Translators+of+1001 - Borges

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Unformatted text preview: “This is bound to be the most authoritative anthology of theoretical reflection on translation currently available in English. The selection of primary documents is varied and imaginative, the editorial introductions lucid and informed.” Theo Hermans, Unit/Unity College London, UK “This updated, greatly expanded Translation Studies Reader will prove ! indispensable to scholars, translators and students. The volume's iudi- T I t- d- cious selections provide a comprehensive, history of translation from e a u antiquity to the present and the terms of translation theory are critically r assessed through a rich topographv of subjects. As translation emerges a L, J p ti, 4,, is a focal point in the era of digital literacy and new media, Lawrence ; Venuti's Reader offers an invaluable index to defining the past and future task of the translator.” Emily Apter, New Yuri? Univcrmjv, USA Praise for the first edition ‘ Edited by “This is a remarkable selection of the most important twentieth century contributions to the principles and procedures of translation, but what makes this volume so valuable are Venuti’s insightful notes that bring these contributions into proper locus for both students and teachers oi‘ translation.” at am», ,w an. Eugene Nida, American Bible Society, USA ’a “Venuti's Translation Studies Reader reflects all ‘the Misery and the Splendour’ (Ortega y Gasset) of almost a hundred years of translation studies. This book, and the supplementary readings suggested by Venuti, provide (almost) a complete course of translation studies.” Hans Vermeer, I,eop0]d~Franzen5—University, .qutria “This book offers a challenging and stimulating perspective on transla— tion theory in the twentieth century, Many of the essays included in the collection are seminal ones, others are exciting, innovative pieces that invite us to reflect again on our understanding and knowledge of the translation process.” Susan Bassnett, The University of Warwick, UK T a; i a R0 tied e . Tayioly'J&Fran(isg'3roup 2 NEW YORK AND LONDON Chapter 9 Jorge Luis Borges THE TRANSLATORS OF THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS Translated by Esther Allen 1 Captain Burton T TR I EST E, IN I 872, in a palace with damp statues and deficient hygienic facilities, a gentleman on whose face an African scar told its tale re Captain Richard Francis Burton, the English consul - embarked on a famous trans- lation of the Quitah ah‘flaila ua laila, which the mumis know by the title, The Thousand and One Nights. One of the secret aims of his work was the annihilation of another gentleman (also weatherb’eaten, and with a dark Moorish beard) who was compiling a vast dictionary in England and who died long before he was annihilated by Burton. That gentleman was Edward Lane, the Orientalist, author of a highly scrupulous version of The Thousand and One Night: that had supplanted a version by Galland. Lane translated against Galland, Burton against Lane; to understand Burton we must understand this hostile dynasty. I shall begin with the founder. As is known, jean Antoine Galland was a French Arabist who came back from Istanbul with a diligent collection of coins, a monograph on the spread of coffee, a copy of the Night: in Arabic, and a supple- mentary Maronite whose memory was no less inspired than Scheherazade’s. To this obscure consultant whose name I do not wish to forget: it was Hanna, they say ~ we owe certain fundamental tales unknown to the original: the stories of Aladdin; the Forty Thieves; Prince Ahmad and the Fairy Pcri—Banu; Abu al-Hasan, the Sleeper and Waker; the night adventure of Caliph Harun alvRashid; the two sisters who envied their vounger sister. The mere mention of these names amply ,wnafim ,H «.m 5‘ ~ «My mxt m . ms: at, m in q .n ~ warms Lanna I n. w .exanmxb. rum-i m u-wrmnummwwa m Wm ‘ ammwuwuam.» m mavmmmaaunmwsamn» m a new» wk «r r» ~» «x m r mnmmrma am Ms THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS 95 demonstrates that Galland established the canon, incorporatng stories that time would render indispensable and that the translators to come «7 his enemies 7 would not dare omit. Another fact is also undeniable. The most famous and eloquent encomiums of The Thalian and (lnc Nights 7 by Coleridge, Thomas De Quincey, Stendhal, 'l‘ennyson, Edgar Allan Poe, Newman ~ are from readers of Galland’s translation. Two hundred years and ten better translations have passed, but the man in Europe or the Americas who thinks of The Thousand and One Nights thinks, invariably, of this lirst translation The Spanish adjective mi/yunanochcsco [thousan(l«and~one« nightscsquc] Inlf/I’llnunOChé’I‘O is too Argentine, niili’ununorturno overly variant W has nothing to do with the erudite obscenitics of Burton or Mardrus, and everything to do with Antoine Galland’s bijoux and sorcerics. Word for word, Ualland's version is the most poorly written of them all, the least faithful, and the weakest, but it was the most widely read. Those who grew intimate with it experienced happiness and astonishment. Its ()ricntalism, which seems frugal to us now, was bedazzling to men who took snuff and composed tragedies in five acts. Twelve exquisite volumes appeared from 1707 to 1717, twelve volumes that were innumerany read and that passed into various languages, including Hindi and Arabic. We, their more anachronistic readers of the twentieth century, perceive only the cloying flavor of the eighteenth century in them and not the evaporated aroma of the Orient which two hundred years ago was their novelty and their glory. No one is to blame for this disjunction, Galland least of all. At times, shifts in the language work against him. In the preface to a German trans— lation of The Thousand and One Nights, Doctor Weil recorded that the merchants of the inexcusable Galland equip themselves with a “valise full of dates” each time the tale obliges them to cross the desert. It could be argued that in 1710 the mention of dates alone sufficed to erase the image of a valise, but that is unnecessary: mh’se, then, was a subspecies of saddlebag. There have been other attacks. In a befuddled panegyric that survives in his i921 ,‘l’lorccaux choisis, Andre