OLD RUSSIAN CULTURE AND TRANSLATION



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OLD RUSSIAN CULTURE AND TRANSLATION



 

Translation in Russia is traced back to the period of adoption of Christianity in Kievan Rus (988 A.D.), known as the period of the early written documents. Of course, translation was known much earlier: the Greek and the Slavs had to trade and could not do so without interpreting.

Cyril and Methodius, the outstanding scholars, theologians and linguists who were called “the apostles of the Slavs” for their cultural and religious development of the Slavic people, translated the Holy Scriptures into the language later known as Old Church Slavonic (or Old Bulgarian) and invented a Slavic alphabet based on Greek characters. Early Christian translations were philosophical and ethical doctrines of the new religion. These included Lives of Saints, Homilies, Chronicles and the like.

What was typical of Old Russian translations? These were translations, mostly from Greek, according to meaning, which avoided word for word precision. As a matter of fact, they were adapted borrowed works with no name of the translator mentioned. Secular literature was translated rather freely: translators could change a source text to their liking, or simulate someone else’s stories by taking either a plot, an idea, or some poetic image from them to create their own works. As previously discussed, the same trend was characteristic of secular translations in Medieval Western Europe.

The late 13th and early 14th centuries - the Tatar period - was far from being favorable to Kievan culture, and to translation in particular. Despite the Mongol invasion and the Tatar yoke, there was no major influence on Russian culture. There is also no evidence that any single Turkic or Islamic text of religious, philosophical, literary or scholarly content was translated directly into Slavonic or any East Slavic vernacular during this period.88 Greek translations were not in circulation in Rus (Old Russia) in that time.

The second half of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th centuries is characterized as the Second South Slavic Influence on Moscow Rus culture89 (the first southern Slavic wave is related to Cyril and Methodius). A great number of new translations into Old Church Slavonic, carried out in Bulgarian, Serbian, Greek, and Jerusalem monasteries, were brought to Rus. The new Southern Slavic influence on culture resulted in the literal translation of clerical literature. The requirement to translate word for word gained force until the 17th century.90

Translations were no longer anonymous. One of the most eminent figures of the 16th century was Maxim the Greek who came from Greece to Russia to edit clerical books. (Since Maxim the Greek could not write Old Church Slavonic, the written form of the Russian language of the time, he translated from Greek into Latin and his assistants translated the Latin text into Old Slavonic.) Maxim the Greek is believed to have established “the grammar school of translation”91 in Russia, since he paid particular attention to translating grammar structures.

The second half of the 15th century saw a marked turn toward translated secular literature, especially tales of chivalry. These translations grew extensively, especially in the 17th century, as a result of increased cultural contacts with Europe. Works were translated not from Greek only, but also from Latin (as a scientific international language), Polish, and German. The interpreters who served for the Posolsky prikaz (foreign office) were called tolmach. Most of them were half-educated; some of them did not even know literary Russian (Old Church Slavonic), there being a wide gulf between oral and literary Russian. Some of them could hardly speak “living” Russian. Thus their interpretation was of such poor quality that since then the term ‘tolmach’ has carried a strong negative connotation.

Clerics, on the other hand, were much better qualified as translators. Beside translating theological literature, they were ordered to translate various educational and encyclopedic literature.

The 17th century is considered the period of “the synthetic theory of translation”. Translation concepts of the time seemed to synthesize extreme principles: translation by meaning and word-for-word, free and literal translation, a preponderance of grammar and aesthetic aspects.92

 

§2. TRANSLATION IN THE 18TH CENTURY

 

This period in Russian translation is called the experimental period,93 since during this time skills were refined. Throughout the 18th century Russian writers imitated, adapted, and experimented with a wide variety of European genres, and translators encountered new problems for the first time.

The 18th century was the period of Peter the Great’s reign and of Petrine reforms. His radical and rapid Westernization of Russia altered all high culture and promoted translation. Himself an erudite, Peter was the first ruler to sponsor education and to actively promote translation of books from western European languages. It was in 1710 that the Old Church Slavonic alphabet was modernized into a secular script. According to the Russian historian Soloviov,94 Peter the Great not only chose what books were to be translated; he also edited translations and instructed translators on how to translate. His main idea was that a translator should learn a craft or science, whereas a scientist or craftsman should master a foreign language to be able to translate well. Peter I focused mainly on technical subjects: engineering, astronomy, geophysics, and jurisprudence, civil and military. He never included theological literature in the list of books to be translated.

With Russia adopting Western technology and culture, the major challenge for the translators of the time was rendering terms. Historians tell us the tragic story of a Volkov who, in despair at being unable to translate French technical terms, cut his veins, committing suicide.95

There existed at this time several trends for rendering terms: 1) borrowing a foreign term form (which led to term obscurity); 2) translating or substituting by Russian words - which often coined clumsy and cumbersome terms and expressions, such as Trediakov’s equivalents: безместие for French absurdite, жар иступления for enthousiasme, сила капелек for essence; 3) combining a loan form and explication (this third way was used by A. Kantemir and M. Lomonosov.)

