Translating Cultures in Contact: Abstracts

On the boundaries of philology and history of science: the Greek translation of the Semita Recta

Flavio Bevacqua, Università degli Studi di Padova

This paper aims to offer a glimpse of the transmission of scientific knowledge between the Greek and Latin Medieval world through the case study of the hitherto unedited Greek translation of the Semita Recta, an alchemical treatise traditionally ascribed to Albertus Magnus.The Semita Recta may originally belong to the second half of the XIIIth century and it enjoyed quite a popularity in the Middle Ages, given the high number of manuscripts and translations or adaptations of it. Among the translations stands out the one contained in the Greek manuscript Paris, Bnf, gr. 2419 (ff. 279r-287v), in which the author is called Πέτρος (orἈμπέρτος) Θεοκτόνικος, i.e. Albertus Magnus.The text offers a unique comparison between the technical-scientifical Latin and Greek terminology: we find equivalences, transliterations, and neologisms, witnessing a remarkable linguistic exchange. It does not bestow a paradigm of the usual and well-known transmission from Greek into Latin, perhaps with the Arabic intermediary, but instead, it is one of the very few examples of a reversed translatio studiorum that happened from the Latin West to the Greek East, probably due to the following of the Crusades and the Latin occupation of Constantinople.

Translating Saint Jerome into Greek: the case of the Life of Hilarion (BHL 3879)

Anna Lampadaridi, Paris, CNRS (UMR 5189 HiSoMA)

Hagiography, the literature inspired by the acts, the miracles and the sayings of holy men and women, is a substantial part of the medieval cultural legacy, offering a non-official version of history. Latin hagiographical legends that found their way into Greek are fewer than Greek hagiographical texts translated into Latin, and have therefore been overlooked by modern scholars; as a result, these sources remained on the margins of the history of translation in the Middle Ages. This project aims to contribute to a better understanding of this process through the examination of the dossier of the Greek versions of the Vita Sancti Hilarionis (BHL 3879). The Greek dossier of the VH constitutes an extremely rare case of hagiographical translations from Latin into Greek, a phenomenon not as well documented as the opposite flow of translations, from Greek into Latin, as it includes different Greek translations. The project aims to look into the bilingual Greek-Latin milieux in Byzantium and the West that gave rise to the transfer of Latin legends into Greek, focusing on the networks of actors (authors, interpreters, translators, scribes, audiences) that take part in the fabrication, the circulation and the reception of these translations. The project deals with the dynamic of re-semantisation that the cultural object, in this case a Latin legend, undergoes, by taking into account the historical vectors of its transfer. In order to understand its Byzantine reception, it draws on the concepts of cultural hybridity and acculturation.

Textual and historical observations on inscribed foundation plaques of Hellenistic Egypt

Efstathia Dionysopoulou, Université de Lyon II

The first traces of ritual gestures by which the pharaoh performs the symbolic foundation, construction and consecration of sacred spaces date to the dawn of the Egyptian state. The close link established between this ritual and the royalty, at a time when the pharaonic ideal of kingship is still taking shape, reveals the importance of the foundation rite for the self-presentation of the pharaoh since it offers him a means of proving his ability to guarantee the order of maat and proclaiming his power. The material remains of these ceremonies are the deposits buried in the foundation pits of temples and other constructions of religious function. From the Middle Kingdom onwards, these deposits were made up, among other items, of a certain number of plaques intended to represent symbolically the materials used in the construction and decoration of the temple and, if inscribed, to commemorate the name of the founder. Through the Late Period, the ritual was passed down to the Ptolemaic Egypt, when one can observe a significant evolution of the content of these items. While some inscribed plaques still follow the patterns of the Egyptian tradition, during the reigns of Ptolemy III and IV occur also a group of bilingual items that were inscribed in Greek and hieroglyphic. The paper focuses on both the bilingual and the Egyptian foundation plaques dossiers with the intention to decipher the historical context of these texts, figure out their ideological and conceptual messages, study their semantic and pragmatic meaning, and analyse the patterns to which they appeal. As a result, it seeks to offer insights into the anchoring of the Ptolemaic ideological discourse in pharaonic royal practices and the adaptation of these latter to Hellenistic practices and trends.

