Friday, January 19, 2007

otra lengua: another language, another tongue

(Image from Wikipedia)

In Part 1, Chapter 6 of Don Quixote, a barber and a curate -- the one concerned with the heads of men, the other with their souls, but both thus well acquainted with extremeties -- attempt to deal with Don Quixote's insanity by attacking its source: the dozens of romances on chivalry that have weighed upon both his mind and his library's shelves.

They lighten the latter but not the former.

They also lighten our mood with their inadvertently humorous remarks about the books that they are judging, as their judgements reveal them to be not just surprisingly well-versed in romance literature but even expert literary critics of a sort, for they deem a book worthy of burning or redemption based not on its religious doctrine but on its literary style.

The curate is thus willing to save Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando Furioso for its style, but only those copies in Ariosto's original Italian, condeming any that the translator, whom the curate calls "the Captain," had rendered into Castilian Spanish.

Here, in the original Spanish, is the curate's reaction to the barber's remark that he has Ariosto in Italian but does not understand him:

Ni aun fuera bien que vos le entendiérades respondió el cura, y aquí le perdonáramos al señor capitán que no le hubiera traído a España y hecho castellano; que le quitó mucho de su natural valor, y lo mesmo harán todos aquellos que los libros de verso quisieren volver en otra lengua: que, por mucho cuidado que pongan y habilidad que muestren, jamás llegarán al punto que ellos tienen en su primer nacimiento. Digo, en efeto, que este libro, y todos los que se hallaren que tratan destas cosas de Francia, se echen y depositen en un pozo seco, hasta que con más acuerdo se vea lo que se ha de hacer dellos, ecetuando a un Bernardo del Carpio que anda por ahí y a otro llamado Roncesvalles; que éstos, en llegando a mis manos, han de estar en las del ama, y dellas en las del fuego, sin remisión alguna. (Part 1, Chapter 6, El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha, compuesto por Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra)

As you see, I have Cervantes in the original Spanish, but I do not understand him, so I turn to another language, another tongue:

"Nor would it be well that you should understand him," said the curate, "and on that score we might have excused the Captain if he had not brought him into Spain and turned him into Castilian. He robbed him of a great deal of his natural force, and so do all those who try to turn books written in verse into another language, for, with all the pains they take and all the cleverness they show, they never can reach the level of the originals as they were first produced. In short, I say that this book, and all that may be found treating of those French affairs, should be thrown into or deposited in some dry well, until after more consideration it is settled what is to be done with them; excepting always one 'Bernardo del Carpio' that is going about, and another called 'Roncesvalles;' for these, if they come into my hands, shall pass at once into those of the housekeeper, and from hers into the fire without any reprieve." (Part 1, Chapter 6, Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616), translation by John Ormsby (1829-1895), 1880 edition with the Gustave Doré engravings)

But one should never rely upon only a single translation, so here is another, albeit offline:

"It is just as well you do not understand him," replied the curate, "and we should pardon the worthy captain had he not brought him to Spain and turned him into a Castilian, thereby robbing him of much of his native charm. This is what happens to all who translate books of verse into another tongue, for in spite of all the trouble they take and the skill they may display, they will never reach the level of the original. In short, I say that this book and every one we find that deals with these affairs of France should be thrown aside and deposited in some dry well until we see, after further deliberation, what must be done with them, excepting Bernardo del Carpio, which is somewhere here, and another called Roncesvalles, for they shall pass from my hands into those of the housekeeper and from them into the fire without remission." (Part 1, Chapter 6, Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616), translation by Walter Starkie (1894-1976), page 88, 1957 edition)
I like the engravings by Doré in the Ormsby translation, but they force me to imagine Don Quixote as Doré did, of which I do not approve, nor do I approve of Ormsby's expression "those French affairs" for the Spanish "destas cosas de Francia," so this edition must be banished to utter darkness. The Starkie translation, in lacking illustrations (except for its cover, so tear that off!), is preferable and has the better rendering of "destas cosas de Francia" by "these affairs of France," for that's marginally closer to the proper expression for romance literature in the French tradition, i.e., "the matter of France" (as opposed to that in the British tradition, known as "the matter of Britain"). Yet even Starkie has taken Don Quixote and robbed him of the natural force of his native charm, so this work, too, must be banished to utter darkness.

Along with my own egregious blog entry, and even the very words that you are now re--


At 6:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Horrace,
I have a "Walter Starkie" google alert and your bolg entry showed up in my inbox this morning.
I am not a litterary person and my interest in Starkie was more his books on travel. I have a first edition of his "The Road to Santiago" and have walked el camino twice and will do so again this August/September.
He was a gypsey-freak so I think that you and he would have been great mates if he were still alive.
Good luck with your studies,

At 6:51 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sil, thanks for visiting. I also enjoy walking, but after looking at your blog, I see that I'm no match -- not even close!

I did, however, once ride my bike about 500 miles, from Tahlequah, Oklahoma to Waco, Texas ... in my younger days.

You know a lot more about Starkie than I do, and thanks for informing me of his travel books. He must have had a strong constitution to undertake walking and scholarship. All my energy goes into the latter -- and into caring for my family.

By the way, call me "Jeffery" if you ever perambulate back this way again.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:12 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

I come for the post about Don Quixote, I discover a comment pointing me to a blog about people who still walk medieval pilgrimage routes. Ours truly is an age of miracle and wonder.

At 9:59 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

It certainly is a marvelous, miraculous, but also maddening world.

We need more pilgrims.

Jeffery Hodges

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