Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The other day a friend and I engaged in a discussion about the ending of Ibsen’s famous play, “Ghosts.”  I quoted it as I had (mis)remembered it.  Fortunately, though, I have a set of Ibsen’s works in the original, and was able to correct myself by that means.  Please don’t write me in Norwegian, though, as my knowledge only suffices to make out existing texts, not to converse in the language.

Quite a while back, as an aid to language learning, I picked up the habit of acquiring the texts of such major authors as Cervantes and Rabelais in the original. These virtuosos of language employ effects that no translation can capture.  In addition, for some authors I have texts in three or more languages.  For example, I possess Don Quixote in Spanish, English, French, and German.  Every translation is, after all, an interpretation.

Just as an exercise, I decided to assemble a kind of Pantheon of authors I have in at least three languages.  Here is the list:  the Daodejing; Homer; the Pre-Socratics; Aeschylus; Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes; Plutarch; Plotinus; Dante; Rabelais and Cervantes; Hölderlin; Ezra Pound and Walter Benjamin.  Notice the predominance of Greek authors, which probably reflects the fact that I do not read Greek with ease. Pound and Benjamin are certainly an odd couple.  The winner is Dante’s Divine Comedy, which I have in five languages (not to mention various commentaries and monographs on the writer).   Missing from the lists are Shakespeare and Goethe, because I have their works in only two languages.


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