See also the articles "L’essor de la traduction au XVIIIe siècle" and "Translating: the art of interpreting ancient texts" in the EHNE.
Any attempt to write an adequate history of translation, even one limited to Europe within a restricted period of time, would be a utopian undertaking. While translation permeates every historical epoch and countless aspects of human activity, the translator's task and its significance vary with the many different language communities across the world and the diverse political constellations arising during the course of history. The work of the translator is dependent on power structures dominant at the time, on frequently unpredictable economic and cultural developments, and even the changing concept of translation itself1 which determines the relationship between source and target text as regards both form and content.2 The history of translation cannot be represented as a chronological report, as a stable continuum, nor can it be recorded as a mere inventory of texts, but can only be seen from the perspective of the times and the individual text concerned. This article will present an overview of the main trends in translation between 1450 and 1950, concentrating on the peak periods and highlights along with the outstanding personalities who have created them, from the viewpoint of today's "interdiscipline" of Translation Studies,3 particularly in relation to the history of Europe and its cultural and intellectual development.
Prologue: Classical Antiquity and the "School of Toledo"
Translation is one of the oldest activities of humankind, going back to the invention of writing systems and hence written communication across language barriers.4 An early pioneer achievement of translation in Europe can be found in Classical Antiquity, when a former Greek slave called Livius Andronicus (ca. 285–204 BC) made a Latin version of the Odyssey of Homer (ca. 8th century BC), thus giving the Romans access to the treasures of Greek literature.5 In the Roman Empire, translation began to flourish. Some of the translators were themselves poets, such as Horace (65–8 BC) and Virgil (70–19 BC), or other outstanding personalities, in particular Marcus Tullius Cicero (106–43 BC). It was he who formulated one of the earliest maxims of translation theory: In his discussion of translation De optimo genere oratorum, he ranks translating according to sense higher than a word-for-word rendering ("Non ut interpres (…) sed ut orator"6), unleashing a discussion that was to dominate translation theory for nearly two thousand years. This approach emerges especially clearly in the work of Eusebius Sophronicus Hieronymus (345–420), the patron saint of translators and the author of the Vulgate. In a letter (No. 57) to the Roman senator Pammachius, he freely admitted his strategy of expressing not one word by means of another, but translating sense for sense ("non verbum de verbo sed sensum exprimere de sensu"), with the exception however of the Holy Scriptures, where "even the word order is a mystery".7 In later centuries, an attitude such as this, especially in the field of Bible translation, was to prove disastrous for many a translator in Europe.
During the 9th and 10th centuries a constellation of a completely different kind emerged in Baghdad in the form of a translation chamber under the direction of the Christian physician and scholar Hunayn ibn Ishaq (809–873), known in the West as Johannitius.8 Here scholars worked in teams to translate scientific works from ancient Greek into Arabica. In the 12th century, these texts were themselves translated into Latin by scholars in the Spanish city of Toledo, the main focus being on the philosophical and scientific achievements of the Greek and Arab world, especially in the fields of medicine, mathematics, astronomy and astrology.9 In the 13th century, translations were then made from Arabic into the Spanish vernacular. Through the constant exchange of ideas and experiences these translators were able to create a treasure trove of knowledge which was to enrich Western culture across language barriers. The "School of Toledo" stands for a peak period of translation in Spain and for cultural and scientific interaction in the 12th and 13th centuries in Europe.10
After 1450: Renaissance, Reformation and the "Sacred Word"
The transition from the Middle Ages to modern times was marked by a decisive event that was also to revolutionize translation: the invention of printing with movable type in the mid-15th century by the German printer Johannes Gutenberg (ca. 1397–1468) from Mainz. In medieval times it had been the privilege of scholars to write down and discuss the results of their scholarship, but in the Age of the Renaissance with all its new ideas and discoveries and the revival of interest in Classical Antiquity, such knowledge was made accessible to all those who were able to read. Texts were not only in Latin as the lingua franca of the elite, but increasing use was made of the vernaculars. Thus arose a new golden age of translation, which on the European continent had its origins in Italy.11
It was not unusual for printers to work as translators and translators as printers. An outstanding example was Étienne Dolet (1509–1546), who set up a printing press in Lyon after being awarded a privilege to do so by the French King Francis I (1494–1547) (see below). The first book to be printed in English, which appeared in 1476 in Bruges with the title Recuyell of the Historyes of Troy, was a translation from French by William Caxton (1422–1491), who in 1476 opened England's first printing press in Westminster. 74 of Caxton's 90 printed books appeared in English, 20 of these he translated himself.12 In the German-speaking area, the early Humanists Heinrich Steinhöwel (ca. 1412–1480), Niklas von Wyle (1410–1478) and Albrecht von Eyb (1420–1475) made use of printing technology in their endeavours to pass on the humanist intellectual achievements of Italy.