Gide vituperates the licenses of Antoine Galland, all the better to erase (with a candor that entirely surpasses his reputation) the notion of the literalness of Mardrus, who is asfin de siécle as Galland is eighteenth—century, and much more unfaithful. Galland’s discretions are urbane, inspired by decorum, not morality. I copy down a few lines from the third page of his Nights: “[1 alla droit d l'appartement-de (CITE princesse, qui, ne s'artendant pas ti [6 revoir, .avait recu duns son [it un des demiers olficiers de sa matron." {He went directly to the chamber of that princess, who, not expecting to see him again, had received in her bed one of the lowliest servants of his household] Burton concretizes this nebulous offirier: “a black cook of loathsome aspect and foul with kitchen grease and grime." Each, in his way, distorts: the ori— ginal is less ceremonious than Galland and less greasy than Burton. (Effects of decorum: in Galland’s measured prose, “recevnir dans Son lit” has a brutal ring.) Ninety years alter Antoine Galland’s death, an alternate translator of the Nights is born: Edward Lane. His biographers never fail to repeat that he is the son of Dr. Theophilus Lane, a Hereford prebendary. This generative datum (and the terrible Form of holy cow that it evokes) may be all we need. The Arabized Lane lived rive studious years in Cairo, “almost exclusively among Moslems, speaking and listening 96 JORGE LUIS BORGES to their language, conforming to their customs with the greatest care, and received by all of them as an equal." Yet neither the high Egyptian nights nor the black and apulent coffee with cardamom seed nor frequent literary discussions with the Doctors of the Law nor the venerable muslin turban nor the meals eaten with his ringers made him forget his British reticence, the delicate central solitude of the masters of the earth. Consequently, his exceedineg erudite version of the Nights is (or seems to be) a mere encyclopedia of evasion. l‘he original is not professionally obscene; Ualland corrects occasional indelicacies because he believes them to be in bad taste, Lane seeks them out and persecutes them like an inquisitor. His probity makes no pact with silence: he prefers an alarmed chorus of notes in a cramped supplementary volume, which murmur things like: I shall overlook an episode of‘zhc most rcprchens‘ih/e sort; I suppress a repugnant explanation; Herc. a line [at [on course for translation; I mmt of‘necess‘it)! suppress the other anecdote; Hereafter, a series o/cmissiuns; Here, the story ojithc slave Bujait, who/[y iiiappropriatejfor translation. Mutilation does not exclude death: some tales are rejected in their entirety “because they cannot be purified without destruction." This responsible and total repudiation does not strike me as illogical: what I condemn is the Puritan subterfuge. Lane is a virtuoso of the subterfuge, an undoubted precursor of the still more bizarre reticences of Hollywood. My notes furnish me with a pair ofexamples. in night .391, a fisherman offers a fish to the king of kings, who wishes to know if it is male or female, and is told it is a hermaphrodite. Lane succeeds in taming this inadmissible colloquy by translating that the king asks what species the fish in question belongs to, and the astute fisherman replies that it is of a mixed species. The tale of night 217 speaks of a king with two wives, who lay one night with the first and the following night with the second, and so they all were happy. Lane accounts for the good fortune of this monarch by saying that he treated his wives “with impartiality” . . . One reason for this was that he destined his work for “the parlor table,” a center for placid reading and chaste conversation. The most oblique and fleeting reference to carnal matters is enough to make Lane forget his honor in a profusion of convolutions and occultations. There is no other fault in him. When free of the peculiar contact of this temptation, Lane is of an admirable veracity. He has no objective, which is a positive advantage. He does not seek to bring out the barbaric color of the Night: like Captain Burton, or to forget it and attenuate it like Galland, who domesticated his Arabs so they would not be irreparably out of place in Paris. Lane is at great pains to be an authentic descendant of l‘lagar. Galland was completely ignorant of all literal precision; Lane justifies his interpretation of each problematic word. Galland invoked an in- visible manuscript and a dead Maronite; Lane furnishes editions and page numbers. Galland did not bother about notes; Lane accumulates a chaos ofclarif‘ications which, in organized form, make up a separate volume. To be different: this is the rule the precursor imposes. Lane will follow the rule: he needs only to abstain from abridging the original. The beautiful Newman» Arnold exchange (1861,» l 862) k more memorable than its two intcrlocutors m extensively argued the two general ways of translating. Newman championed the literal mode, the retention of all verbal singularities: Arnold, the severe elimination ofdetails that distract or detain. The latter procedure may provide the charms of uniformity and seriousness; the former, continuous small s 4 ~. 41...; t mm Mkume an it it ammW‘mnwmmnm maawmmiwu m um u w V‘n‘xmflfilv!“ XV m sizaw»mmwmnmtmwwm a m i v4 : x mm» g . 1 l1 . 