Sunday, March 29, 2009

Lost in Translation?

I was reading Livy the other day (Penguin Classics version) and chuckled when I saw the following from Book Two Section 56:

“Appius stuck to his guns, ugly though the situation was, and serious bloodshed was avoided only by the action of the other consul, Quinctius, who prevailed on the other senators on consular rank to get Appius out of the forum by force, if necessary.”

I was amused by “stuck to his guns” because that was an obviously modern term applied to the translation. I wondered what the exact Latin text was and how much was added to the literal translation. After all, they say you can’t read Pushkin in English. Is the lost meaning as significant in Latin as Russian?

The Latin for the quote above with literal translation (my rough attempt) is:

sustinebat tamen Appius pertinacia tantam tempestatem, certatunque haud, incruento

held up not withstanding, Appius persistence, at this point of time, conflict by no means, bloodless,

proelio foret ni Quinctius, consul alter, consularibus, negotio dato ut collegam ui si aliter

battle exist Quinctius consul other occupation deliver colleagues differently

non possent, de foro abducerent, ipse

have power forum remove person

Following is a different translation from the Tufts University Rev. Canon Roberts project.

Appius braved the storm with inflexible determination, and the conflict would have ended in bloodshed had not the other consul, Quinctius, entrusted the consular--Men who having themselves been consuls were in a position to restrain an acting consul. with the duty of removing, by force if necessary, his colleague from the Forum.

I find it interesting to examine the vocabulary of the Latin language and compare it to modern languages. One may incorrectly assume that the number of words used in ancient Rome was small and unsophisticated when, in fact, it was quite developed. I imagine that the majority of words in English that do not exist in Latin are technology related – reflecting the development of science, mathematics, and industrial production. I will look at that in a future post.

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