In his translations Wyle, whose main work appeared in 1478 with the title Translatzen oder Tütschungen, aimed at reproducing Latin stylistic features as exactly as possible, thus following the humanistic ideal of "love of the sweetness and beauty of words".13 This meant that his translations could only be understood by "readers instructed and educated in Latin".14 Steinhöwel, on the other hand, was mainly interested in rendering the sense of the text for a broad German-speaking readership, and he had no reservations about "enriching" the text by adding proverbs, rhymes, popular turns of phrase or allusions to current events.15 His most successful translations were firstly the tale Griseldis from the Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375) in the Latin adaptation of Francesco Petrarch (1304–1374) – a "Schlüssel-Publikation des süddeutschen Frühhumanismus"16 – and secondly his German-Latin edition of Aesop's fables.17 Eyb also concentrated more on content than on form. In the Preface to his Spiegel der Sitten he comes out in favour of Jerome's translation strategy when he writes:
baide Comedien vnd gedicht / hab ich auß latein in teütsch gebracht nach meinem vermügen / nit als gar von worten zu worten / wann das gar vnuerstentlich ware / sunder nach dem synn vnd mainung der materien als sy am verstendlichsten vnd besten lauten mügen.18
Women were also productive translators; of especial interest are two ladies from the higher nobility without whose achievements the German prose novel of the 15th century would have been inconceivable.19 Eleonore of Austria (1433–1480) made a German translation of the French prose novel Pontus and Sidonia that originated around the year 1400,20 and in 1437 Elisabeth of Nassau-Saarbrücken (1394–1456) translated the French chanson de geste Huge Scheppel into the German prose novel Hug Schappler, which was printed in Strasbourg in 1500 by Johannes Grüninger (1455–1532) in an adaptation made by Konrad Heindörffler.21
The rulers of the time soon realized that the Church's monopoly of knowledge was jeopardized by printing and translation, and they tried to control this by censorship. One of the first of these edicts was issued on 22nd March 1485 by the Archbishop of Mainz Berthold von Henneberg (1441–1504), who described his views on translations from Greek and Latin into German as follows:
Denn wir mußten sehen, daß Bücher, die die Ordnung der Heiligen Messe enthalten, und außerdem solche, die über göttliche Dinge und die Hauptfragen unserer Religion verfaßt worden sind, aus der lateinischen in die deutsche Sprache übersetzt wurden und nicht ohne Schande für die Religion durch die Hand des Volkes wandern. … Und so befehlen wir, daß man keine Werke, welcher Art sie seien, welche Wissenschaft, Kunst und Erkenntnis sie auch immer betreffen, aus der griechischen, lateinischen oder einer anderen Sprache in die deutsche Volkssprache übersetze oder übersetzte Werke, öffentlich oder heimlich, unmittelbar oder mittelbar jeweils vor dem Druck, die gedruckten vor dem Vertrieb, durch eigens dazu bestellte Doktoren und Magister der Universität in unserer Stadt Mainz beziehungsweise solche in unserer Stadt Erfurt durchsehen und mit einem Sichtvermerk zum Druck oder zum Vertrieb freigeben lassen muß.22
In France it was Jacques Amyot (1513–1593) who was to have a great influence on the emergence of the French national language, especially with his Vies des hommes illustres, an idiomatic and meticulously annotated French version of the biographies of outstanding personalities of Classical Antiquity by Plutarch (ca. 45–120).23 Translation also prospered in England under Queen Elizabeth I (1533–1603), herself an enthusiastic translator, e.g. of works by Boethius (480–524), Horace and Euripides (480–406 BC).24 The texts translated at this time were above all non-literary and pragmatic, on subjects such as health, education and warfare.25 Translation, on the one hand, served as a means of instruction for the up-and-coming middle classes,26 and, on the other, to enrich the English language which was thought to be backward at the time: It is even claimed that translation made a considerable contribution to the development of a national identity.27 The classic example is Plutarch's Lives by Thomas North (1535–1601), which was based on Amyot's French version and was likewise intended to familiarize a broad readership with the political, social and cultural peculiarities of the then highly revered society of Classical Antiquity.28 Among the works based on Plutarch's Lives were the Roman dramas of William Shakespeare (1564–1616). This is only one example of the linguistic and cultural exchange of this age, which has been summarized as follows:
At a time of explosive innovation, and amid a real threat of surfeit and disorder, translation absorbed, shaped, oriented the necessary raw material. It was, in a full sense of the term, the matière première of the imagination. Moreover, it established a logic of relation between past and present, and between different tongues and traditions which were splitting apart under stress of nationalism and religious conflict.29
The two great movements dominating the 16th century were humanism,30 centring round the great cosmopolitan and prolific translator Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam (1467–1536),31 and the Reformation.
