Saturday, December 02, 2006

Translation: Ancient French

I've been reading Book I of Plato's Republic, which I'm assigning in my Critical Thinking class. The translation is a good one -- very readable -- I think, but there's also this:

Socrates: "And isn't it the case that the raison d'ĂȘtre of a branch of expertise is to consider the welfare and interest of each party and then procure it?

Something about that jarred me: it seems weird for Socrates to be dropping some French into his conversation.

Of course the whole book is in translation, and I have no trouble suspending my disbelief and reading it as if Socrates is speaking English. But there was something about him also speaking French that just didn't seem right: almost as if instead of talking about "horsemanship" the translation had him talking about "auto repair." Or if at some point he said, "Jesus Christ! Thrasymachus do you know what you're saying?"

Dropping a French phrase into the conversation somehow seems anachronistic. It's not as if Socrates' point is lost, but it does make the translation less fluid. Especially since I think you could use the English word "purpose" in the above translation and it would mean the same.


Blogger hilde said...

My edition has Euthyphro saying, "F*ck off, you tiny-brained wiper of other people's bottoms."

Surely, something is up.

3:50 PM  
Blogger maenad said...

When we translated the Euthyphro way back in Greek 101, our classics professor had us translate Euthyphro's name using varieties of "Meathead". As in: "Yes, but my little Steaknoggin, do you think it is just to prosecute your father for murder?"

That's seemed to me to be perfectly appropriate and not at all anachronistic. And I like to pass this bit of wisdom down to my students.

And, hi John! I see you are on blogspot too. It's your Rochester neighbor, employed at that fine little public college off the canal with the truly impressive number of phys ed majors. Can you guess?

4:57 PM  

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