10 October 2008


I wonder if you saw the review of C.C.W. Taylor's Clarendon Aristotle volume on Nic Eth II-IV, by Allan Gotthelf.

I've been reviewing (for many months now) that volume for Classical Review, and what I find so daunting is formulating a judgment on the translation as a whole, since this requires a considerable amount of attention.

I suppose a quick method would be to look at some very challenging sentences of Aristotle, or sentences at which the translator aguably does not do such a good job, and rely upon these in the manner of an experimentum crucis.  But Gotthelf has found an even easier method, which is to judge the entire translation by its first sentence, and by the translator's choice of equivalents for nine words!

You might not believe me, but yes, it's true--Gotthelf's conclusion, based on this evidence alone, is unqualified:

In sum, then, we appear to have a translation that eminently meets the goals of the Clarendon series: it is accurate, readable, and accompanied by a philosophically-oriented commentary -- to which we now turn.

You might say that 'appear' serves to qualify, but in the context, rather, it serves to restrict the evidence for his conclusion to the evidence which Gotthelf has presented.
(But did the editors ask that the examination of other texts be deleted?  After all, Gotthelf promises something more: 

Let's ask if Taylor's translation accomplishes this, and how in that regard it compares, in some sample passages, with the most frequently used recent English translations...
But then he goes on to examine only one sentence.)

By the way, as regards that sentence, Gotthelf looks at ways in which other translations diverge, and then asks whether Taylor is better on these points.    But perhaps a better way of going about it, would be to ask in what ways Aristotle's Greek is possibly suggesting something non-standard,  or subtle, or interesting, and then see whether this gets suitably captured in any of the translations, Taylor's included.    

I'll give you the sentence and highlight what I see as areas which require special attention, and then you can consider whether the translations are completely satisfactory at these places:

Διττς δ τς ρετς οσης, τς μν διανοητικς τς

δ θικς, μν διανοητικ τ πλεον κ διδασκαλίας χει

κα τν γένεσιν κα τν αξησιν, διόπερ μπειρίας δεται

κα χρόνου, δ' θικ ξ θους περιγίνεται, θεν κα τονομα

σχηκε μικρν παρεκκλνον π το θους.



Txangurro said...

Translation evaluation is a topic on which there is no major agreement. I don't know whether there will be some day.
Anyway I think Gotthelf's approach to Taylor's translation is too simple and irresponsible.
Congratulations for your interesting blog.

Michael Pakaluk said...

I'd prefer to save the word 'irresponsible' for weightier matters.

But I'm not even sure what I draw attention to is wrong, that is, if Gotthelf had said simply that from his study, he finds that the virtues of the first sentence reflect those of the translation in general, one could hardly object. I'm puzzled that he didn't say this.

Anonymous said...

I don't think you're right that Gotthelf "judge[s] the entire translation by its first sentence", that his conclusion is "based on this evidence alone", or even that he "examine[s] only one sentence".

He does focus in the main body of his review on that one sentence. But he never suggests that his assessment of it is his sole basis for his evaluation of the entire translation. In fact, he explicitly says otherwise: "Taylor's translation of the long, opening sentence of Book II, then, earns very high marks. Examination of other passages produces similar results" (italics added). In a footnote to this statement (note 5), Gotthelf examines a second passage (1106b35-1107a2) in depth.

I think we may indeed fairly infer from this that "he finds that the virtues of the first sentence reflect those of the translation in general". And we don't even need the Principle of Charity to infer this; for he says this, almost in those very words, in the passage just quoted.