A symbolic figure of humanist translators was the Frenchman Étienne Dolet, who not only introduced the terms traduction and traducteur into the French language, but was the first person to present a brief (4-page) treatise on translation theory: La manière de bien traduire d'une language en l'autre, which he printed and published himself in 1540 – and in which he rejects word-for-word translation.32 Dolet, who had studied in Paris and Padua, where he also worked as secretary to the Bishop of Limoges, the French ambassador to the Republic of Venice, was best known for his translations from Ancient Greek. His rejection of word-for-word translation finally cost him his life: Because of a few words added in his French translation of one of Plato's Dialogues, he was sentenced to death by the Theological Faculty of the Sorbonne. Through the words "rien du tout" ("nothing at all") with reference to life after death, which in the opinion of the court were not recognizable in the original, he supposedly questioned the immortality of the soul and was therefore a heretica. On the 3rd August 1546, he was tortured and burned at the stake on the Place Maubert in Paris – and with him were burned his translations and editions.33
However, in those days Étienne Dolet was by no means alone in his fate:
The translation battle raged throughout Dolet's age. The Reformation, after all, was primarily a dispute between translators. Translation became an affair of State and a matter of Religion. The Sorbonne and the king were equally concerned with it. Poets and prose writers debated the matter, Joachim du Bellay's Défense et illustration de la Langue française34 is organized around problems relating to translation.35
The same applied to other countries in Europe, and in the view of many historians translations played a decisive part in the development and impact of the Reformation.36 Of central importance was the translation of the Bible and the faithfulness to the "sacred word" of God. Particularly tragic was the fate of the English Bible translator William Tyndale (1494–1536). After his translations had been banned in England, he was forced to flee to the European Continent (his English version of the New Testament was published in Cologne and Worms). He was eventually arrested in Antwerp, tortured and burned at the stake.37 Only much later did his significance and that of his works gain recognition, and nowadays he is not only known as the "father of the English Bible",38 but even as the "patriarch of English language and literature".39 He, too, did not translate into the written language of the learned, but into the spoken language of the people and thus made an invaluable contribution to the development and enrichment of the English language. His influence is even noticeable in the King James Bible of 1611, also known as the "Authorized Version": it is said that up to eighty per cent of this monumental work, renowned for its superb poetic language and for nearly four hundred years the standard Bible of the English-speaking world, go back to the work of William Tyndale. 40
The founder and main figure of the Reformation was undoubtedly Martin Luther (1483–1546), who was to share the problems of his contemporary translators. His life, his work as translator of the Bible (his September Testament was the first direct translation from the original languages Greek and Hebrew into a modern language)41 and his importance for the development of the German standard language are so well-known that they need not be described in detail here. Luther's parallels to Tyndale in this regard are however so striking that we must briefly mention his writings, particularly the words he addressed to the conservative ecclesiastics of the time, defending his translation strategies to refute accusations that he had falsified the Holy Scriptures. His most celebrated passage is found in his Sendbrief vom Dolmetschen (1530):
Denn man muss nicht die Buchstaben in der lateinischen Sprache fragen, wie man soll Deutsch reden, wie diese Esel tun, sondern man muss die Mutter im Hause, die Kinder auf der Gassen, den gemeinen Mann auf dem Markt drum fragen, und denselbigen auf das Maul schauen, wie sie reden und darnach dolmetschen; da verstehen sie es denn und merken, dass man deutsch mit ihnen redet.42
With his translations, Luther was to provide a model for rendering the Bible in other vernaculars such as Dutch, Danish, Slovene and Finnish43 as well as the Swedish Gustav Vasa Bible.44 Like no other translator in the history of Europe, Martin Luther must be given the credit of having helped to develop a standard language through his translations, as scholars have emphasized even outside the German-speaking countries:
Through his translation of the Bible, Luther helped bring about the enrichment and standardization of the German lexicon, the development of a balanced syntax using formal means such as verb positions and conjunctions, as well as the capitalization of nouns. His main contribution, however, is in the field of stylistics. Clarity, general comprehensibility, simplicity and vividness were the most important stylistic features of his translation of the Bible, which even today serves as a model for good writing.45
Van den Vondel, the "Belles Infidèles", and Shakespeare in France
Not only vernaculars and standard languages were influenced in their development by translation, the same goes for the emergence of national literatures. An outstanding example is Joost van den Vondel (1587–1679), the major poet, playwright and translator of the Dutch Golden Age, who can be regarded as a typical vernacular writer of the later Renaissance. Using the languages and models of Classical Antiquity, he created works and texts of a new literary culture. He was immensely productive both as a creative writer and as a translator, with impressive knowledge of various languages and cultures: He translated from Latin and Greek, but also from French and Italian. He also made two complete versions of Virgil, first in prose (1646) and then in verse (1660), encouraging others to do the same: Between 1650 and 1670, a number of Dutch versions of the Aeneid were published by other translators.46
