Spanish translation in the Golden Age
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During the Golden Age of Spanish culture and literature (16th and 17th Centuries) good translation was highly valued as the mechanism by which to gain access to the Latin and Greek classics, as well as the conduit through which the best in Spanish writing could be transmitted to the rest of Europe. At the same time, the respect for Arabic scientific and medical writings (and the need to translate from them) continued, despite the fact that the Moors had been expelled from Spain along with the Jews in the fateful year of 1492. These aspects of Spanish Humanism in the Renaissance did much to shape the Spanish attitude towards literary translation. In this period the English language acquired a number of Spanish words. English lexicographers began to accumulate lists of Spanish words, beginning with John Thorius in 1590, and for the next two centuries this British interest in the Spanish language facilitated translation into the two languages as well as the mutual borrowing of words.
The glory of the old Toledo school of translation had diminished considerably with the expulsion of the Moors and Jews from Spain in 1492, but in many of the old Arab quarters of Spanish cities the tradition of translation from Arabic to Latin or Spanish continued, although frequently in disguise to avoid the suspicions of the Inquisition. The first known Spanish translation of the Muslim Holy Book, the Koran, was made in 1456, but after 1492 the situation of the Arabs left in Spain changed drastically. Those who chose to stay in Spain were known as "Moriscos," and were forced to accept Christian baptism as a condition for their remaining. Any Islamic religious rituals were carried out in secret, and the Holy Writings had to be kept hidden. As the years passed they grew increasingly unable to read the Koran in the original Arabic, and turned more and more to Spanish translations of their Holy Book. But this in turn violated one of the tenets of the Muslim faith, which required them to read and recite their scripture in Arabic. The solution was to write in Spanish, but in Arabic-looking characters known as "Aljamaido." Even though many of these works were destroyed by the [Inquisition]], some have survived, and bear witness to the laborious task of translating and then copying the Muslim Holy Book by hand. In the year 1606, a Morisco copier of the Koran in Spain made this marginal notation in a mixture of Castilian, Aljamaido and Arabic:"Esta eskrito en letra de kristyanos ... rruega y suplica que por estar en dicha letra no lo tengan en menos de lo kes, antes en mucho; porque pues esta asi declarado, esta mas a vista de los muçlimes que saben leer el cristiano y no la letra de los muçlimes. Porque es cierto que dixo el annabî Muhammad que la mejor lengwa era la ke se entendía."Translation of the passage: "It is written in the letters of the Christians: (the writer) begs that on account of being in those letters it not be belittled, but rather respected; because, being set down in this way, it can better be seen by those Muslims who know how to read Christian, but not Muslim, letters. For it is true that the Prophet Muhammad said that the best language was the one that could be understood."
The relationship of Arab and Christian (and the problem of translation) shows up at numerous points in the Spanish masterpiece of this period: the Don Quijote de la Mancha of Miguel de Cervantes. Cervantes attributes the authorship of his book to a variety of characters and translators, some Moorish and some Christian, and expresses his opinions on translators in the process. At one particular point, Cervantes gives us a metaphor for translation which is frequently cited by contemporary theoreticians and practitioners of translation: "Pero con todo eso, me parece que el traducir de una lengua en otra, como no sea de las reinas de las lenguas, griega y latina, es como quien mira los tapices flamencos por el revés: que aunque se veen las figuras, son llenas de hilos que las escurecen, y no se veen con la lisura y tez de la haz.": Cervantes is telling us that (with the exception of Greek and Latin, whose classical beauty cannot be ruined by even a bad translation), the challenge to translators is to keep their finished product from looking like the reverse side of a Flemish tapestry, with its negative images and loose threads.
- ^ Consuelo López-Morillas, The Qur'an in 16th Century Spain. London: Tamesis Books, 1982
- ^ Elizabeth Welt Trahan, "The Arabic Translator in Don Quijote", Translation Perspectives, Marilyn Gaddis Rose, ed. Binghamton: SUNY, 1984, pp. 71-85
Child, Jack. Introduction to Spanish Translation. Lanham: University Press of America, 1992.
de la Cuesta, Leonel. Lecciones Preliminares de Traductología. Miami: Ediciones Guayacán, 1987.
Nida, Eugene A. Language, Structure and Translation. Stanford: Stanford University Press,1975.