Beginning in the 1760s, the technical translation boom gave turn to a fiction translation surge. It was at this time that Russia came to know foreign literature. The demand for western European artistic and cultural works grew increasingly in the salons of St. Petersburg. By the 1780s the major classics of European literature had become easily available in translation to any educated person.

Rapid growth of fiction translation marked the reign of Catherine II the Great. That period was called “the golden age of translation”, since it brought the major European masterpieces to Russia. Much classical and western European literature was translated, read, and assimilated, thus producing a kind of telescopic effect, as works and movements that were centuries apart were absorbed at the same time.96

Catherine's reign saw real accomplishment in translation. In 1768, the empress decreed to grant annually five thousand rubles to translators of foreign books. To control the fund, she established the Society for the Translation of Foreign Books (Sobranije perevodčikov) headed by Counts V.Orlov and A. Shuvalov and Collegiate Councillor G. Kozitsky. The Translator’s Council functioned until 1783. It employed over 110 translators; among them were Trediakovsky, Sumarokov and Radishchev. More than 173 volumes were translated and published, among them works by Voltaire, Charles de Montesquieu, Denis Diderot, Jonathan Swift, Pierre Corneille, Carlo Goldoni, Homer and others.97 Sometimes literary works were not translated from the source text but from other translations; for example, novels by H. Fielding were translated first from English into French, then from French into German, and only then from German into Russian.

The last decade of the 18th century saw the establishment of the Translation Department with the Academy of Sciences, the initiative of its foundation belonging to Princess (Knyaginya) Y. Dashkova. Such undertakings testify to the government’s attention to translation policy.

The century's major contribution was the development of a literary language. Under the pressure of new subject matter and the influx of foreign expressions, Church Slavonic proved inadequate, and the resulting linguistic chaos required the standardization of literary Russian by combining Russian and Church Slavonic. Translation difficulties of the period were caused by the contradiction between message and style. Old Russian literature was famous for its theological, clerical, rhetorical, chronicle, and folk poetry genres. But literature for pleasure reading was unknown to the Russian reader. Hence, the conflict between word and content.

The theoretical views and practice of Russian translators of that day were influenced by the dominant aesthetics of classicism.

One of the most prominent figures of 18th century literature and translation was Vasily Trediakovsky, a Russian literary theoretician and poet whose writings contributed to the classical foundations of Russian literature. Trediakovsky was a prolific translator of classical authors, medieval philosophers, and French literature. His translations frequently aroused the ire of the censors, and he fell into disfavour with his Academy superiors and conservative court circles.

Trediakovsky’s classicist attitude toward translation - to reflect an ideal rather than the source text - was confirmed by his assertion that a translator differs from an author only by name. As a classicist Trediakovsky adapted his translation to the rigorous norms of contemporary aesthetics. Thus he updated translated works, leaving out their historic coloring. His last major work was a translation of Fénelon's Les aventures de Télémaque (1766; Tilemakhida), which he rendered in Russian hexameters.

Another Russian poet and translator, Alexandr Sumarokov,viewed translation in a contradictory way. On the one hand, he attacked translators who, in his opinion, interfered with the development of national literature. On the other hand, as any Russian writer of the 18th century, he made an attempt at translating. Translating Racine, Sumarokov manifested a very delicate approach to the foreign text. Influenced by French drama, he transplanted the conventions of French theater to dramas dealing with Russian history. This earned him the flattering epithet "Racine of the North.”98

As the 18th century creator he often followed the classicist track and composed free translation, the example being his adaptation of Hamlet (1748). That work could hardly be regarded as translation (Sumarokov was even offended by Trediakovsky’s words about his having translated Shakespeare’s tragedy). As a classicist, Sumarokov did not tend to convey in Russian an individual style of a foreign literary work but he was apt to create a new work, close to the “ideal”.

The 18th century translators’ ideal was to adapt a foreign text to the Russian reality and culture by substituting a foreign local coloring with the Russian one (for example, substituting foreign names with their Russian counterparts).

The second third of the century knew another literary trend which also had an influence on translation – sentimentalism. The dominant figure of Russian sentimentalism was Nikolay Karamzin, Russian historian, author of the very popular story Bednaya Liza (1792, Poor Liza). Karamzin's importance also lies in his contribution to the Russian literary language.

Karamzin was an advocate of foreign literature. He himself translated a lot and was a translation critic. It was he who familiarized the Russian reader with a number of European authors, especially sentimentalists. The main idea of sentimentalists in translation was the possibility of changing the source text according to the subjective comprehension and taste of the translator, rather than the community aesthetic ethos.