The dominant country in European politics, scholarship and art of the 17th century was, however, France, and this also applied to translation. With the self-assertiveness typical of those in a position of power, French people thought that translations should conform to the rules, conventions and even the morals of their own literature. And so there arose the "belles infidèles", the free (infidèles or "unfaithful") translations that were pleasant to read (belles or "elegant"), and were hence target-oriented texts, which were dominant in France into the 18th century. The most important representative of this trend was Nicholas Perrot d'Ablancourt (1606–1664), who mainly translated historical texts, among others works by Cornelius Tacitus (ca. 55–116) and Cicero, which he "improved" as he saw fit. Top priority was given to elegance of expression and ease of style in the French target text, according to contemporary tastes. This tendency to "adaptation" continued well into the 18th century.47
One of the outstanding themes in the history of translation is the translation of the plays of Shakespeare. This truly European phenomenon spans the time from Classical Antiquity to the Elizabethan Renaissance and on to the German Romantics, thereby highlighting problems of language, literature and culture that arise when texts are rendered in different national languages.48 As mentioned above, Shakespeare must have been one of the readers of Thomas North's Plutarch's Lives, since he owes to them the material for his dramas Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus. It is also interesting that a key role in the reception of Shakespeare's dramas on the European continent was played by France. There, drama was rediscovered during the 18th century as a literary and transcultural theatrical art form; and it was from France that the interest was to spread further:
Despite strong resistance at first, French translators assumed the role of initiators within their own country. In fact, the history of the translation of Shakespeare can be written as a history of the international dissemination of French versions of Shakespeare, which was later followed by resistance to French models, when the same fate befell translations as original compositions.49
One of the best known of these translators was Voltaire (Francois-Marie Arouet, 1694–1778), who translated Hamlet – but also vilified it as a play – and was instrumental in spreading English philosophy and literature in France, which led on to the infatuation with the Gothic novel at the end of the century.50
In France there also developed a lively debate between two schools of thought: On the one hand, there were those who admired the new literary features in Shakespeare's plays, which they found lacking in French literature, and on the other, the defenders of French classicism who thought him "barbaric". In this context, two translators are significant: Pierre-Antoine de la Place (1707–1793), who between 1746 and 1749 published an eight-volume work entitled Le Théâtre anglais comprising free but uncontroversial translations, and in particular Pierre Le Tourneur (1736–1788), who translated Shakespeare's complete works:
The first volume of his twenty-volume Shakespeare, published between 1776 and 1783, contained a highly polemical preface in defence of Shakespeare, whose natural greatness, he claimed, had been obscured by previous "travesties". His translation was copiously annotated, and sought to "educate" rather than "please" the reader. Acknowledging the foreignness of the source text, to some extent at least, Le Tourneur also drew attention to the relativity of taste. In holding Shakespeare up as an alternative to French neoclassical literature, he inaugurated a critical tradition of which one of the famous examples is Stendhal's Racine et Shakespeare (1823).51
Le Tourneur enjoyed considerable influence at the court of Louis XVI (1754–1793), and in France his translations had great success for almost fifty years.52 Internationally, French translations assumed a relay function53 and were used as source texts, especially in Germany, Poland and the Netherlands.54 The predominance of French culture in the Age of Enlightenment even favoured such neoclassical "intermediate" texts, so that the reception of the original English texts only proceeded slowly and differed greatly from one culture to another – until the focus in the field of translation shifted from France to Germany.
The "Passion for Translating" and the German Romantic Age
The representatives of great traditions in translation can be divided into four groups: precursors, pioneers, masters and disciples.55 The main precursor of the German tradition of translation theory, for example, would in this sense be Martin Luther. Pioneers of the German-speaking tradition were the scholars of the 18th century, particularly those working in the spirit of the Enlightenment: the Leipzig literary theorist Johann Christoph Gottsched (1700–1765), his two Swiss antagonists Johann Jacob Bodmer (1698–1783) and Johann Jacob Breitinger (1701–1776), the dramatist and critic Gottfried Ephraim Lessing (1729–1781) and the philosopher and critic Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803). The masters, who worked in the field of translation in the later 18th and early 19th century, were Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834), Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767–1835) as well as the early Romantic poet Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg, 1772–1801) and the translator of Shakespeare August Wilhelm Schlegel (1767–1845). The leading "disciples" include Walter Benjamin (1892–1940) and Franz Rosenzweig (1886–1929).
One could point out that this article deals with the history of translation and not the history of translation theory.56 However, all the personalities named above were themselves translators; and their theoretical approaches were the fruits of their own labours, so to speak, or of their studies of the translations of their colleagues. In the context of the history of translation in Germany, it is hardly possible to make a clear separation between theory and practice. But the subject-matter is so intricate that the extensive debate on translation theory during the Enlightenment cannot be discussed here.
