Recensie: Een natuurlijke Augustinus

17 april 2016 , door Jonathan Gill, Daan Stoffelsen
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Woensdag 20 april spreekt Augustinus-editor Carolyn Hammond bij Spui25, bij gelegenheid van het verschijnen van het tweede deel Loeb Classical Library van The Confessions. Wij lieten een van de andere sprekers, Jonathan Gill, kort uitleggen waarom haar vertaling zo'n sensatie is, en vergeleken zelf de editie van 1912 met die van 2016: hoe wordt de 'Tolle lege'-scène vertaald?

A more natural, accessible, personal register in English

The old Italian maxim said it best: Traduire traditore, or ‘translation is betrayal.’  But not to translate would also be a kind of betrayal, especially in the case of Augustine’s Confessions, the late-fourth-century classic by the figure who after Paul is perhaps the most influential figure in the Christian canon. This is not only a matter of the size of a readership that could read the thirteen books of the Confessions in the original Latin, but the nature of that readership.  Would we really want — would Augustine himself have really wanted — to restrict the story of his epic journey from sin to salvation, the first autobiography in the ‘Western’ tradition, the starting point for the modern conception of psychology, to the always-dwindling yet somehow ever more lively community of classics scholars, few of whom were potential converts?

Translations of Augustine into English have often attempted to preserve the densely ornate grammatical possibilities of Latin, to bring order to what Henry Chadwick translated as ‘the noise of our human speech,’ to match the seriousness of Augustine’s psychological journey.  But a translation that preserves the intimate tone of the Confessions, which is surely only nominally addressed to God, demands a more natural, accessible, personal register in English, one that is everywhere evident in Carolyn J.B. Hammond’s landmark new translation for the Loeb Classical Library.  

Augustine’s Confessions is the very first book that attempts to reveal in full the inner workings and the outer events of a writer’s life, and the relation between the two. The translation that bridges modern and classical sensibilities, linguistic and psychological, exemplifies the neo-Platonism that Augustine himself found so attractive — and dangerous.

Then again, according to some accounts, the Confessions was intended less as an inspirational tale for spiritual seekers than an attempt to whitewash the biography of a man whose formidable experience of sin and heresy and whose somewhat suspect origins in North Africa threatened to block his advancement in the Church.  Even then, the personal was political.

Jonathan Gill is the author of Harlem: The Three-Hundred Year History, from Indian Village to Capital of Black America (Grove/Atlantic, 2001) and has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, The Village Voice, and The Nation. He has taught at Columbia University, the Manhattan School of Music, the City College of New York, and Fordham University, and he currently teaches writing and humanities at Amsterdam University College. His next book, about Hollywood and espionage during the Cold War, is due out from Norton in 2017. As a reader and a writer, he counts Augustine’s Confessions among his best-loved works - he taught about it for decades.

 

Tolle lege 1912 (1631) - 2014

Als we de befaamde ‘tolle lege'-scène vergelijken in de edities van 1912 met die van 2016, dan zijn de verschillen evident. Augustinus heeft een geloofscrisis als hij een kinderstem een goddellijke aanwijzing hoort geven. Eerst het Latijn (editie Knöll, 1909), dan de vertaling van William Watts (1631!), met enige correcties:

Dicebam haec, et flebam, amarissima contritione cordis mei. et ecce audio vocem de vicina domo cum cantu dicentis, et crebro repetentis, quasi pueri an puellae, nescio: ‘tolle lege, tolle lege.’ statimque mutato vultu intentissimus cogitare coepi, utrumnam solerent pueri in aliquo genere ludendi cantitare tale aliquid, nec occurebat omnino audisse me uspiam: repressoque impetu lacrimarum surrexi, nihil aliud interpretans pinitus mihi iuberi, nisi ut aperirem codicem et legerem quod primum caput invenissem.
Thus much I uttered, weeping, in the most bitter contrition of my heart: whereas behold I heard a voice from some neighbour's house, as it had been of a boy or girl, I know not whether, in a singing tune saying, and often repeating: Take up and read, Take up and read. Instantly changing my countance thereupon, I began very heedfully to bethink myself, whether children were wont in any kind of plating to sing any such words: nor could I remember myself ever to have heard the like. Whereupon refraining the violent torrent of my tears, up I gat me; interpreting it no other way, but that I was from God himself commanded to open the book, and to read that chapter which I should first light upon.

Voor de editie van 2014 maakte Carolyn Hammond met name gebruik van Gibb en Montgomery, 1908, Verheijen, 1981, en O'Donnel, 1992. Hammond heeft een iets uitgebreider kritisch apparaat, gebruikt minder komma's en vervangt een komma door een punt. En de vertaling? Het Engels is vier eeuwen verder ('I know not whether’ tegenover ‘I don't know wether', ‘up I gat me’ tegenover ‘I got up’), dat om te beginnen.

Maar Hammond staat zichzelf ook een natuurlijker zinsopbouw toe. Waar Watts Augustinus’ ‘et crebro repetentis, quasi pueri an puellae, nescio’ in dezelfde opbouw vertaalde, maakt Hammond van de twijfel over jongen of meisje dat wat het daadwerkelijk is: een terzijde. En waar Watts zo weinig woorden mogelijk probeerde vuil te maken aan het ‘tolle lege’ (‘Take up and read’, vergelijk met de Nederlandse vertalingen van Gerard Wijdeveld uit 1963 en die van Wim Sleddens uit 2009, ‘Neem en lees’), maakt Hammond er volwaardig Engels van: ‘Pick it up and read it.’

Daarnaast voegt ze ook verklarende aantekeningen toe, waarvan de eerste me in dit geval iets te uitleggerig is, maar de ander Augustinus - terecht - in een grotere klassieke traditie plaatst.

Dicebam haec, et flebam, amarissima contritione cordis mei. et ecce audio vocem de vicina* domo cum cantu dicentis et crebro repetentis, quasi pueri an puellae, nescio: ‘tolle lege, tolle lege.’ statimque mutato vultu intentissimus cogitare coepi utrumnam solerent pueri in aliquo genere ludendi cantitare tale aliquid. nec occurebat omnino audisse me uspiam: repressoque impetu lacrimarum surrexi, nihil aliud interpretans pinitus mihi iuberi nisi ut aperirem codicem et legerem quod primum caput invenissem.
These were my words, and in grief of heart I wept bitterly. And look! — from the house next door I hear a voice — I don't know whether it is a boy or a girl — singing some words over and over: ‘Pick it up and read it, pick it up and read it!’ Immediately my expression transformed. I started to ask myself eagerly whether it was common for children to chant such words when they were playing a game of some kind.1 I could not recall ever having heard anything quite like it. I checked the flow of my tears and got up. I understood it as nothing short of pine providence that I was being ordered to open the book and read the first passage I came accross.2

*vicina codd Maur. Skut. Ver.: pina S Knöll
1 A. wants to be sure that it is a genuine message for himself, not random chance.
2 A parallel use of ‘sacred’ text is divination by random consultation of the Aeneid, called sortes Virgiliniae; cf. Introduction, p. xxxiv, with Scriptores Historiae Augustae Hadr. 2.8.

Daan Stoffelsen is webboekverkoper bij Athenaeum Boekhandel, recensent en redacteur van Revisor. En classicus.

MINDBOOKSATH : athenaeum