2 6‘ 5% ’X 5 ‘2 s i: m fHE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS 97 surprises. Both are less important than the translator and his literary habits. To translate the spirit is so enormous and phantasmal an intent that it may well be innocuous; to translate the letter, a requirement so extravagant that there is no risk of its ever being attempted. More serious than these infinite aspirations is the reten— tion or suppression of certain particularities; more serious than these preferences and oversights is the movement of the syntax. Lane’s syntax is delightful, as befits the refined parlor table. His vocabulary is often excessively festooned with Latin words, unaided by any artifice of brevity. He is careless; on the opening page of his translation he places the adjective romantic in the bearded mouth ofa twelfth~eentury Moslem, which is a kind of futurism. At times this lack of sensitivity serves him well, for it allows him to include very commonplace words in a noble paragraph, with involuntary good results. The most rewarding example of such a cooperation of heterogenous words must be: “And in this palace is the last information respect— ing lords collected in the dust.” The following invocation may be another: “By the Living One who does not die or have to die, in the name of He to whom glory and permanence belong." In Burton 7' the occasional precursor of the always fantastical Mardrus I would be suspicious of so satisfyineg Oriental a formula; in Lane, such passages are so scarce that I must suppose them to be involuntary, in other words, genome. The scandalous decorum of the versions by Galland and Lane has given rise to a whole genre of witticisms that are traditionally repeated. i myself have not failed to respect this tradition. it is common knowledge that the two translators did not fulfil their obligation to the unfortunate man who witnessed the Night of Power, to the imprecations of a thirteenth-century garbage collector cheated by a dervish, and to the customs of Sodom. it is common knowledge that they disinfected the Nights. Their detractors argue that this process destroys or wounds the good—hearted naiveté of the original. They are in error; The Book ofthe Thousand Nights and a Night is not (morally) ingenuous; it is an adaptation of ancient stories to the low—brow or ribald tastes of the Cairo middle classes. Except in the exemplary tales of the Vindibadmamah, the indecencies of The Thousand and One Night: have nothing to do with the freedom of the paradisiacal state. They are speculations on the part of the editor: their aim is a round of guffaws, their heroes are never more than porters, beggars, or eunuchs. The ancient love stories of the repertory, those which relate cases from the Desert or the cities of Arabia, are not obscene, and neither is any production of preslslamic literature. They are impassioned and sad, and one of their favorite themes is death for love, the death that an opinion rendered by the ulamas declared no less holy than that ofa martyr who bears witness to the faith . . . If we approve of this argument, we may see the timidities of Galland and Lane as the restoration of a primal text. 1 know of another defense, a better one. An evasion of the original’s erotic opportunities is not an unpardonable sin in the sight of the Lord when the primary aim is to emphasize the atmosphere of magic. To offer mankind a new Decameron is a commercial enterprise like so many others; to offer an “Ancient Mariner,” now, or a “Bureau ivre," is a thing that warrants entry into a higher celestial sphere. Littmann observes that The Thousand and One Nights is, above all, a repertory of marvels. The universal imposition of this assumption on every Western mind is 98 JORGE LUIS BORGES (jalland’s work; let there be no doubt on that score. Less fortunate than we, the Arabs claim to think little of the original; they are already well acquainted with the men, mores, talismans, deserts, and demons that the tales reveal to us. in a passage, somewhere in his work, Rafael Cansinos Assens swears he can salute the. stars in fourteen classical and modern languages. Burton dreamed in stwcntcen languages and claimed to have mastered thirtyrhve: Semitic, |)ravidian, indo- European, Ethiopic . . . This vast wealth does not complete his definition: it is merely a trait that tallies with the others, all equally excessive. No one. was less vulnerable to the frequent gibes in Hudihrus against learned men who are capable of “aying absolutely nothing in several languages. Burton was a man who had a consid- arable amount to say, and the seventyAtwo volumes of his complete, works say it \tlll. I will note a few titles at random: (inn and the Blue .ilountums ( I335 l ); .l (limp/ere System iy'Bayr'tinet Exercise (l8‘33); Personal Narrative o/Iu Pilgrimage to li/wllcdinuh and Meccah (1855); The Lake Regions of Central Equatorial .lfrica ([860); The (fit/V ujlthe Saints (186]); The Highlands Qj'the Brazil (1869); ()n (In Hermuphmilite'f‘mm the Cape ile Verde Islands (1866); letters/ram the Battlefield: t‘7/VPt1ft7‘L7UL1/V (1870); Ultimo lliule tl875); To the (in/d Coustfbr (Io/Ll (1883); The Book (if-the Sword (first volume, l884); The Perfumed Garden oft‘lieileh chkaoui er a posthumous work consigned to the flames by Lady Burton, along with the Priupeia, or the Sporting Epi‘qrums of Divers Facts on Priapus. The writer can be deduced from this catalogue: the English captain with his passion for geography and for the innumerable ways of being a man that are known to mankind. 1 will not defame his memory by comparing him to Morand, that seden- tary, bilingual gentleman who infinitely ascends and descends in the elevators of identical international hotels, and who pays homage to the sight of a trunk . . . Burton, disguised as an Afghani, made the pilgrimage to the holy cities of Arabia; voice begged the Lord to deny his bones and skin, his dolorous flesh and blood, to the Flames of Wrath and justice; his mouth, dried out by the samun, left a kiss on the aerolith that is worshipped in the Kaaba. The adventure is famous: the slightest rumor that an uncircumcised man, a nasrcini, was prot‘aning the sanctuary would have meant certain death. Before that, in the guise ofa dervish, he practiced medicine in Cairo e alternating it with prestidigitation and magic so as to gain the trust of the sick. In [858, he commanded an expedition to the secret sources of the Nile, a mission that led him to discover Lake Tanganyika. During that under» taking he was attacked by a high fever; in I855, the Somalis thrust a javelin through his jaws (Burton was coming from Harar, a city in the interior of Abyssinia that was forbidden to Europeans). Nine years later, he essayed the terrible hospi- tality ofthe ceremonious cannibals of Dahomey; on his return there was no scarcity of rumors (possibly spread and certainly encouraged by Burton himself) that, like Shakespeare's omniverous proconsul,l he had “eaten strange ilesh." The lews, democracy, the British Foreign Office, and Christianity were his preferred objects of loathing; Lord Byron and lslam, his venerations. ()f the writer‘s solitary trade he made something valiant and plural: he plunged into his work at dawn, in a vast chamber multiplied by eleven tables, with the materials for a book on each one A and, on a few, a bright spray of jasmine in a vase of water, He inspired illustrious friendships and loves: among the former i will name only that of Swinburne, who dedicated the second series of Poems and Ballads to him 4 “in recognition of a friend- ship which I must always count among the highest honours of my life” re and who a H N. albo v«i‘»& astovawm‘amtu :- venom»; a «was». as.” c m . Amawmm meme umme s emu.