Of this epoch, during which translators in Germany worked with such eagerness and enthusiasm, only a few aspects can be highlighted here.57 The selection is based not only on the subject matter which we consider typical or basica. It is remarkable that that in contrast to the earlier Renaissance translators, most of whose names have been forgotten,58 most of the works translated in this age were penned by literary personalities who are still famous today, and for that reason alone deserve to be quoted here.
A major forerunner of this new interest in translation in the Romantic Age was undoubtedly Herder, whose enthusiasm for the diversity of languages and cultures found expression above all in his epoch-making collection of folk songs (Volkslieder, 1778–1779). In translation he no longer saw the compulsion to reproduce a given content according to definite rules, but rather the possibility of creating something new and different. Herder saw himself as an "Ohrenmensch" (a person oriented to sound), and the "tone", particularly in poetry, became for him the central notion with which he tried to understand a poem as a rhythmical form of expression. From then on, the translation of lyrical poetry meant perceiving and producing the "main tone".59 He explained this approach himself in the introduction to the second part of the Volkslieder:
Auch beim Übersetzen ist das schwerste, diesen Ton, den Gesangton einer fremden Sprache zu übertragen, wie hundert gescheiterte Lieder und lyrische Fahrzeuge am Ufer unsrer und fremden Sprachen zeigen. … Alles Schwanken aber zwischen zwo Sprachen und Singarten, des Verfassers und Übersetzers, ist unausstehlich; das Ohr vernimmts gleich und hasst den hinkenden Boten, der weder zu sagen noch zu schweigen wuste.60
Herder's artistry in translating lyrics was already admired during his life-time, as we can see in a letter written to him by A.W. Schlegel on 23rd May 1797:
Sie haben die Kunst, die verschiedensten Arten der Natur- und Volkspoesie jede in ihrem Ton und ihrer Weise nachzubilden auf eine vorher nie erreichte Höhe gebracht: ich würde stolz darauf seyn, wenn das aufmerksamste, häufig wiederholte Studium alles dessen, was Sie der Welt in diesem Fache geschenkt, mir Ansprüche auf den Namen Ihres Schülers geben könnte.61
Even if these few lines clearly show the enthusiasm for translating poetry, it is striking that in this period the most varied genres (although most of them are literary) from various epochs were translated – of course beginning with Classical Antiquity. A remarkable figure here is Johann Heinrich Voß (1751–1826), even if he adhered to the strict school of the Enlightenment rather than the new ideas of the young Romantics. He is especially well known for his translations of Homer, the Odüßee – or Odyssey – (1781)62 and the Ilias63, but he also translated Virgil (1789), Ovid (1798), and Horace (1806), as well as some plays by Shakespeare. However, the variety of translations of this age went far beyond the canon of the then well-known classics.64 Translating contemporary works was also popular, above all from France: Voltaire's Zaire (1740), for example, was published in 1776 in a new translation by Johann Joachim Eschenburg (1743–1820), along with Kandide (1778) and his "sämmtliche Schriften" ("complete works").65 Jean-Jacques Rousseau's (1712–1778) Nouvelle Héloise appeared in 1761 in a German version,66 and the autobiographical Confessions were published in 1782 as J.J. Rousseau's Bekenntnisse (Parts I and 2).67
"Nicht nur geographisch nimmt Spanien in Europa eine exzentrische Position ein"68 – it was precisely the Arab influence praised as the beginning of this article that was viewed with suspicion. Yet it was also "wegen des brutalen Aufbaus seines Imperiums durch eine als unbesiegbar geltende Armee" as well as because of the inquisition and other factors that the "schwarze Legende" (leyenda negra) of an unenlightened and unfree Spanish nation arose in other countries.69 Not until the last third of the 18th century were there signs of a turn for the better, and in the field of translation it was again Herder with his collection of folk songs who played a leading part. A major figure for translators was Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547–1616), especially his Don Quixote, which appeared in 1780 in Leipzig in a six-volume version by Friedrich Justin Bertuch (1747–1822). The plays by Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600–1681) were translated (among others) by the poet Joseph von Eichendorff (1788–1857), but also by A.W. Schlegel (Spanisches Theater, 1803–1809),70 who presented his version of works from diverse Romance languages – Blumensträusse italiänischer, spanischer und portugiesischer Poesie (1804)71 – leading us right into the intellectual centre of the German Romantic Age.
The range of translations produced in this age is vast, extending from the botanical research and classification of the Swedish scientist Carl von Linné (1707–1778)72 to the early feminist manifesto of Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797) A Vindication of the Rights of Woman73 and the above-mentioned Lives by Plutarch (translated by Gottlob Benedict von Schirach (1743–1804), which appeared in Berlin and Leipzig in 1777).74 However, it cannot be denied that the major focus of interest lies where we closed the preceding chapter: in translating the plays of Shakespeare.
