Saturday, August 26, 2017

Thoughts on translation, Part 5: Consensus is rare

Song of Solomon: timeless love poetry in contemporary calligraphy. 

I enjoy finding the best translation for each of my calligraphy designs; in fact, the searching is as much fun as the finding.  I am grateful to be working in the 21st century, when I can find help on line.  I consult sites such as to compare some 50 translations, from the Wycliffe Bible of 1382 to yesterday's updates.  Here, for example is II: 1 - 2 in half a dozen translations, along with the one that I chose after much thought.   

Wycliffe, 1382:  I am a flower of the field, and a lily of great valleys. (I am a flower of Sharon, and a lily of the great valley.)  As a lily among thorns, so is my friendess among daughters. (Like a lily among the thorns, is my friendess among the daughters.)
King James Version 1611.  I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.  As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.
Revised Standard Version 1947.  I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys.  As a lily among brambles, so is my love among maidens.
Expanded Bible.  I am a ·rose [or flower] in the Plain of Sharon [a fertile plain along the Mediterranean coast], a lily in the valleys. Among the ·young women [girls], my darling is like a lily among thorns.   
New Living.  I am the spring crocus blooming on the Sharon Plain, the lily of the valley.  Like a lily among thistles is my darling among young women.
 Chana and Ariel Bloch. I am the rose of Sharon, the wild lily of the valleys.  Like a lily in a field of thistles, such is my love among the young women.  

Thistles? brambles? thorns? The translator has to choose. Maidens? girls? daughters? young women? It may seem trivial, but each choice will strike the ear a little differently, altering the image. And these verses are some of the least controversial, without any hapax legemenon* to challenge the translator.  

*From Ancient Greek παξ λεγόμενον (hápax legómenon, “(something) said only once”), from παξ (hápax, “once”) and λεγόμενον (legómenon), passive participle of λέγω (légō). 

No matter which text you choose, you will find that simply reading the others gives you new insight and appreciation. 

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