Page 67 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 37

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NORMAN TARNOR
On Translating Hebrew:
Some Practical Considerations
T
ranslation
from
H
ebrew
is o f course no th ing new, being con­
s id e ra b ly o ld e r th a n G eo rg e C h a pm a n ’s e a r l ie s t know n
seventeenth century translation o f Homer, la ter immortalized in
Keats’ sonne t “On First Looking into Chapm an’s H om er .” Keats,
by the way, expressed the opinion tha t Chapm an ’s translation was
far from a vivid one. He was made to feel, as he notes in his
sonnet, “like some watcher o f the skies/When a new planet swims
into his ken ,” o r like Cortez staring at the Pacific. But the Chap­
man translation did presen t a lively series o f images to his obser­
vant eye, so we may no t be amiss to consider vividness o f a
translation as sometimes being a useful means fo r measuring its
degree o f success or failure.
The earliest translations in the western world date from the
scribes employed by Sargon o f Assyria in the th ird millenium
B.C.E., who proclaimed Sargon’s exploits in the numerous lan­
guages o f his em p ire .1T ransla tion from Hebrew into o the r lan­
guages was assuredly an old tradition by Chapm an ’s time. T he
A lexandrian period in Jewish history had long since come and
gone. Whatever its gestation and origin, the Septuagint was an
awesome and relatively successful phenomenon .
From tha t time on, the literary and cultural needs o f Jews and
non-Jews requ ired more and varied translations o f Hebrew writ­
ings into Arabic, Latin and sundry Eu ropean languages. T he
quality o f the results varied with the translator, his mastery o f the
Hebrew from which he was translating, the recep to r language
into which he was translating, and the degree o f his familiarity
with the subject m a tter itself.
Abraham S. Halkin has indicated that an additional factor to be
considered in the medieval world was the richness o f the host
language, Arabic, in which so many works first appeared . T he
1 Eugene A. Nida,
TowardA Science o fTranslating
(Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1964), p. 11.