 

§ 3. RUSSIAN TRANSLATION IN THE FIRST HALF OF THE 19TH CENTURY

 

The 19th century began with the "Golden Age" of Russian poetry. For translation, it was a period of “creation”,99 famous for translated masterpieces.

The beginning of the century emphasized the difference between prose and poetry translation. Prince B. Golitsyn was the first to raise the question and to speak about the stylistic accuracy of prose and poetry translation (in the 18th century most poets, V. Trediakovsky for example, did very free translations of poetic forms, sometimes substituting them with prose).

One of the most prominant figures of 19th century Russian culture was Vasily Zhukovsky, celebrated for several translations or adaptations that are major poems in their own right, including versions of the English poet Thomas Gray's An Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard (1802 and 1839), Homer's Odyssey (completed 1847), and Lord Byron's The Prisoner of Chillon (1822), fairy tales by Charles Perrault and the Grimm brothers.. His Svetlana (1813) was a reworking of the German poet Gottfried August Burger's Lenore. Pushkin referred to Zhukovsky as ‘the genius of translation’.

Zhukovsky’s literary development is a transition from one aesthetic system to another, from classicism, through sentimentalism, to romanticism.100 V. Zhukovsky began as a classicist. The motif of his first creative period was expressed by his words: “The most pleasant translation is, of course, the best.” To achieve harmony (and ethos), the poet might sacrifice accuracy of translation. Zhukovsky saw a clear difference between translating poetry and prose: according to him, a prose translator is the author’s slave, a poetry translator is the author’s rival.101 A poetry translator only imitates the author and transforms the text into a creation of his own imagination. Hence, he considered it possible to use the following methods of translation: adapting the content to the Russian receptor, making him/her feel as if the characters were Russian and lived in Russia (Lyudmila); translating prose by verse (for better melody and harmony) (Undina); ignoring the meter and stanza of the source text (An Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard by T. Gray was translated in hexameters); free rendering or retelling (Sud v podzemelye, “An underground trial”)102.

The next part of Zhukovsky’s creative work is connected with sentimentalism. As a sentimentalist, he transformed the source text as far as he understood and felt it, according to his personal taste and experience. He emphasized his belief that poetry should be an expression of feeling. An author’s ideas and themes were filtered through the translator’s soul and reflected in a new way, making quite a new work of art. V. Belinsky, assessing Zhukovsky’s translations, remarked that some parts of his translations seemed to have been copied directly from the poet’s life; therefore, his translations were far from being perfect but they were excellent as his own literary works.103 In his translations, Zhukovsky revealed his mood, which was the defining characteristics of sentimentalism.

Later, as a Romantic poet, he paid more attention to reflecting the individual form and content of the source text in translation, emphasizing Romantic conceptions of landscape, and folk ballads. He retranslated some ballads and poems (Lenore by G. Burger, A Country Church Yard by T. Gray) because the former style did not suit him. It was also at that time that V. Zhukovsky translated Homer's Odyssey (1849).

Striving for translation accuracy was characteristic of another Russian poet and translator, N. Gneditch, the creator of the Russian Iliad. When translating, Gneditch aimed at “not identifying Homer’s idea with a Russian one”, and especially at “not ornamenting the original”; that is, he stood for subordinating a translator to the author, for accomplishing the most accurate translation, close to the source text.

While Gneditch dealt with epic literature and drama, P. Vyazemsky extended these principles to lyrical poetry. But his translations proved to be too close to the source text. Trying to reproduce the individual peculiarities of the original, the translator followed not only the sense but also the syntax of the source text, thus making his translation literal.

Until now theorists in literature and translation have disputed A. Pushkin’s role in translation theory and practice. Three opinions may be outlined.

1. Pushkin was both a great poet and a great translator. He used to be very critical about both adaptation (or free translation) and interlinear (or word for word) translation.104

2. Pushkin cannot be called a translator.105 B. Tomashevsky wrote that Pushkin despised translation and considered it to be the work of minor journalists. Y. Levin supported this view by claiming that Pushkin had no consistent translation system. He regarded translation as a kind of school to study creative writing.106 Translation was never an objective in his work.

3. A compromise point of view was expressed by P. Kopanev.107 Pushkin did not work out a theoretical system of translation, but his casual statements, assessments, and translations are of great value. They demonstrate his attention to literary translation as a linguistic means of developing Russian culture. He was always well informed about Russian and translated literature, although he held translation in low esteem.

Notwithstanding this wide scope of theoretical views on Pushkin’s role in translation, the following should be taken into account:

· Pushkin’s translations are inseparable from his original creative writings (his translations are rather his own poems, as they are usually very far from the source texts);

· His translations are based on various theoretical principles: there are accurate, free, shortened translations and adaptations;

· Pushkin translated only great works of literature, never paying attention to minor, secondary works. Thus he contributed to the enrichment of Russian culture.

