Logos Multilingual Portal

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


b) Four visions of the world

In this context we can include four ‘transverse’ dimensions in the translation process:

The text seen as a place of symbolic allusion. The text reduced to a normative code, and the historical and cultural memory of a given civilization. The notion of the text as a substitute for the oral tradition, and a ‘literary’ place settled by the cohesion of many sources. The idea of the text as a reorganization of the outside world within an individual vision of the world.

With a modern language we could define these four dimensions as a "mythical vision, anthropic vision, historical vision and poetic vision". These branches gave rise to four different schools of thought that are still operative within translatology, and which in modern times guide the work of every translator in every text; usually in an unconscious way. In texts containing an interpretative polysemy, in being a parody of entire historical developments (e.g. Joyce’s Ulysses or Yeats’s The Tower), the translator’s instinctive choice of one concept rather than another determines the potentialities inherent in his version of the text, as the ‘force field’ in which his rendition in another language is inscribed.

By way of example we shall dwell upon the different ways the Bible translators rendered the beginning of The Gospel according to St. John. St. Jerome translates "in the beginning there was the Verbum", the Seventy "in the beginning there was the Word", Aquila "in the beginning there was Logos", Amphictyon "in the beginning there was the Meaning". In the first case, the divinity is assimilated to the enigma of His words, in the second to the revelation of their meaning, in the third to the source of every logic, in the last, to the decoding that every culture carries out independently within a given linguistic code. Like all ancient languages, Aramaic ignores syntax, but functions through a web of semantic attractions inside pronominal particles and root-words. In fact, it behaves like a phonetic transcription of a hieroglyphic language, such as Assyrian and, in certain aspects, Hebrew. In Aramaic, the concept of time is a play of spatial relationships. Hence the ‘temporality’ of Aramaic is similar to that of Sanskrit. While St. Jerome and Aquila do not separate this perspective by internal assonance, outside any time-space, the other two versions ‘update’ this mythopoetic dimension, translating the Holy Scriptures within a specific ‘historical’ vision of the world. In this way, the Seventy and Amphictyon legitimate any modern translation, resolving every linguistic aporia through a diminishing of the allusive value of a text by emphasizing its descriptive nature. Even the definition of God receives a different characterization. For Amphictyon, God is To Pan kai En: "All, that is also One". In St. Jerome the same expression is rendered as "The One, who becomes All", whereas Aquila gives "All, that is called One", and in the Seventy "All, that we know as One". The differences in perspective between these four definitions constitute an effective appendix to what we have discussed so far.