“ uwxuumwaxw. «macwummmmmwtmimmammum«an. «was warms/aw: s u 9 THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS 99 mourned his death in many stanzas. A man of words and deeds, Burton could well take tip the boast of Almotanabi's Divan: The horse, the desert, the night know me, Guest and sword, paper and pen. it will be observed that, from his amateur cannibal to his dreaming polvulot l liavc not rejected those of Richard Burton‘s personac that, without (limitiisfinii'iit oi lcrvor, we could tall legendary. Mv reason is clear: the Burton of the Burton legend is the translator of the Nights. liavc sometimes suspected that the radicil distinction between poetry and prose lies in the «cry different expectations of readers: poetry presupposes an intensity that is not tolerated in prose. Somethint similar happens with Burton’s work: it has a preordained prestige with which nil: other Arahist has ever been able to compete. The attractions ofbthe forbidden ll‘C rightfully his. There was a single edition, limited to one thousand copies for the thousand subscribers of the Burton Club, with a legally binding commitment never to reprint. (The Leonard C. Smithers re~cdition “Timits niven passages in dreadful taste, whose elimination will be mourned by no one"; Binnett Cerf’s representa— tive selection which purports to he unabridéed r proceeds from this puriiied itevt ) i will venture a hyperbole: to peruse The Thousand and ()ne Nights in Sir Richard;s translation is no less incredible than to read them in “a plain and literal translation with explanatory notes" by Sinbad the Sailor. i The problems Burton resolved are innumerable, but a convenient fiction can reduce. them to three: to justify and expand his reputation as an Arabist- to differ lrom Lane as ostensibly as possible; and to interest nineteenthmentui‘y British gentlemen in the written version of thirteenth»centurv oral Moslem tales (The first of these aims was perhaps incompatible with the, third; the second led him intoa serious lapse, which i must now disclose. Hundreds of couplets and songs occur ih the Nights; Lane (incapable of falsehood except with respect to the flesh), translated them precisely into a comfortable prose. Burton was a poet: in [880 he had rivatel published The Kasidah qua/‘i .lbdu, an evolutionist rhapsodv that Ladv Burtorr: alwavysl deemed far superior to FitzGerald's Ruba’iya’t. His rival’s :‘prosaic" solution did not fail to arouse Burton’s indignation, and he opted for a rendering into English verse a procedure that was unfortunate from the start since it contradicted his own rule ol total literalness. His car was as greatly offended against as his sense of logic for it is not impossible that this quatrain is among the best he came up with: T l .\ night whose stars refused to run their course, .\ night of those which never seem outworn: Like Resurrectionalay, of lonesome length To him that watched and waited for thcpmorn.2 And it is entirely possible that this one is not the worst: ;\ sun on wand in knoll of sand she showed, Clad in her cramoisy-hued chemisette: (if her lips honey‘dew she gave me drink, :\nd with her rosy cheeks quencht fire she set. 100 JORGE LtilS BORGES l have alluded to the fundamental difference between the original audience of the tales and Burton‘s club of subscribers. The former were roguish, prone to exag» geration, illiterate, infinitely suspicious of the present and credulous of remote fiarvels; the latter were the respectable men of the West End, well equipped for disdain and erudition but not for belly laughs or terror. The first audience appre» . ;ated the fact that the whale died when it heard the man's cry; the second, that there had ever been men who lent credence to any fatal capacity of such a cry. The iext's marvels r undoubtedly adequate in Kordofan or lifllaq, where they were offered up as true 7 ran the risk of seeming rather threadbare in England. (No one requires that the truth be plausible or instantly ingei’iious: few readers of the Lil}: and Correspondence tzf'Kurl .llurx will indignantly demand the symmetry of Toulet’s Contrcrimes or the severe. precision of an acrostic.) To keep his subscribers with him, Burton abounded in explanatory notes on “the manners and customs of Moslem men,” a territory previously occupied by Lane. Clothing, everyday customs, religious practices, architecture, references to history or to the Koran, games, arts, mythology all had already been elucidated in the inconvenient precursor‘s three volumes. Predictably, what was missing was the erotic. Burton (whose first stylistic effort was a highly personal account of the brothels of Bengal) was rampantly capable of filling this gap. Among the delinquent delectations over which he lingered, a good example is a certain random note in the seventh volume which the index wittily entitles “cupotes méloncoliques" [melancholy French letters]. The Edinburgh Review accused him of writing for the sewer; the Encyclopedia Britannica declared that an unabridged translation was unacceptable and that Edward Lane’s version “remained unsurpassed for any truly serious use." Let us not wax too indig- nant over this obscure theory of the scientific and documentary superiority of expurgation: Burton was courting these animosities. Furthermore, the slightly varying variations of physical love did not entirely consume the attention of his commentary, which is encyclopedic and seditious and of an interest that increases in inverse proportion to its necessity. Thus Volume Six (which i have before me) includes some three hundred notes, among which are the following: a condemna- tion of iails and a defense of corporal punishment and fines; some examples of the Islamic respect for bread; a legend about the