In this section:
Mon, 19 Apr 2021
The translation was given as:
Now, the Russian text clearly says “beep-beep” (“бип-бип”), not “honk honk”. I could understand translating this as "honk honk" if "beep beep" were not a standard car sound in English. But English-speaking cars do say “beep beep”, so why change the original?
(Also, a much smaller point: I have no objection to translating “Что за херня” as “what the fuck”. But why translate “Что за херня, Олег?” as “Oleg, what the fuck” instead of “What the fuck, Oleg”?)
[ Addendum 20210420: Katara suggested that perhaps the original translator was simply unaware that Anglophone cars also “beep beep”. ]
Wed, 14 Apr 2021
A couple of days ago I discussed the epithet “soup-guzzling pie-muncher”, which in the original Medieval Italian was brodaiuolo manicator di torte. I had compained that where most translations rendered the delightful word brodaiuolo as something like “soup-guzzler” or “broth-swiller”, Richard Aldington used the much less vivid “glutton”.
A form of the word brodaiuolo appears in one other place in the Decameron, in the sixth story on the first day, also told by Emilia, who as you remember has nothing good to say about the clergy:
J. M. Rigg (1903), who had elsewhere translated brodaiuolo as “broth-guzzling”, this time went with “gluttony”:
G. H. McWilliam (1972) does at least imply the broth:
John Payne (1886):
Cormac Ó Cuilleanáin's revision of Payne (2004):
And what about Aldington (1930), who dropped the ball the other time and rendered brodaiuolo merely as “glutton”? Here he says:
I think you should have tried harder.
Mon, 12 Apr 2021
A few months ago I was pondering what it might be like to be Donald Trump. Pretty fucking terrible, I imagine. What's it like, I wondered, to wake up every morning and know that every person in your life is only interested in what they can get from you, that your kids are eagerly waiting for you to die and get out of their way, and that there is nobody in the world who loves you? How do you get out of bed and face that bitter world? I don't know if I could do it. It doesn't get him off the hook for his terrible behavior, of course, but I do feel real pity for the man.
It got me to thinking about another pitiable rich guy, Ebeneezer Scrooge. Scrooge in the end is redeemed when he is brought face to face with the fact that his situation is similar to Trump's. Who cares that Scrooge has died? Certainly not his former business associates, who discuss whether they will attend his funeral:
Later, the Spirit shows Scrooge the people who are selling the curtains stolen from his bed and the shirt stolen from his corpse, and Scrooge begs:
The Spirit complies, by finding a couple who had owed Scrooge money, and who will now, because he has died, have time to pay.
I can easily replace Scrooge with Trump in any of these scenes, right up to the end of chapter 4. But Scrooge in the end is redeemed. He did once love a woman, although she left him. Scrooge did have friends, long ago. He did have a sister who loved him, and though she is gone her son Fred still wants to welcome him back into the family. Did Donald Trump ever have any of those things?
The ten storytellers in The Decameron aren't all well-drawn or easy to tell apart. In the introduction of my favorite edition, the editor, Cormac Ó Cuilleanáin, says:
I agree, mostly. I can see Dioneo more clearly than Ó Cuilleanáin suggests. Dioneo reminds me of Roberto Benigni's filthy-minded Roman taxi driver in Night on Earth. I also get a picture of Bocaccio's character Filostrato, who is a whiny emo poet boy who complains that he woman he was simping for got tired of him and dumped him for someone else:
When it's Filostrato's turn to choose the theme for the day's stories, he makes the others tell stories of ill-starred love with unhappy endings. They comply, but are relieved when it is over. (Dioneo, who is excused from the required themes, tells instead a farcical story of a woman who hides her secret lover in a chest after he unwittingly drinks powerful sedative.)
Ah, but Emilia. None of the characters in the Decameron is impressed with the manners or morals of priests. But Emilia positively despises them. Her story on the third day is a good example. The protagonist, Tedaldo, is meeting his long-lost mistress Ermellina; she broke off the affair with him seven years ago on the advice of a friar who advised that she ought to remain faithful to her husband. Tedaldo is disguised as a friar himself, and argues that she should resume the affair. He begins by observing that modern friars can not always be trusted:
Modern friars, narrates Emilia, "strut about like peacocks" showing off their fine clothes. She goes on from there, complaining about friars' vanity, and greed, and lust, and hypocrisy, getting more and more worked up until you can imagine her frothing at the mouth. This goes on for about fifteen hundred words before she gets back to Tedaldo and Ermellina, just at the same time that I get around to what I actually meant to write about in this article: Emilia has Tedaldo belittle the specific friar who was the original cause of his troubles,
This was so delightful that I had to write a whole blog post just to show it to you. I look forward to calling other people soup-guzzling pie-munchers in the coming months.
But, as with the earlier article about the two-bit huckster I had to look up the original Italian to see what it really said. And, as with the huckster, the answer was, this was pretty much what Bocaccio had originally written, which was:
Delightful! I love Bocaccio.
While I was researching this article I ran into some other English translations of the phrase. The translation at Brown University's Decameron Web is by J.M. Rigg:
which I award full marks. The translation of John Payne has
and two revised versions of Payne, by Singleton and Ó Cuilleanáin, translate it similarly.
But the translation of Richard Aldington only says:
which I find disappointing.
I often wonder why translators opt to water down their translations like this. Why discard the vivid and specific soup and pie in favor of the abstract "fat-witted glutton"? What could possibly be the justification?
Translators have a tough job. A mediocre translator will capture only the surface meaning and miss the subtle allusions, the wordplay, the connotations. But here, Aldington hasn't even captured the surface meaning! How hard is it to see torte and include pie in your translation somewhere? I can't believe that his omitting it was pure carelessness, only that Aldington thought that he was somehow improving on the original. But how, I can't imagine.
Well, I can imagine a little. Translations can also be too literal. Let's consider the offensive Spanish epithet pendejo. Literally, this is a pubic hair. But to translate it in English as "pubic hair" would be a mistake, since English doesn't use that term in the same way. A better English translation is "asshole". This is anatomically illogical, but linguistically correct, because the metaphor in both languages has worn thin. When an anglophone hears someone called an “asshole” they don't normally imagine a literal anus, and I think similarly Spanish-speakers don't picture a literal pubic hair for pendejo. Brodaiuolo could be similar. Would a 14th-century Florentine, hearing brodaiuolo, picture a generic glutton, or would they imagine someone literally holding a soup bowl up to their face? We probably don't know. But I'm inclined to think that “soup-guzzler” is not too rich, because by this point in Emilia's rant we can almost see the little flecks of spittle flying out of here mouth.
I'm offended by Aldington's omission of pie-munching.
[ Addendum 20210414: More translations of brodaiuolo. ]