Die kühnsten Feinde Shakespears haben ihn – unter wie vielfachen Gestalten! – beschuldigt und verspottet, dass er, wenn auch ein großer Dichter, doch kein guter Schauspieldichter, und wenn auch dies, doch wahrlich kein so klassischer Trauerspieler sey, als Sophokles, Euripides, Korneille und Voltaire, die alles Höchste und Ganze dieser Kunst erschöpft. – Und die kühnsten Freunde Shakespears haben sich meistens nur begnügt, ihn hierüber zu entschuldigen, zu retten: seine Schönheiten nur immer mit Anstoß gegen die Regeln zu wägen, zu kompensieren; ihm als Angeklagten das absolvo zu reden, und denn sein Großes desto mehr zu vergöttern, je mehr sie über Fehler die Achsel ziehen musten.
That is what Herder wrote in 1773 in Von deutscher Art und Kunst,75 and for readers of today it must be surprising that fifty years earlier Shakespeare's plays had still been unknown in Germany. After caustic reviews by Gottsched and his contemporaries such as John Dryden (1631–1700), Alexander Pope (1688–1744) and Voltaire, he had had a rather poor reputation as a "Naturdichter" ("nature poet"), "ohne Kenntnis der Regeln, ohne Gelehrsamkeit, ohne Ordnung",76 before translating Shakespeare achieved something like cult status: Here, too, Herder himself played a decisive role with his translation of Twelfth Night.
The great names connected with the early translations of Shakespeare in Germany are Johann Joachim Eschenburg and Christoph Martin Wieland (1733–1813), who produced prose translations of twenty-two plays between 1762 and 1766. By far, the best known translations of Shakespeare are those made by A.W. Schlegel, who, along with Ludwig Tieck (1773–1853), his daughter Dorothea Tieck (1799–1841) and Wolf Heinrich von Baudissin (1789–1878), translated all 36 plays into German: all in all, the "Schlegel-Tieck" translation was for a long time thought to be the "German Shakespeare" par excellence. Schlegel himself translated seventeen plays from 1797; the remaining nineteen were done between 1825 and 1833 with the collaboration of Ludwig Tieck, who worked as a dramaturge at the theatre in Dresden until 1842, Dorothea Tieck77 and Baudissin, who moved to Dresden in 1827.
The flourishing translation activity of the time unleashed a lively critical debate, particularly between the approach of the above-mentioned Johann Heinrich Voss, who strictly adhered to preserving the form of Classical hexameters, and the ideas of the younger Romantics. Goethe, himself an impassioned translator (his translations from French, English, Spanish and Italian, including the autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini (1500–1571),78 fill an entire volume of his Collected Works), summarized the opinions in his commemorative address for Wieland in 1813 as follows:
Es gibt zwei Übersetzungsmaximen: die eine verlangt, dass der Autor einer fremden Nation zu uns herüber gebracht werde, dergestalt, dass wir ihn als den unsrigen ansehen können; die andere hingegen macht an uns die Forderung, dass wir uns zu dem Fremden hinüber begeben und uns in seine Zustände, seine Sprachweise, seine Eigenheiten finden sollen. Die Vorzüge von beiden sind durch musterhafte Beispiele allen gebildeten Menschen genügsam bekannt. Unser Freund, der auch hier den Mittelweg suchte, war beide zu verhindern bemüht, doch zog er als Mann von Gefühl und Geschmack in zweifelhaften Fällen die erste Maxime vor.79
In the same year, on 24th June 1813, the theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher, himself a translator of Plato, delivered his famous address to the Royal Academy of Sciences in Berlin, in which he used almost the same words to describe the two "roads" open to the translator:
Entweder der Übersezer lässt den Schriftsteller möglichst in Ruhe, und bewegt den Leser ihm entgegen; oder er lässt den Leser möglichst in Ruhe, und bewegt den Schriftsteller ihm entgegen.80
In contrast to Wieland, he saw no "middle way" and made it clear that he himself preferred the first road of "foreignizing" translation.
