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Footnotes are an integral part of a translation

September 26, 2011

Chris Heard is apparently studying Maimonides’s Guide of the Perplexed in the abridged (second edition) Friedländer translation

There is a funny thing about this second edition – Friedländer begins his second edition with this paragraph:

The first Edition of the English Translation of Maimonides Dalalāt al-Ḥairin being exhausted without having fully supplied the demand, I prepared a second, revised edition of the Translation. In the new edition the three volumes of the first edition have been reduced to one volume by the elimination of the notes; besides Hebrew words and phrases have been eliminated or transliterated. By these changes the translator sought to produce a cheap edition in order to bring the work of Maimonides within the reach of all students of Theology and Jewish Literature.

In other words, to keep costs down, Friedländer authorized the publication of his book with all the Hebrew and footnotes removed, and it is this edition which has largely been misprinted. 

But this is a false economy.  Today, Chris posed the question:

Dear readers, I’ve run into a bit of a puzzle, so I’m coming to you to “crowdsource” the search. In his Guide for the Perplexed, Maimonides writes:

In Bereshit Rabba, our Sages, speaking of the light created on the first day according to the Scriptural account, say as follows: these lights [of the luminaries mentioned in the Creation of the fourth day] are the same that were created on the first day, but were only fixed in their places on the fourth day. The meaning [of the first verse] has thus been clearly stated. (Friedländer translation)

For the life of me, I cannot find any passage in Genesis Rabbah that corresponds to Maimonides’s description. Anybody out there able to point me to the right passage?

Friedlander_portraitNow this is an astute observation by Chris, but if he had the reprint of the Friedländer first edition or the Pines edition then he would have read the footnotes (in Friedländer , Part II, Chapter XXX, footnote 4; in Pines, Part II, Chapter XXX, footnote 18) and saved himself some time:  “This passage is not found in our editions of Bereshith Rabba. It is found in Babyl. Talm. Chagigah, 12 a.” (Friedländer , Pines has a similar footnote).  (An analogous point could be argued for Matthew 2:23.)

Perhaps the economics of 1903 justified a “cheap edition” but wouldn’t it be a favor to students and scholars everywhere to reprint Friedländer with full footnotes?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 27, 2011 5:26 am

    Thanks so much for this. Footnotes are often a nightmare for translators – of course the number of footnotes is so often different in the language you’re working into than in the source language – because you have to use existing versions in that language to refer to and give new page references. I was always glad that my translating job was housed in my institution’s library!
    I agree that it would be great to reprint Friedländer with full footnotes but do those footnotes already exist in English – German footnotes for an English version wouldn’t really work? If they do then surely a print on demand version could be worked on.
    Meanwhile more generally on the Footnote – my footnote hound, known affectionately on my blog as Dr B – once bought a copy of Anthony Grafton’s book The Footnote a Curious Hisotry. Unfortunately it was then almost immediately given away to an interested friend.
    I have to admit that much as I love reading footnotes as a reader and researcher my heart sighs when I receive a translation to do with lots of footnotes. So it’s good to know that there is someone out there who finds this part of the translation job useful too.

  2. September 27, 2011 6:41 am

    Great points from the perspective of the translator, Jane! You remind me of what the wonderful translator, Anne Carson, has said about silence and about the untranslatable. In her translation of the fragments of Sappho, she has absolutely no footnotes; nonetheless, for the reader, she kindly writes a thorough preface and appendix.

    Wait. On second thought, although she’s not given to writing footnotes, Carson does do something to help us readers. In “The Question of Translation,” she explains (my emphases):

    Silence is as important as words in the practice and study of translation. This may sound like a cliché. (I think it is a cliché. Perhaps we can come back to cliché). There are two kinds of silence that trouble a translator. I want to talk less about physical silence than about metaphysical silence. Physical silence happens when you are looking at, say, a poem of Sappho’s inscribed on a papyrus from two thousand years ago that has been torn in half. Half the poem is empty space. A translator can signify or even rectify this lack of text in various ways – with blankness or brackets or textual conjecture – and she is justified in doing so because Sappho did not intend that part of the poem to fall silent.

    Great post, Theophrastus. I especially appreciate your allusion to the analogy of Matthew 2:23 (without any footnotes at all, for great effect, Ha!). BTW, Ann Nyland is the translator who provides more in-text notes on this particular verse than any other translator or translation team. The NET Bible, for example, pales in comparison to what she offers. In fact, she even gives a footnote within her Mt 2.23 note!

  3. September 27, 2011 11:26 am

    Jane: Very interesting comments. One point — unclear because of poor writing on my part — Micheal Friedländer was born in Eastern Europe, but became the head of Jews College in London (now known as the London School of Jewish Studies). Among other topics, he taught Arabic, so he was in a good position to teach Maimonides. His edition became popular, leading to a request that it be printed without Hebrew characters and footnotes — and thus the story I related above.

    Footnotes can be incredibly fun. I spent a lot of time when I was a kid translating racy footnotes that were written in Latin and Greek (e.g., in Gibbon’s Decline and Fall in the Roman Empire) so I could read “the good parts.”

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