Monday, August 08, 2005

Secondary Wordplay in Translation?

Brandan Wason points us to this review in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review, of the first Harry Potter book translated into Classical Greek. It sounds like a fun read.

This part of the review struck me:

"It was really lucky that Harry now had Hermione as a friend," from the "Quidditch" chapter, becomes "kai hermaion dê ên tôi Hareiôi to Hermionên nun echein philên" (p. 147) -- lovely and idiomatic use of "hermaion", lovely pun on Hermione's name, lovely "dê".

Indeed. (Hermaion: "a god-send, wind-fall" according to Liddell & Scott.) But note that the Greek translation now has a wordplay that is not present in the original English. In Biblical studies, occasionally we hear that a certain work or part of a work must have been written in Language X, because a wordplay is present that is only possible in Language X. However, as this example shows, a clever and adept translator might introduce wordplays where none existed in the original. My guess is that such translators are the exception rather than the rule; but we might do well to keep the possibility in mind. The better the translator, the more skillfully he will hide his tracks.


Alcibiades said...

The Jerusalem Post also had an article indicating some lovely word play in the Hebrew translation:

pega-sus for thestral, a horse that harms and hagigit - a combination of hagig and gigit, for the Pensieve, meaning a tub for rumination.

EMC said...

That's great, thanks!

Of course, at least "Pensieve" was a pun in the original as well. Millennia from now, scholars will debate whether the holy Potter books were originally written in English, Greek, or Hebrew.