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3. The substrate of ancient languages: Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Saxon and their influence on modern languages. The model of the Bible: translations by Aquila, Amphictyon, the Seventy and Saint Jerome, and the Vulgate


a) Modern effects of archaic poetry

The end of the ancient world was marked by the aspiration after a language for uniting peoples brought together by the pax Romana, and until then divided by national borders and the incompatibility of different cultures. The adoption of Christianity by Justinian involved the need to ensure a translation of the Bible from Aramaic that was as faithful as possible to the spirit of the holy text. And the first disputes regarding the nature of an ‘ideal’ translation occurred precisely over the difference between compliance with the ‘spirit’ and the ‘word’. Initiating modern philology with his own version of the Bible, St. Jerome stated that he wanted to convey as much of the Word of God as could be conveyed through the language, pointing out that without an effective interpretation of the text the meaning of what the Bible communicates could not be understood. For St. Jerome, the ‘significance’ is an alluding with signs to as much of the sacred symbols as can be gathered in terms of the written word. Thus, every word is a code whose purpose concerns the revelation of a counter-text, whereas the translation is an oracular activity whose purpose concerns that not stated and the unexpressed.

Conflicting with St. Jerome, the Seventy’s version signified the orthodoxy of the Roman Catholic Church. The seventy Bible translators were chosen according to their position as bishops in the various dioceses of the Roman world. Their reading keeps to the Pauline dictates, whereby liturgical influence prevails over the written text. Every text is a guide to the procedure. Every reading is an ethical action rather than a reflection on the meaning. For the Seventy, the normalizing of meanings between the Old and the New Testaments, which in St. Jerome are still divided by a contrasting conception of the world, becomes the objective of each translator’s work. The renewal of values introduced by Jesus is also the indispensable condition for every interpretative process.

A last perspective is that offered by the Versions of Aquila and Amphictyon, who stand at philological opposites: Aquila sees the Bible as a historical-literary document, and therefore tends to reproduce the harmony and ‘mantic’ formulae of the original, while Amphictyon seeks a translation that brings out the juridical and regulatory values of the Holy Scriptures. For Amphictyon, the Bible is the nodal text on which the values of the koine are centred: the linguistic sharing among all peoples of the Hellenistic world. Whereas for Aquila the Bible is the place of literary Hermeticism, and the moment when the remote and aloof ethics of Stoic philosophy found a point of cohesion with the Christian revolution.