HomeTranslation… Treason

Translation… Treason

Traduction… trahison?

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Published on Thursday, April 25, 2019 by Anastasia Giardinelli


L’Unité de recherche TRAME (E.A. 4284) de l’Université de Picardie-Jules Verne organise un colloque sur les phénomènes et les pratiques de traduction. Le terme, qui sous-entend les questions de fidélité, mais aussi celles de translation, transformation, transmutation, interprétation, négociation, adaptation ou transfert, pour n’en citer que quelques-uns… est porteur de richesses, comme de questionnements. Sont encouragées les contributions de tous horizons, des champs de la littérature et de la linguistique à l’histoire de la traduction, en passant par les arts, les sciences, l’histoire (religieuse, sociale…), la musicologie, de l’époque carolingienne au XXIe siècle.



The Roman era saw the emergence of the first translations signed by their authors. Livius Andronicus, who translated the Odyssey into Latin verse (third century B.C.E., is the first European translator known to us. His object was pedagogical since he taught Greek and Latin to his master’s children. Shortly thereafter and also motivated by pedagogy, the Bible, a composite of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, started appearing in various translations. After the Heptateuch (ca. 250-117 B.C.E.), many others followed. These range from Jerome’s Vulgate (late 4th century C.E.) to the Wycliffe Bible (late 14th century) to the Bible of Lefèvre d’Etaples (1530), forerunners of French Protestantism. Next appeared the Geneva Bible (mid-16th century), fundamental to French Protestantism until the early 18th century. Still more strands of translation emerged in the Port-Royal Bible (1696) and in the new Bible translations of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries through to the ultra-literal translation of André Chouraqui (1985).

Originally practiced within the monasteries and limited to religious texts, translation surged into the secular domain during the tenth century and reached into the domain of the sciences most notably in the twelfth century. At that time, protoscientific texts were translated from Arabic into Latin by learned scholars from all over Europe. Translation increased in significance during the fourteenth century thanks to court patronage. Jean II le Bon (John II the Good, 1350-1364) had the extant books of the History of Rome (Décades) of Titus Livius (27-9 B.C.E.) translated by his secretary, the monk Pierre Bersuire, who prefaced his translation with a glossary. King Charles V le Sage (Charles the Wise, ruled 1364-1380) practiced a veritable politics of translation. He paid for the services of such translators as Nicholas Oresme who translated Aristotle, Ptolemy…and invented new words to express more precisely his readings. Translation practices diversified and opened up into vernacular languages. Among leading examples can be cited the translation of the Chevalier au Lion into Norse, the translations of Geoffrey Chaucer (De Consolatione Philosophiae/The Consolation of Philosophy) and the German versions of the Roman d’Alexandre. Eclipsed in the fifteenth century, the process of translation takes on renewed energy in the following century. Humanism fosters the rebirth of interest in ancient languages and the Protestant Reform movement leads to the production of new texts. At the beginning of the following century, Claude Seyssel invited Louis XII to create a “Literature in French” and advocates the benefits of translation. Opposing positions on translation drew adherents. Court poets rally around Clément Marot and argue that the French language is enriched by translation. But for the Pléiade poets, translation is a danger for language as well as literature. The latter position culminates in Du Bellay’s Defence and Illustration of the French Language (1549), a text in which Georges Mounin (Les Belles Infidèles, 2007) sees a fully developed argument against translation. The seventeenth century begins with a vast enterprise focused on the codification of the French language, and the editing of dictionaries: Richelet’s Dictionnaire français (1680) and the Dictionnaire de l’Académie (1694).

Translators –artisans of national literatures– are builders of languages and…propagators of religions. To the Bible and the Torah –of which the translation requires the full knowledge of its possible levels of interpretation as well as its hermeneutics– is added the Coran. However untranslatable, the Coran is nevertheless widely translated –from the middle of the twelfth century when it was translated at the request of Peter the Venerable. So too are Hindu and Buddhist texts.