hairiness of Queen Belkis's legs; an enumeration of the four colors that are emblematic of death; a theory and practice of Oriental ingratitude; the information that angels prefer a piehald mount, while Djinns favor horses with a bright-bay coat; a synopsis of the mythology surrounding the secret Night of Power or Night of Nights; a denunciation of the superficiality of Andrew Lang; a diatribe against rule by democracy; a census of the names of Mohammed, on the Earth, in the Fire, and in the Garden; a mention of the Amalekite people, of long years and large stature; a note on the private parts of the Moslem, which for the man extend from the navel to his knees, and for the woman from the top of the head to the tips of her toes; a consideration of the usa'o [roasted beef] of the Argentine gaucho; a warning about the discomforts of “equitation” when the steed is human; an allusion to a grandiose plan for crossbrceding baboons with women and thus deriving a sub—race of good proletarians. At fifty, a man has accumulated affections, ironies, obscenities, and copious anecdotes; Burton unbur— dened himself of them in his notes. iHE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS 101 The basic problem remains: how to entertain nineteenth—century Gentlemen with the pulp fictions of the thirteenth century? The stylistic poverty ofbthe Nithts is Well known. Burton speaks somewhere of the “dry and business—like tone” ofihe Arab prosiliers, in contrast to the rhetorical luxuriance of the Persians. Littmannr the ninth translator, accuses himself of having interpolated words such as asked, hot/Hod, unmcred, in five thousand pages that knoiv of no other formula than an invari: 1ble mid. Burton lovineg abounds in this type of substitution. His vocabulary is as unparalleled as his notes. Archaic words coexist with slang, the linoo of prisoners or sailors with technical terms. He does not shy away from the Ulorbious hybridiva» tion of English: neither Morris's Scandinavianrepertory nor libihnson's hatin has his blessing, but rather the contact and reverberation of the two. Neologisms and foreignismsare in plentiful supply: custrilto, inconséqucncc, huuteur, in olorfo, baqnio, lbon‘quljjourree, pundonor, vendetta, Waxir. Each of these is indul)itablvithe mot inste, ut t eir interspersion amounts to a kind ofskewina of ti > '0' r’i ' > " since such verbal ~ and syntactical pranks besuile A (flowi bkuhu'lg’ ‘ v n ’ b , , ona y exhausting course of the Nights. Burton administers them carefully: first he translates gravely Zhulalyman, Son of David (on the twain he peacel)"; then once this maiesty is ami iar to us he reduces it to “Solomon Davidson." A kin wh ' v ' translators, is “King of Samarcand in Persia," is, for Burton, “Sing Barbarian-land”; a merchant who, for the others, is “ill—tempered” is “a man of wrath.” That is not all: Burton rewrites in its entirety A with the addition of circum- stantial details and physiological traits 7 the initial and final story. He thus in 1885 inaugurates a procedure whose perfection (or whose rcducrio Lid obsurduni) we wili now consider in Mardrus. An Englishman is always more timeless than a Frenchman: fiurton s heterogeneous style is less antiquated than Mardrus’s, which is noticeably ( atet . J 2 Doctor Mardrus Myardrus‘s destiny is a paradoxical one. To him has been ascribed the moral virtue of being the most truthful translator of The Thousand and One Nights a book of admirable lasciyity, whose purchasers were previously hoodwinked by Galland’s good manners and Lane’s Puritan qualms. His prodigious literalness thoroughly demonstrated by the inarguable subtitle “Literal anchomplete transfation ofvthje Arabic text,” is revered, along with the inspired idea of writing The Book the Thousand Night: and One Night. The history of this title is instructive- we should review it before proceeding with our investigation of Mardrus. l Masudi’s Meadows of'Gold and Mines of'Prerious Stones describes an anthology titled Hozor ofiano, Persian words whose true meaning is “a thousand adventures " but which people renamed “a thousand nights." Another tenthscentury document the Fihrist, narrates the opening tale of the series, the king's heartbroken oath that every night he will Wed a virgin whom he will have beheaded at dawn and the resolu— tion of Scheherazade, who diverts him with marvelous stories until a thousand nights have revolved over the two of them and she shows him his son. This inventiobn superior to the future and analogous devices of Chaucer's pious cavalcade or (novanni Boccaccio’s epidemic ~r is said to be posterior to the title, and was devised 102 jORGE LUIS BORGES til the aim of justifying it . . . Be that as it may, the early figure of 1000 quickly increased to itiOl, Hdw did this additional and now indispensable night emerge, this prototype of Pico della Mirandola‘s Boo/z 91"le Things and x1150 Many Uthers, so derided by Quevedo and later Voltaire. Littmann suggests a contamination of the I‘urkish phrase bin hir, literally “a thousand and one,” but commonly used to mean many.” In early 1840, Lane advanced a more beautiful reason: the magical dread of even numbers. The title's adventures certainly did not end there. Antoine tialland, in l704r, eliminated the originals repetition and translated The Thousand and ()ne Nights, a name now familiar in all the nations of Europe except England, which prefers The Arabian Nights. in 1839, the editor of the Calcutta edition, W. H. Macnaghten, had the singular scruple of translating thumb u/iflaila ua luilu as 3001a oft/1e Thousand Nights and One Night. This renovation through spelling did not go unremarked. John Payne, in l882, began publishing his Book o/ihc Thousand Nights and One Night; Captain Burton, in 1885, his Book of‘the Thousand Nights and a Night,- j. C. Mardrus, in 1899, his Livrc dos miIIe nuits ct une nuit. I turn to the passage that made me definitively doubt this last translator's veracity. It belongs to the doctrinal story of the City of Brass, which in all other versions extends from the end of night 566 through part of night 578, but which Doctor Mardrus has transposed (for what cause, his Guardian Angel alone knows) to nights 338— 34-6. 