Untranslatability and the case of Ptolemaic priestly decrees

Giulia Tonon, University of Liverpool

The text corpus of Ptolemaic priestly decrees dates to the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE, when the Ptolemies ruled Egypt following the death of Alexander the Great. They are political and administrative documents composed in Greek, hieroglyphs and demotic. Their distinctive trilingual nature reflects the polyglot, multicultural features of the historical period and the need to communicate with a varied audience. Each script mirrors its social influence. The inclusion of Greek is a constant reminder of Greek rule over the country. Hieroglyphs represent the pharaonic power, supported by the priesthood which the Ptolemies looked to please and control. Demotic, elevated from its mainly bureaucratic functions, meets the need to communicate with elite Egyptians throughout the country.Thus, the concept of translation, viewed as a form of intra- and inter-cultural communication, becomes key to the discussion of the decrees and their composition. This paper brings into play a much-debated topic in the history of translation: the notion of untranslatability. According to Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre (Relativism, Power, and Philosophy [1985: 383]) some degree of partial untranslatability marks the relationship of every language to every other.Focusing on the interaction between the Egyptian and Greek languages, I discuss cases of lexical and cultural voids present in the corpus. The aim is to identify the strategies (including borrowing, calque, loanwords compensation and paraphrase) employed in the elaborate deconstruction-reconstruction process by which the message made it adequately through to the audience.

Tibetan Buddhism and the cult of Chinggis Khan

Dotno Pount, University of Pennsylvania

My research is centered on the Mongolian liturgical texts known as the Altan Bichig (Golden Writing), which were transmitted as part of the Cult of Chinggis Khan (also known as Genghis Khan). The cult has existed in many different forms since the passing of Chinggis Khan in 1227, though its basic purpose—for his descendants to propitiate their illustrious ancestor—has remained largely stable. As characteristic of liturgical anthologies, the individual texts in the Altan Bichig were accrued over centuries, and betray the marks of their time through intertextual references. The prayer texts feature concepts and practices associated with known periods of extensive cultural contact, for example with Tibetan Buddhism. In this paper, I compare the poetical language used in the Altan Bichig prayers with Mongolian translations of Buddhist texts from two different ‘waves’ of conversion, attempting a classification of the shared phraseology found withing the cultic texts, to determine a pattern that is conducive to periodizing the cultic texts. While there has been a steady flow of translations from Tibetan into Mongolian since the Second Conversion in the 16th century, a significant amount of Buddhist concepts and terminology likely had persisted, at least in writing, in the Mongolian language from the earlier First Conversion, circa 13–14th century. Therefore, I also explore the possibility and limitations of periodization based on translated phraseology, independent of linguistic change reflected in the prose and verse.

Greco-Arabic, beyond translation: Homer by the rivers of Babylon

Teddy Fassberg, Tel Aviv University

Within a period of two hundred years in Baghdad, the newly established capital of the Abbasid Empire, nearly all ‘non-literary’ Greek texts available east of the Bosphorus were translated into Arabic. The exclusion of the ‘literary’ would appear to hardly require explanation: what use could Arabic speakers in the early Islamic period have made of Greek belles lettres? It is telling that Aristotle’s Poetics and Rhetoric were only translated into Arabic because they were categorized in late antiquity as logical treatises. More broadly, Denis Feeney has suggested that in antiquity ‘literature’ can be defined as ‘that which does not get translated’. The unprecedented Baghdadi translation movement indeed focused its efforts on scientific and philosophical texts, but I shall suggest that the model they provide—so remarkably close to that of modern scholarship—has distracted us from considering other ways in which early Islamic culture will have come in contact with ancient Greek literature, some of which we may not want to exclude from the category of ‘translation’. Episodes from Homer’s biographical tradition, which can be shown to have migrated eastwards and—via the Syriac—assumed Arabic form, will serve as a case in point, suggesting that we need to think harder about the concept of translation in its application to early text cultures.