Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Thoughts on translation, part 9.9: Lost in translation

Song of Solomon: timeless love poetry in contemporary calligraphy.  

Topic Nine: Some Bible verses make more sense with a more accurate translation.  The most puzzling and notorious is "I am black but comely," [I: 5], in which a young woman seems to speak of her skin color as a drawback to her beauty. Later translators looked at this passage more closely, and found that the negativity comes from the stigma traditionally attached to working outdoors, where the sun darkens the skin.  Women of privilege always tried to keep their skin out of the sun, until the 20th century made lightly tanned skin fashionable. The translators of the 1948 Revised Standard Version worded this verse more precisely, "I am black and beautiful," letting the next verse explain that she had been sent to work in the sun-drenched vineyards as a punishment. 

Another problematic passage is "Comfort me with apples, for I am sick of love" II: 5.  The RSV clarifies this as "I am faint with love," meaning that the speaker is not tired of love but almost intoxicated by it.     

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