M. Lermontov is often mentioned, along with Pushkin, among the representatives of the “realistic tradition of translation”. Like Pushkin, Lermontov treated translated works as if they were his own creations.108 He emphasized some elements of a work at the expense of other elements. He also increased the stylistic pathos of his translated work, adding tragic or pathetic notes to it. He would insert his own extracts in translations. His translations (from T. More, H. Heine, A. Mickiewicz and others) did not mention the source author (that was typical of the day). From time to time, the poet simultaneously used several sources, sometimes by different authors. In a word, for Lermontov there existed no borderline between his own poetic work and translation.

A great role in Russian translation theory was played by Vissarion Belinsky. In the 1830s, Belinsky tried his hand in translating but he was great not as a translator but as a translation critic who emphasized the translator’s noble mission in bringing together cultures, and developing the nation’s aesthetic feelings, developing the language.109 It was Belinsky who contrasted prose translation with poetry translation in theory. In prose translation, he said, one cannot either add or reduce anything, or change the text. The purpose of translation is to substitute the source text, including all its drawbacks. The poetry translation, he thought, can be adapted to the tastes and requirements of the reading public. Some years later, though, he changed his attitude to poetry translation, believing that a translated poem should render the source text as closely as possible.

On the whole, this period of Russian translation is characterized by the special role of the translator who appeared as a creator, a poetic activist, rather than the servant of an original author or text.

 

§4. TRANSLATION IN THE SECOND HALF OF THE 19TH CENTURY

 

The second half of the 19th century saw a great increase in the volume of translated literature. During this period there was a gradual decline in poetry and a rise of prose. Beginning about 1860, Russian culture was dominated by a group known as the "intelligentsia," a word that the English borrowed from the Russian but which means something rather different in its original Russian usage (‘raznochintsy”).110 They did not speak or read foreign languages, which required a greater number of translations. The quantitative increase led to a qualitative decrease. Most translations of that period were very far from the original texts, as they rendered only the outline of the source text rather than its style.

This period witnessed a change of status for translated literature. In the early 19th century, translation was regarded as part and parcel of the author’s original creative work (it is not by chance that Gnedich, famous for his translations, was portrayed among great Russian authors in Novgorod’s monument to the thousandth anniversary of Russia.) While in the early 19th century foreign literary works were adopted by Russian literature, the situation changed drastically in the late 19th century: translated literature was shunned from the original fiction. Translated works began to be regarded as foreign literature related to Russian literature only by the new language expression they acquired. The second half of the 19th century separated the translator and the author, by subordinating the former to the latter.

One of the most outstanding poets and translators of the time was Afanasy Fet,whowrote delicate love lyrics and translated classics (Horace, Virgil, Ovid, Catullus) and German poets. According to K. Chukovsky, Fet the translator and Fet the poet are absolutely incomparable.111 Fet the poet is superb. He is superior to Fet the translator. As a translator, Fet took great care of the poetic form, nearly neglecting the sense, so that some of his poems could be understood only with reference to the source text. Fet himself did only word-for-word translations, justifying his position by comparing the translation with a picture: even the worst picture will better familiarize a person with Venus de Milo than can any verbal description. Such is the translation. It might sound clumsy in another language but it should cause the reader to feel the force and magnitude of the original.112

Why is it possible that Fet, such a splendid lyrical poet, could be so clumsy and tongue-tied in translation? Scholars explain this by Fet’s agnosticism, that is, his philosophical belief that nothing can be known in depth, that only perceptible phenomena are objects of exact knowledge.113 This attitude of the poet is reflected both in his impressionist poetry where he represented only his own impressions of the intangible world, and in his translations where he reproduced the unattainable content of the source text. Thus Fet, who literally showed in translation somebody else’s feelings, was opposed to Zhukovsky, who gave voice to his own, subjective feelings in translation.

In contrast to Fet’s were the translation principles of Irinarkh Vvedensky, known for his free translation of C. Dickens and W. Thackeray. Vvedensky called translators, first and foremost, to read the source text carefully, to associate themselves with the author and, then, to move the author to our community and answer the question: in what form would the author express his ideas if he lived with us, in this country?114 When translating, he would typically add pages which had nothing to do with the source text. While criticizing Vvedensky’s work, K. Chukovsky said that his translation was in fact a sneer at Dickens, uncontested by the Russian educated public.115

Another translation method was characteristic of Alexei K. Tolstoy, who introduced pragmatic requirements into translation. “We should not translate words, and sometimes not even sense; what is important is to convey the impression.”116 Translation should have the same impact upon the reader as has the original text.

Tolstoy’s principle was developed by a revolutionary democrat M. Mikhailov,who denied literal translation and even thought it possible to make form substitutions to produce the same effect upon the reader as does the source text. Similar ideas were shared by V. Kurochkin.

 



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