The "Foreign", Dominant Languages and Power
Goethe's most famous statement on translation theory is found in the Notes written in 1819 on his West-Östlicher Diwan. There he defines three "epochs" of translation:
Die erste macht uns in unserm eigenen Sinne mit dem Ausland bekannt: eine schlicht-prosaische ist hiezu die beste. … Eine zweite Epoche folgt hierauf, wo man sich in die Zustände des Auslands zwar zu versetzen, aber eigentlich nur fremden Sinn sich anzueignen und mit eignem Sinne wieder darzustellen bemüht ist. Solche Zeit möchte ich … die parodistische nennen… Weil … eine Umwandlung nach der andern immerhin erfolgen muss, so erlebten wir den dritten Zeitraum, welcher der höchste und letzte zu nennen ist, derjenige nämlich, wo man die Übersetzung dem Original identisch machen möchte, so dass eins nicht anstatt des andern, sondern an der Stelle des andern gelten soll.81
For the first epoch of "prosaic" translating, Goethe suggests Luther's Bible translation as an example; for the second, "parodistic" epoch, Wieland's translations or the French tradition; for the third – Schleiermacher's ideal of foreignizing – he names the translations of Homer by Voss. Goethe and the German Romantics did trigger a vigorous exchange of translations in Europe – the Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881), for example, translated Goethe's Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (1824) and Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre (1827) and wrote a Life of Schiller in 1823–1824,82 which appeared in German in 1830 with a preface by Goethe;83 the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1843) translated Schiller's Wallenstein (1800), and conversely Lord Byron (George Gordon Byron, 1788–1824), Charles Dickens (1812–1870) and Walter Scott (1771–1832) were translated into German. Nevertheless, with his West-Östlicher Diwan Goethe added a further component; the fascination with the "Orient", which was evident in 19th century Europe. Originally, Goethe's work had been entitled "Versammlung deutscher Gedichte mit stetem Bezug auf den 'Diwan' (Liedersammlung) des persischen Sängers Mahomed Schemseddin Hafis" and was based on the Divan of Mohammed Shemmseddin Hafiz (ca. 1317/26–1389/90), which the Orientalist Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall (1744-1856) published in 1812 "aus dem Persischen zum erstenmal ganz übersetzt".84 The 19th century, however, was also the heyday of colonialism, and the fascination for the "Orient" and hence translation in Europe was permeated by increasing arrogance towards the "foreign".
It is not surprising that striking examples of translations of this kind came from the motherland of the British Empire. Especially well known is the Englishman Edward Fitzgerald (1809–1883) for his free translation from Persian of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1859),85 about which he made the following comment:
It is an amusement to me to take what liberties I like with these Persians, who, (as I think) are not Poets enough to frighten one from such excursions, and who really do want a little Art to shape them.86
Also well known for his translations, as well as for his expeditions round the world, is the orientalist Richard Francis Burton (1821–1890), at first for his 16-volume edition of the Arabian Nights, but above all for Oriental erotic texts like the Kama Sutra (1883), which he published privately to avoid the risk of prosecution.87
An empire does not, however, live on literature alone, and it is remarkable that hardly any research has been carried out on non-literary translations by representatives of the colonial powers. In this field, the orientalist and jurist Sir William Jones (1746–1794) was extremely active, and from 1783 he utilized the translation of legal texts in India "to domesticate the Orient and thereby turn it into a province of European learning."88
Of more immediate interest here is the translatorial activity in a European complex of states, which did not consist of colonies but of "crown lands", namely the multi-ethnic, multilingual Habsburg monarchy. On this territory, a vast translation service existed, which, however, has only recently been discovered by researchers.89 And yet the "Orient" had been integrated here for centuries: Back in 1754, the Empress Maria Theresia (1717–1780) founded the "Oriental Academy",90 whose graduates gained proficiency in Turkish (sometimes also in Arabic and Persian) in order to work as "Oriental interpreters" in the Austrian "Internuntiatur" in Istanbul.91 In the Habsburg monarchy of the 19th century, translators were mostly concerned with text-books, legal works and legal regulations as well as jurisdiction and administration, "denn naturgemäß wurde im alten Österreich allenthalben Tag und Nacht übersetzt".92 In contrast to the literary translators of the German Romantic Age, these individuals are of course completely unknown today. Yet they bore, if they had been officially appointed, the distinguished title "Translator".93 It is only very recently as well that a detailed monograph on the abundant translatorial activity in the Habsburg monarchy from 1848 until its end in 1918 has been published.94 Some insight into the bureaucracy, but also into the linguistic diversity of the Austrian Empire, is provided in a compact study on Habsburg translators in the "Redaktionsbureau des Reichsgesetzblattes" ("Editorial Office of the Imperial Law Gazette").95 The Editorial Office was established in 1849 with a patent from the Emperor, and the Law Gazette was intended to appear "in zehn Ausgaben in den folgenden 'landesüblichen' Sprachen …:
in deutscher Sprache,
in böhmischer (zugleich mährischer und slovakischer Schriftsprache),
in slovenischer (zugleich windischer und krainerischer Schriftsprache),
in serbisch-illirischer Sprache mit serbischer Civil-Schrift,
in serbisch-illirischer (zugleich croatischer) Sprache mit lateinischen Lettern,
in romanischer (moldauisch-wallachischer) Sprache.96
At first the texts were declared equally valid in all ten languages.97 This, of course, meant a vast amount of work for the translators, with corresponding side-effects such as time-pressure, financial problems and constant changes in staff. In 1852, the German text was then declared the only authentic one, so that the Gazette from then on appeared in German only.98
Not only in the Habsburg Empire, a sense of discomfort at such "Germanization", above all to the detriment of the Slavonic languages, developed.99 The situation was especially alarming in Poland, because after the partition of 1795 it was not only the country that disappeared from the map until 1918. The Polish language itself was also suppressed by the Prussian, Austrian and Russian powers and gradually became a medium of resistance.100 Thus a problem arose which was to become a central issue in Europe (and in the meantime in the whole world): that of dominant and peripheral languages and their cultures.
