translation of the NT from that of the OT, such as, when he translated the NT, was he answerable to some group of men, or did he have an adviser of some sort? If he did, this restraining influence was gone by the time he translated any of the OT.