An Example of Historical Distance & Difference: Χάρις, Linguistic Singularity, and Confessional Projection

Translators are confronted with numerous choices when rendering ancient Greek words into English, and one of these is how to bridge the distance between the world of the text and the world of the reader.  This historical distance can be notoriously difficult to see when one engages with a text that has already been translated, and which arrives in the world of the innocent reader as pre-chewed food. (A recent post on the shift in words we translate as “happy” reminded me of the need to write something on this more specifically.) This highlights a central feature of the secularity of our modern world: historical distance, the autonomy of historical epochs and local worlds, and the seeming worldliness of every bridge or road we might build to traverse them. Continue reading

Excerpt #4 — R. H. Barrow on the Christianization of Happiness

There is much of tectonic significance for ancient cultural shifts that is lost in translation, smoothed out with equivalent terms for the convenience of the contemporary reader, or simply difficult to recover because the associated cluster of ideas –such as the genii— we no longer have as part of our cultural vocabulary, and generally have a hard time taking seriously, let alone understanding. Our modern words lie on this side of these transitions, and so we translate, across time, elements from another world into elements of our own. On some (uncommon) occasions this is done to whitewash; far more often this happens without anyone intending to make it happen at all, because escaping our context and entering the foreign country of another time and place is so much work. Continue reading