The philological translation method

Translation was part of most lecturers’ research and teaching activities. Besides having knowledge of both languages and the subject, they translated guided by their intuition and by respect for the texts, according to the tradition of classical languages, particularly Latin. The influence of St Jerome (Hieronymous), whose Epistola ad Pammachium6 (405 CE) began the Western tradition of translation thinking, together with Schleiermacher’s proposal in On the Different Methods of Translating (1813),[1] [2] can be considered as preceding the method of philologists, who give priority to approaching the original. Indeed, the reflections we find, at least in Spain, before the first translation schools were set up in the 1970s, come from teachers of Latin and Greek, such as J. M. Jimenez Delgado, La traduction latina (1955); the chapter “La teoria de la traduccion” by Jose Alsina (Literatura griega, 1964); “La traduccion de las lenguas clasicas como problema” by J. S. Lasso de la Vega (III congreso espanol de estudios clasicos, 1968) or the views of M. Dol^ on the “Tecnica y practica de la traduccion” (Didactica de las lenguas clasicas, 1966) (Pegenaute 875).

This method is based on direct translations, very close to the originals, erudite and annotated, with a solid philological knowledge drawing attention to the difficulties of texts, and it requires sources to be sought and re-organised, i.e., there is an apparatus, as Ortega y Gasset put it. In this area we may cite Paulo Quintela,


whose translations, many of them bilingual, of Goethe, Holderlin, Nietzsche or Rilke[3] sought to be “always faithful to the original expression, without ever giving way to a circumlocution or falling into the temptation of paraphrasing” [“sempre fiel a expressao original, sem nunca ceder ao circunloquio nem cair na parafrase”], even preferring being obscure over any farther deviation from the original than necessary, as he did made no attempt to use the original text for apparently poetic glossing. His huge contribution as a translator should be understood as “an extensive activity of my profession and one that is purely cultural; it is not a poetic activity” [“uma actividade extensiva da minha profissao e puramente cultural, nao e uma actividade poetica”] (Pais, Teoria Diacronica 176-177) and as part of “a lucid awareness of the moral responsibility that language imposes” [“uma conscien- cia lucida da responsabilidade moral que a lingua impoe”] (Quintela 283). This is one of the characteristics of philological translation: the translators are specialists and scholars, respectful towards the authors and works that they translate, with an ethical sense of the work that they do. This is the case of Rodriguez Adrados, who translated numerous texts including the Historia de la guerra del Peloponeso (1952-1955) by Thucydides and Ltricos griegos: Elegtacos y yambografos arcaicos (1957-1959), an extended version of which Ltrica griega arcaica was published in 1980 and awarded the Fray Luis de Leon translation prize (Martinez 975), and Agustin Garcia Calvo. This translator and teacher merits special mention for the in-depth research on which he based his critical editions, some of them bilingual, of works by such writers as Homer, Heraclitus, Sophocles, Aristophanes, Lucretius and Virgil. In the prologues of these versions he not only describes in great detail the steps he took to investigate the text, but also pauses to make an assessment of the author or of the work, so far removed in time, intended for the modern reader. This philological effort culminates in Lucretius’s scientific epic poem De rerum natura, translated as De la realidad. In this version the work is presented to the Spanish reader based on the oldest codices to have been preserved and approaching as closely as possible the second-century edition from which they all originate (22). This huge effort strives to be faithful to Lucretius’s text, which matches rhythmically verse by verse, sticking close to the original punctuation, syntax and vocabulary with the idea that the result should be neither more nor less strange for today’s reader than Lucretius’s Latin would have been for his contemporary readers (29).

In the reflections and comments that fill the prologues of his translations, and following Ortega y Gasset, we read that translation is “a hopeless task” (19) or a “humble, hopeless task” (Shakespeare 28); nor does it bother him that the procedures used to translate Xenophon result in a translation that is “repellent, and the language in which it is written, far from facilitating reading, puts the reader off” [“rebarbativa y que el lenguaje en que esta escrita, lejos de facilitar la lectura, desanime al lector de ella”] because it has followed “as closely as possible the construction and inflections of the Greek phrase, to the very limits that Spanish habits may permit” [“lo mas de cerca posible la construccion y las inflexiones de la frase griega, hasta el limite que los habitos del espanol lo consientan”] (Xenophon 18).[4]

This method, with the individual stylistic characteristics of each translator, would also make its mark on the approach taken to translating from Arabic, i.e. studying it as if it were Latin or Greek and denying its nature as a living language. Translation was the foundation on which the traditional training of Arabists and philologists was based, but with no theoretical apparatus, but rather focusing mostly on grammatical and historical matters. For these scholars, translating consists of staying close to the original text and, at the same time, the regulatory pulchritude of the Spanish text (Arias Torres et al. 24). This would be the trend that was followed by most university lecturers who inherited the wealth of experience of such translators as Miguel Asm Palacios and Emilio Garcia Gomez, which, with some exceptions, was to continue until the 1990s, when the phenomenon of immigration acted as a driving force for professional translations from Arabic, and increasing trade made it necessary to consider the translation of modern languages to address the ever-growing demand.

  • [1] There are several translations into Spanish; the first was by Daniel Ruiz Bueno, “Epistolaa Pammaquio sobre la mejor forma de traducir”, in Cartas de San Jeronimo (bilingualedition). Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1962. The first translation into Portuguese, by Aires A. Nascimento, was published in 1995: Carta a Pamaquio, sobre osproblemas da tradugao, Ep.57. Lisboa: Cosmos.
  • [2] It was translated in 1978 by Valentin Garcia Yebra, with an extended edition in 2000:Friedrich Schleiermacher, Sobre los diferentes metodos de traducir de Schleiermacher,traduccion y comentarios. Edited, translated and annotated by V. Garcia Yebra, Madrid:Gredos (1st ed. 1978). In Portugal there is a translation in a bilingual edition by JoseM. Miranda Justo, Sobre os diferentes metodos de traduzir. Porto Editora, 2003.
  • [3] The Funda^ao Calouste Gulbenkian has published all Paulo Quintelas translations intwo volumes (II & III of the Obras Completas), although vol. I, devoted to a series ofessays on Holderlin, also contains several translations.
  • [4] Even today a translator like Paula Caballero points out the importance of translatingthe classics not as “an act of erudition [...] but to seek, comprehend and define ourplace in the world and how we relate to it: to understand who we are and, above all,why we are” [“un acto de erudicion [...] sino de busqueda, comprension y definicionde nuestro lugar en el mundo y de nuestra relacion con este: para comprender quienessomos y, sobre todo, por que somos”] and notes the tendency among translators to do“Hellenising” or “Latinising” translations (Caballero 73-74).
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