1 shall not insist on this point; we must not waste our consterna- tion on this inconceivable reform of an ideal calendar. ScheherazadeAMardrus relates: The water ran through four channels worked in the chamber's floor with charming meanderings, and each channel had a bed of a special color; the first channel had a bed of pink porphyry; the second of topaz, the third of emerald, and the fourth of turquoise; so that the water was tinted the color of the bed, and bathed by the attenuated light filtered in through the silks above, it projected onto the surrounding objects and the marble walls all the sweetness of a seascape. As an attempt at visual prose in the manner of The Portrait cj‘Doriun Gray, I accept (and even salute) this description; as a “literal and complete” version of a passage composed in the thirteenth century, l repeat that it alarms me unendingly. The reasons are multiple. A Scheherazade without Mardrus describes by enumerating parts, not by mutual reaction, does not attest to circumstantial details like that of water that takes on the color of its bed, does not define the quality of light filtered by silk, and does not allude to the Salon des Aquarellistes in the final image. Another small Haw: “charming meanderings" is not Arabic, it is very distinctly French. 1 do not know if the foregoing reasons are sufficient; they were not enough for me, and i had the indolent pleasure of comparing the three German versions by Weil, Henning, and Littmann, and the two English versions by Lane and Sir Richard Burton. In them I confirmed that the original of Mardrus’s ten lines was this: “The four drains ran into a fountain, which was of marble in various colors.” Mardrus‘s interpolations are not uniform. At times they are brazenly anachron— istic ~ as if suddenly the Fashoda incident and Marchand’s withdrawal were being discussed. For example: man mu «up «MM, Mm. “Wammmmym «mum-w wwnwmsmmmtmvws a, i. h . , , i i r t K mom a ma». mmummwtmmwi#WWWMWMMW‘mm mswmw‘mw; m‘xwwnwwwmmummsuswupm» 'Mwnuwumwfl 4 mm » THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS 103 They were overlooking a dream city . . . As far as the gaze fixed on hori— zons drowned by the night could reach, the vale of bronze was terraced Wlth the cupolas of palaces, the balconies ofhouses, and serene Gardens- canals illuminated by the moon ran in a thousand clear circuits in the shadow of the peaks, while away in the distance, a sea of metal contained ' ‘ t the sky s reflected tires in its cold bosom. ()r this passage, whose Gallicism is no less public: .\ magnihcent carpet of glorious colors and dexterous wool opened its odorless flowers in a meadow without sap, and lived all the artificial life of its verdant groves full of birds and animals, surprised in their exact natural beautyand their precise lines. (Here the Arabic editions state: “To the sides were carpets, with a variety of birds and beasts embroidered in red gold and white silver, but with eyes of pearls and rubies. Whoever saw them could not cease to wonder at them ")1 H ’Nlardrus cannot cease to wonder at the poverty of the “Oriental color” of The Thousand and Une Nights. With a stamina worthy of Cecil B. de Mille, he heaps () , .v'v's‘ \ a' n the \incrs, the kissts, the palm trees and the, moons. He happens to read in , night 570: lhey arrived at a column of black stone, in which a man was buried u to his armpits. He had two enormous wings and four armsi two of which were like the arms of the sons of Adam, and two like a lidn's fore )aws with iron claws. The hair on his head was like a horse's tail, and hi: eyes were like embers, and he had in his forehead a third eye which was like the eye of a lynx. ‘ He translates luxuriantly: One evening the caravan came to a column of black stone, to which was chained a‘strange being, only half of Whose body could be seen, for the other half was buried in the ground. The bustithat emerged from the earth seemed to be some monstrous spawn riveted there by the force of the infernal powers. It was black and as large as the trunk of an old rotting palm tree, stripped of its fronds. It had two enormous black wings and four hands, of which two were like the clawed paws ofa lion tuft of coarse bristles like a wild ass's tale whipped wildly over its frightful skull. Beneath its orbital arches flamed two red )u tils while its double-horned forehead was pierced by a single eye whicfh os ened immobile and fixed, shooting out green sparks like ihe Gaye ofl: ti ‘ or a panther. ’ T b H ‘ gcr Somewhat later he writes: 104 JQPGE LUlS BORGES The bronze of the walls, the fiery gemstones of the cupolas, the ivory terraces, the canals and all the sea, as Well as the shadows proiected towards the West, merged harmoniously beneath the nocturnal breeze 1nd the magical moon. ‘N’laezical," for a man of the thirteenth century, must have been a very precise classiv limition, and not the gallant doctor's mere urbane adjective . . . l suspect that the Arabic language is incapable of a “literal and complete" version of Mardrus s para graph, and neither is Latin or the Spanish of Miguel de Leryantes. if The Bunk o/ifie Thousand and ()ne Nights abounds in two procedurtm: one (purely formal), rhymed prose; the other, moral predications. The first, retained by Burton. and by Littmann, coincides with the narrator’s moments of animation: people of comely aspect, palaces, gardens, magical operations, mentions of the DIVllllty, sunsets, battles, dawns, the beginnings and endings of tales. Mardrus, perhaps mercifully, omits it, The second requires two faculties: that of majestically CUlnbll’P ing abstract words and that of offering up stuck comments Without embarrassment. fixfartlrus lacks both. From the line memorably translated by Lane as uAnd in this palace is the last information respecting lords collected in the dust,” the good Doctor barely extracts: “They passed on, all of them! They had barely the time to repose in the shadow of my towers." The angel's confession 1» “1 am imprisoned by Power, confined by Splendor, and punished for as long as the Eternal commands it, to whom Force and Glory belong" r is, for Mardrus’s reader, “1 am chained here by the invisible Force until the extinction of the centuries.” Nor does sorcery have in Mardrus a co‘conspirator of good will. He is incapable of mentioning the (supernatural without smirking. He feigns