A Translated Stew of “Griefs and Sorrows”
One of the most recent English translations of Don Quixote is the one by James Montgomery in which the second sentence goes like this (with a footnote):
A daily stew consisting of more beef than mutton, hash almost every evening, “grief and sorrows”* on Saturdays, lentils on Fridays, and a pigeon or so on Sundays consumed three-fourths of his income….
*In Spanish: duelos y quebrantos (a popular name for “eggs and bacon”).
We might all see here how Montgomery has told the English reader — using his scare quotes — exactly what Cervantes surely means by duelos y quebrantos. This raises the questions, of course, of 1) just how Montgomery knows and 2) whether “griefs and sorrows” must be all English readers get.
I want to suggest that Montgomery doesn’t know everything. And that English readers and Spanish readers may get more than this one translator gives.
We get much more when translators play with language, when they recognize the play in language. Unfortunately, especially in the discussions of Bible translation, there’s the “either / or” binary of “Dynamic Equivalence” v “Formal Equivalence.” What gets glossed over all too often is how rich language is, and how translation best conveys this.
For example, at the Better Bibles Blog, Wayne Leman has read an amazon.com reader-reviewer talking about Edith Grossman’s book Why Translation Matters. In his post, “Why (Bible) translation matters,” Leman gives a quotation from the book and concludes: “Anyone concerned about full-throated accuracy in Bible translation, including accuracy at literary levels, must take seriously the principles of translation that Grossman promotes and practices.”
It’s so important that Leman wants blog readers to look at Grossman’s practices. And I want us all to consider what she “promotes” by way of translation theory in light of what she practices.
Grossman does not at all shy away from wordplay, in practice. Let me get to how she translates the second sentence of Don Quixote. But first I just want to show how Grossman carefully attends to the wordplay of Cervantes. The following is a page from her translation:
Now here’s how I started into the BBB conversation. The hope is to move us all to more of an awareness that the literary (whether in the Bible or any other book Grossman would translate) includes wordplay. Translation can move beyond the “either/ or” binaries Bible-translation discussions often get bogged down in.
What Grossman practices is what’s fascinating. Can it (always) be a product of what she promotes (i.e., the translation theory that would favor target language and context over the literary forms of the source)? Or have we, from the snippet quote above, really understood Grossman?
Let’s look at the second sentence of Don Quijote by Cervantes. Then let’s compare the English translations of this sentence and the phrases therein offered by three translators, Pierre Motteux (1700), Walter Starkie (1957), and Grossman (2003).
Una olla de algo más vaca que carnero,
salpicón las más noches,
duelos y quebrantos los sábados,
lantejas los viernes,
algún palomino de añadidura los domingos,
consumían las tres partes de su hacienda.
His diet consisted more of beef than mutton; and with minced meat on most nights, lentils on Fridays, eggs and bacon on Saturdays, and a pigeon extraordinary on Sundays, he consumed three quarters of his revenue;
His stew had more beef than mutton in it and most nights he ate the remains salted and cold. Lentil soup on Fridays, ‘tripe and trouble’ on Saturdays and an occasional pigeon as an extra delicacy on Sundays, consumed three-quarters of his income.
An occasional stew, beef more than lamb, hash most nights, eggs and abstinence on Saturdays, lentils on Fridays, sometimes squab as a treat on Sundays – these consumed three-fourths of his income.
Does any of these three translators do a better job of attending “not to lexical pairings but to context–the implications and echoes of the first author’s tone, intention, and level of discourse”?
It should be clear that Grossman’s intended improvement over the two former translators is that she actually attends to lexical pairings of the Spanish of Cervantes and of his readers and her English for her readers. What the protagonist eats on Saturdays, for example, is served up to readers with a literary flare. The what is clearly a pair of things, which Motteux renders as two literal food items (e.g., “eggs and bacon”) but which Starkie and Grossman both read as a literal and a metaphorical food. Talk about mixing metaphors. Notice how Starkie, more than Grossman, suggests wordplay by Cervantes. Here isn’t the pair “duelos y quebrantos” rather marked as rhyme since the other food items in this list don’t seem to play together as well, in the very short context of this single sentence? Starkie uses English alliteration to suggest a poetry and marks the phrase with scare quotes: ‘tripe and trouble’. Grossman’s “eggs and abstinence” suggests humor, wordplay, (i.e., How can one’s stew on Saturdays include “abstinence”?), but she loses what Starkie gains, I think. The important point to make here is that each translator is interpreting, is deciding how much of the literal, how much of the metaphorical, how many of the various meanings in the literary, to convey. “Basic English” or simply ostensibly clear readings of the text would do it violence, would rob it, would lose much for the readers.
For Sundays’ fare, there’s “algún palomino de añadidura” in the soup. It’s a pigeon (either “extraordinary” or “occasional”) for Motteux and Starkie respectively. But Grossman, in this context, seems to want to pair her English lexis with Cervantes’s Spanish lexis more tightly than her two counterparts do. So she makes it “sometimes squab.” This is clever – because the English reader and the Spanish reader see and hear what’s literary: the marked alliterations in the phrase. Grossman here, likewise, is using an English culinary term (i.e., “squab”) to match other terms for meat (i.e., “beef” and “lamb”). Otherwise, I think most “natural” English readers would be just fine with “pigeon.” Grossman also lexically pairs her “sometimes” with Cervantes’ “algún” – and this is so very important to her (and to her readers) because Cervantes has started in this way – “Una olla de algo” – which lexically ties the pigeon to how the sentence opens; Grossman starts “An occasional stew.”
This raises the question of whether James Montgomery knows everything about the ingredients of the stew and if English readers, on the Saturdays, have to get it merely as “griefs and sorrows.” The whole discussion raises other questions:
Does Grossman pull off in translation practice what she would promote in theory? To understand just exactly what Grossman means to promote, isn’t it instructive to look at how closely, in practice, she does attend to “lexical pairings” and is also “faithful to words”?