The vocabulary itself is vast, reflecting the multiple facets that the process can involve: translation indeed convenes movement, transformation, transmutation, interpretation, negotiation, adaptation, transferral… and fidelity. On the issue of fidelity, much has been written. In the preface to his translation of the Tableaux parisiens of Baudelaire entitled Die Aufgabe des Übersetzers (The Task of the Translator), Walter Benjamin confides indeed that to translate is not to transmit a message or to make a text in one language pass into another but to establish a link between languages and forge a relationship between a work to one’s own language. Translation is not then the replacement of the original but the illumination of the incommunicable which remains in the original. Paradoxically the translator represents that which is untranslatable. Umberto Eco –semiotician, translator and translated– entitles his essay on translation, Dire quasi la stessa cosa (To say almost the same thing) and poses at the same time the question of the how far “almost” can be extended, placed in the exergue of a process which, according to him, allies itself in many ways to a negotiation.

“Fidelity” is not “exactness” but diverse questions have come to the fore over time. One thinks naturally about free translations or paraphrases so charmingly termed “unfaithful beauties”. One thinks of the prudery in the name of which the bawdy works of Classical Antiquity (Aristophanes, Martial) were obliged to await the twentieth century to approach the original salacious spirit. One is mindful of the translations of the romantic period which were more frequently the rewriting of previous translations than returns to the original. Nerval, for example, translated the Lenore of Bürger four times between 1829 and 1831 from the preceding translation of Flocon (1827) and translated Goethe’s Faust, Part One (1827) from the translation by Stapfer (1823). Leroux translated Werther (1828) more from the translation of Werther by Sévelinges (1804) than from Goethe’s own text. These are but a few examples among many others. The thorny problem of intertextuality also demands attention: how one work references another that is exterior in the sense of being known by the reader in his or her maternal language and there alone… Proper to postmodern literature, this question also inheres to the Middle Ages where references are an integral part of the process of writing.

If one looks to one side of the “translation” the prose versions of poetry appear as a way of putting a work within the reach of a greater number of readers –thereby transforming the poetic text. These were successful between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries and pertains to a vast corpus, from romances and epic poems to…French translations of poetic texts in foreign languages, as well as the chronicles, the hagiographies, the devotional treatises and the theatre. One even finds several prose versions of the same text. For example, the Roman de Troie of Benoît de Sainte-Maure has no less than five prose versions. The success of this type of rewriting is measured in terms of edition and successive re-edition. For example, this is the case for the Fierabras of Jean de Baygnon, of Ogier le Danois or of Renaut de Montauban.

Another phenomenon, is the “intersemiotic” translation –the translation of one semiotic system by another– a veritable “transmutation”, which sees, according to its process, a novel adapted to cinematic form, a painting taken from a poem… and so forth up to the musical “transfers” of ideas, poems, and paintings. A large part of European romantic music rests on this almost necessary idea, musically “translating” an argument, and produce a new musical genre, that of the symphonic poem, of which Franz Liszt is the champion. But the Quattro Stagioni of Antonio Vivaldi (written 1716-17, pub. 1725), is no any different, a work which bases itself already on sonnets transcribed on the pages of the original edition and echoed even in the musical notation.

One will have understood that “translation” is the bearer of riches as much as of questions. We invite contributions from all horizons, from the fields of literature and linguistics to the history of translation as well as the arts, the sciences, history (religious, social…), musicology from the Carolingian era to the twenty-first century.

Submission Guidelines

The subjects of presentation should be proposed as soon as possible and before the 15th of September 2019 to: Danielle Buschinger, 56 rue de l’Arbre Sec 75001 Paris dbuschinger@gmail.com

Scientific Committee

  • Anne Berthelot (UCONN – Storrs)
  • Guy Borgnet (Université de Bourgogne)
  • Danielle Buschinger (CEM – Amiens)
  • Bruno Dagens (Paris III)
  • Florent Gabaude (EHIC – Limoges)
  • Marie-Geneviève Grossel (CALHISTE – Valenciennes)
  • Anne Ibos-Augé (CESCM – Poitiers)
  • Till Kuhnle (EHIC – Limoges)
  • Isabelle Weill (Université de Paris Nanterre)


  • Amiens, France (80000)


  • Sunday, September 15, 2019


  • traduction, linguistique, littérature, musicologie


  • Danielle Buschinger
    courriel : dbuschinger [at] gmail [dot] com

Information source

  • Anne Ibos-Augé
    courriel : anne [dot] ibosauge [at] orange [dot] fr

To cite this announcement

« Translation… Treason », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Thursday, April 25, 2019, https://calenda.org/607890

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