to translate, for example: One day when Caliph Abdelmelik, hearing tell of certain vessels of antiqueicopper whose contents were a strange black smoke—cloud of diabolical form, marveled greatly and seemed to place in doubt the reality of facts so commonly known, the traveller Talib ben-Sahl had to intervene. [n this paragraph (like the others I have cited, it belongs to the Story of the City of. Brass, which, in Mardrus, is made of imposing Bronze), the deliberate candor of “so commonly known" and the rather implausible doubts of Caliph Abdelmelik are two personal'contributions by the translator. V Mardrus continually strives to complete the work neglected by fllOSCddflgllKi, anonymous Arabs. He. adds Art Nouveau passages, fine obscenities, brief comical interludes, circumstantial details, symmetries, vast quantities of visual ()rientalism. An example among so many: in night 573, the Emir Musa bin Niisayr orders his blacksmiths and carpenters to construct a strong ladder of wood and iron. Mardrus (in his night 344) reforms this dull episode, adding that the men of the camp went in searchgof dry branches, peeled them with knives and scimitars, and bound them together with turbans, belts, camel ropes, leather cinches and tack, uiitiltliey had built a tall ladder that they propped against the wall, supporting it With stones on both sides . . . In general, it can be said that Mardrus does not translate the book 5 Iflwfléfl m. «summits «gamma»- mapmmwmw wrmmvmw' W 9” «man»... M at my: 2% g i é Wm» rumba“ swag interim: 5L}. THE THOUSAND Alt/D ONE NIGHTS 105 words but its scenes: a freedom denied to translators, but tolerated in illustrators, who are allowed to add these kinds of details . . . l do not know if these smiling diversions are what infuse the work withsuch a happy air, the air of a far—fetched personal yarn rather than of a laborious heftng of dictionaries. But to me the Mardrus “translation” is the most readable of them all r alter Burton’s incompa— rable version, which is not truthful either. (In Burton, the falsification is of another order, It resides in the gigantic employ of a gaudy English, crammed with archaic and barbaric words.) I would greatly deplore, it (not for Mardrus, for myself) if any constabulary intent were read into the foregoing scrutiny. Mardrus the only iArabist whose glory was promoted by men of letters, with such unbridled success that now even the Arabists know who he is. Andre Gide was among the first to praise him, in August |889; 1 do not think Canccla and Capdevila will be the last. My aim is not to demolish this admiration, but to substantiate it. To celebrate Mardrus's fidelity is to leave, out the soul of Mardrus, to ignore Mardrus entirely. it is his infidelity, his happy and creative infidelity, that must matter to us. 3 Enno Littmann Fatherland to a famous Arabic edition of The Thousand and One Nights, Germany can take (vain) glory in four versions: by the “librarian though Israelite” Gustav Wei] ~ the adversatiye is from the Catalan pages of a certain Encyclopedia w; by Max Henning, translator of the Koran; by the man of letters Felix Paul Greve; and by Enno Littmann, decipherer of the Ethiopic inscriptions in the fortress of Axum. The first of these versions, in four volumes (18394842), is the most pleasurable, as its author »~ exiled from Africa and Asia'by dysentery fl strives to maintain or substi— tute for the Oriental style. His interpolations cam my deepest respect. He has some intruders at a gathering say, “We do not wish to be like the morning, which disperses all revelries.” ()f‘ a generous king, he assures us, “The fire that burns for his guests brings to mind the inferno and the dew of his benign hand is like the Deluge”; of another he tells us that his hands “were liberal as the sea.” These fine apocrypha are not unworthy of Burton or Mardrus, and the translator assigned them to the parts in verse, where this graceful animation can be an ersatz or replacement for the original rhymes. Where the prose is concerned, I see that he translated it as is, with certain justified omissions, equidistant from hypocrisy and immodesty. Burton praised his work “as faithful as a translation of a popular nature can be." Not in min was Doctor Weil Jewish “though librarian”; in his language 1 think I perceive something of the flavor of Scripture. The second version ( 1895777 I 897) dispenses with the enchantments of accuracy, but also with those ofstyle. I am speaking of the one provided by Henning, a Leipzig Arabist, to Philipp Reclam's Ilniversalbibliothcla. This is an expurgated version, though the publisher claims otherwise. The style is dogged and flat. its most indis- putable virtue must be its length. The editions of Bulaq and Breslau are represented, along with the Zotenberg manuscripts and Burton‘s Supplemental Nights. Henning, translator of Sir Richard, is, word for word, superior to Henning, translator of Arabic, which is merely a confirmation of Sir Richard’s primacy over the Arabs. toe, JORGE LUIS BORGES In the book‘s preface and conclusion, praises of Burton abound 77 almost deprived of their authority by the information that Burton wielded “the language of Chaucer, equivalent to medieval Arabic.“ A mention of Chaucer as one of the sources ol Burton‘s vocabulary would have been more reasonable. (Another is Sir Thomas 5 quuhart’s Rabelais.) ' The third version, Greve's, derives from Burton’s English and repeats it, «xcludinq only the encyclopedic notes. Insel-Verlag published it before the war. The fourth (192$;I928) comes to supplant the previous one and, like it, runs to six volumes. It is signed by Enno Littmann, decipherer of the monuments of Axum, cataloguer of the 283 Ethiopic manuscripts found in Jerusalem, contributor to the Zeitschriftjiir .lm‘yrioquie. Though it does not engage in Burton's indulgent loitering, his translation is entirely frank. The most ineffable obscenities do not give him patise; he renders them into his placid German, only rarely into Latin. Ile omits not a single word, not even those, that register I000 times the. passage from one night to the next. He neglects or refuses all local color: express instructions from the publisher were necessary to make him retain the name of Allah and not substitute it with God. Like Burton