In the course of the 19th and especially in the 20th century, colonial or imperial arrogance towards anything foreign developed into open xenophobia, accompanied by an increase in anti-Semitism. Of course translations were still produced in all fields, but the heyday was now over. However, there were occasional translatorial milestones, such as the new translation of the Bible by Martin Buber (1878–1865) and Franz Rosenzweig or the translation of Charles Baudelaire's (1821–1867) Tableaux parisiens (1923) by Walter Benjamin, whose preface "Die Aufgabe des Übersetzers" ("The Task of the Translator") takes Goethe's highest epoch of translation as its ideal and is still acclaimed world-wide in modern Translation Studies. Benjamin himself was driven to suicide by the catastrophe of the Nazi dictatorship.
For translation, fascism inevitably meant censorship and repression. Still, there was also active resistance, for example in Germany,101 Italy, and the Soviet Union.102 A real low point for the profession of translating and interpreting is described by Paul Schmidt, Chief Interpreter in the German Foreign Office during the Third Reich, when he compares the Language Service in Berlin at the beginning of the Second World War to a "lonely island in the midst of the metropolis":
Die Telefone waren abgestellt, die Zugänge zu den Stockwerken wurden bewacht, und unter den Fenstern sorgten unauffällig die wachsamen Augen der Kriminalpolizei dafür, dass die "Insel" eine Insel blieb.103
Epilogue: After 1945 – The Path to Translation Studies
The economic role of translation can be seen in the Index Translationum, which has been kept up by the UNESCO since 1932104 and comprises a number of statistics on the book markets of the member states. After the Second World War, translation was to experience an unprecedented revival, with a central role being played by technology. What the invention of printing was for translation during the Renaissance was information technology (IT) in the second half of the 20th century. First attempts at machine translation (FAHQT: fully automatic high quality translation) in the USA105 may have been dismissed by the 1966 ALPAC106 Report as illusory, but the ensuing rapid progress in computer and information technologies as well as in telecommunication has changed the work of technical translators (LSP) for good; in particular through terminological data-banks and computer-aided translation (CAT). The development of audio-visual media led to new forms and techniques of translation, above all dubbing and subtitling for the screen. With the emergence and expansion of multilingual international organisations like the UNO and the EU, gigantic language services were created, whose basic problems do remind one of those of the Habsburg Empire. However, not German but English (in its reduced form as the lingua franca of a globalized world) is now the predominant language, also in Europe.
Nevertheless, literary translation too has increased world-wide, at least in quantity, and here again English (in diverse – (post)colonial – varieties, above all American English) is the dominant source or relay language. "Peripheral" or "smaller" languages like Slovene, Romanian, Czech, Finnish, Modern Greek or Polish usually function as target languages and even have to secure their identity and further existence partly through translation, so that in these language communities translation cultures are especially vibrant.
With this wealth of translation activity it is only natural that professional organizations have been founded on national and international levels, above all the Fédération Internationale des Traducteurs (FIT), which was founded in 1953 in Paris by Pierre-Francois Caillé (1907–1979). With the increasing importance of LSP (Language for Specific Purposes) translation, university training schools for translators and interpreters were established, first mainly in the German- and French-speaking countries,107 but also in Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Italy, the UK and – at first with particular success – in Finland. With the increasing intensity of the critical and theoretical debates, especially during the 1980s, there emerged an independent discipline of translating and interpreting (Translation Studies), and the European Society for Translation Studies (EST) was founded in Vienna in 1992.
Meanwhile, Translation (and Interpreting) Studies has become an internationally recognized discipline, and the work of the translator, although it is still underrated, is more important than ever. Especially today, the famous words of the translator Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in his letter to Thomas Carlyle of 20th July 1827 could serve as a model for all those concerned with translation:
Und so ist jeder Übersetzer anzusehen, dass er sich als Vermittler dieses allgemein geistigen Handels bemüht, und den Wechseltausch zu befördern sich zum Geschäft macht. Denn, was man auch von der Unzulänglichkeit des Übersetzens sagen mag, so ist und bleibt es doch eins der wichtigsten und würdigsten Geschäfte in dem allgemeinen Weltwesen.108