Saturday, May 24, 2014

Dante versus Translators

In his Convivio (that provides some very interesting keys for the interpretation of the Divine Comedy: we will deal with this on some future occasion), Dante seems to enjoy to attack translators. In Part I, ch. 7, he dares despise the Vulgate, the then official Catholic version of the Bible: "The verses of the Psalms are without any sweetness of music and harmony because they have been translated from Hebrew to Greek, then from Greek to Latin, and in that first translation all of their sweetness got lost." That is all the more strange as the Latin version of the Psalms has always been considered a literary masterpiece.

Later, in ch. 10, among the reasons why he decided to write the Convivio in Italian, not in Latin, he lists the following: "So, guessing that the wish to understand these songs [his own poems collected in the Vita Nova] by the unlearned [i.e. the people not knowing Latin] may cause the Latin commentary to be translated into Italian, and fearing that the translation may be made by someone who would completely spoil the text, as it happened with the Latin version of Aristotle's Ethics by Doctor Taddeo [Alderotti, a famous 13th century physician], I saw to it to do it myself, trusting myself more than anybody else."

While hoping Dante's quotes have not been completely spoiled here as a contrapasso, it is worth recalling that Tasso loved to translate passages from the Bible as well as from literature and essays, to the extent that a great part of the descriptions in Il Mondo Creato and of the new sections in Gerusalemme Conquistata are, as a matter of fact, translations and reworkings based on sources like Homer, Aristotle, Virgil, St. Basil, etc. And he also rephrases Dantean verses making them take on a radically different meaning ^__^