and john Payne, he translates Arabic verse, into Western verse. He notes ingenuously that if the ritual announcement “Sound-so pronounced these verses” were followed by a paragraph of German prose, his readers would be disconcerted. He provides whatever notes are necessary for a basic understanding of the text: twenty or so per volume, all ofthem laconic. He is always. lucid, readable, mediocre. He follows (he tells us) the very breath of the Arabic. If the Encyclopedia Britannica contains no errors, his translation is the best of all those in circulation. I hear that the Arabists agree; it matters not at all that a mere man of letters I and he of the merely Argentine Republic ~» prefers to dissent. My reason is this: the versions by Burton and Mardrus, and even by Galland, can only be conceived of in the imle ofa literature. Whatever their blemishes or merits, tthese characteristic works presuppose a rich (prior) process. In some way, the almost inexhaustible process of English is adumbrated in Burton 7 john Donne's hard obscenity, the gigantic vocabularies of Shakespeare and Cyril Tourneur, Swinburne’s affinity for the archaic, the crass erudition of the authors of seven- teenth-century chapbooks, the energy and imprecision, the love of tempests and magic. In Mardrus’s laughing paragraphs, Salammbé and La Fontaine, the Mannequin J’ofier and the ballets ruxses all coexist. In Littmann, who, like Washington, cannot tell a lie, there is nothing but the probity of Germany. This is so little, so very little. The commerce between Germany and the Nights should have produced some— thing more. ‘ VWhether in philosophy or in the novel, Germany possesses a literature of the fantastic ~ rather, it possesses only a literature of the fantastic. There are marvels in the Nights that I would like to see rethought in German. As I formulate this desire, I think of the repertory"s deliberate wonders r r the all'powerful slaves of a lamp or a ring, Queen Lab who transforms Moslems into birds, the copper boatman with talismans and formulae on his chest ~ and of those more general ones that proceed from its collective nature, from the need to complete one thousand and one episodes. Once they had run out of magic, the copyists had to fallback on histor— ical or pious notices whose inclusion seems to attest to the good faith of the rest, The ruby that ascends into sky and the earliest description of Sumatra, details ol am as a.“ mm on...» aw» fllqmauagaw .24 w ,... m a... Lvastquvam,.,..,. a m mm nsmmm w r wn- ( mm w- mifivn a»awn-mummym»-mmumimwawmwmmnmemwm wewrmnw. m JIM.» seams who .9 as. THE I’HOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS 107 the court of the Abbasids and silver angels whose food is the justification of the Lord all dwell together in a single volume. It is, finally, a poetic mixture; and I would say the same of certain repetitions. Is it not portentous that on night 602 King Schahriah bears his own story from the queens lips? Like the general framework, .1 given tale often contains within itself other tales of equal length: stages within the stage as in the tragedy of Hum/er, raised to the power ofa dream. A clear and diffi» cult line lrom Tennyson seems to define them: ' laborious orient ivory, sphere in sphere. To heighten further the astonishment, these adventitious I-Iydra’s heads can be more concrete than the body: Schaliriah, the fantastical king “of the Islands of China and Hindustanw receives news of Tarik ibn Ziyad, governor of Tangiers and victor in the battle of Guadalete . . . The threshold is confused with the mirror, the mask lies beneath the face, no one knows any longer which is the true man and which are his idols. And none of it matters; the disorder is as acceptable and trivial as the inventions of a daydream. Chance has played at symmetries, contrasts, digressions. What might a man 77 a Kafka 7 do if he organized and intensified this play, remade it in line with the Germanic distortion, the Unhmmlirhkeit of Germany? Notes I I allude to Mark Anthony, invoked by Caesar's apostrophe: “on the Alps/It is reported, thou didst eat strange flesh/Which some (lid die to look on . . ." In these lilies, I think I glimpse some inverted reflection of the zoological myth of the basilisk, a serpent whose gaze is fatal. Pliny (Natural History, Book Eight, paragraph 33) tells us nothing of the posthumous aptitudes of this ophidian, but the conjunction of the two ideas of seeing (mum) and dying (morir) vedi .\"upoli e poi mori [see Naples and die] er must have influenced Shakespeare. The gaze of the basilisk was poisonous; the Divinity, however, can kill with pure splendor or pure radiation of manna. The direct sight of God is intoler- able. Moses covers his face on Mount Horeb, “for he was afraid to look on God"; Hakim, the prophet of Khorasan, used a fourfold veil of white silk in order not to blind men’s eyes. Cf. also Isaiah 6:5, and 1 Kings 19:13. 3 .'\lso memorable is this variation on the themes of Abulmeca de Ronda and Jorge Manrique: “Where is the Wight who peopled in the past/Hinddand and Sind; and there the tyrant played?” References Among: the volumes consulted, I must enumerate: [cs .lli/le et um: Nuitr. comes amch traduits par Galland. Paris, s.d. The Thousand and ()ne Nights, commonly called The Arabian Nights Entertainments. :I new translation/rum the .lrahic, by E. W. Lane. London, I839. 108 JORGE LUIS BORGES The Bank nfthe Thousand Nights and a Night. A plain and [Item] rranslatian, by Richard I? Burton. London (?) n.d. voIs. VI, VII, VIII. IIw Imbian ‘Vighrx. yI L‘omplete (sic) and Imubrnl’ged xe/ccuonfrom rhejhmous Mch nuns» lymon ufR‘ F. Burmn, New York, 1932. I; Ill’rc', Jes Mil/e Nuns at Um: Nuit. 'I‘raduclion Iiném/e ct comp/éte du texre ambe, par la Dr. C. Mardrus, Paris, 1906. ‘ 'llluscnd und cme Nacht‘ Aux Jam Arabixchen fibcrtragen von Max Henning. Leipzig, I 397, Die Erziihlungen aux Jun Tuuxcndundcm Niichten. Nurh dam drubischen Urth Jar Calcutta” :Imgube mm jahre [839 iibertragcn von Enno Littmann. Ixipzig, I928. » «wad! hmnm r mm» “Kw-vyawrww ~a\ €314 1»va ,puwmwmn «wfivgfl‘ u; “mun” aw um I.“ “Hm £1I1>>\A us win. n «m «w .r m, w: ‘mflmm mm Wrw‘waw: mom. uwmmet-«m‘r nn~mmflnm mmnammkmmmmmmw 19405—19505 ...
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