Jerome and the cave

FIT|IFT, the International Federation of Translators, has declared the theme for International Translation Day as ‘Connecting Worlds‘, has a Twitter handle @ITD_JMT and a hashtag #ITD_JMT (which, for non francophones, stands for Journée mondiale de la traduction). We are urged to flood the twitpit with messages on 30 September.

The official bilingual French and English FIT text makes no mention of Saint Jerome: at once a secular attempt at inclusion of all peoples of every and no faith, and a massive sweeping aside of a vast body of translated works by one man, and all related linguistic scholarship and translation since, thus somewhat severing any connection we may publicly have with another world in the past which, by the way, was as vehemently crazy and extreme as we judge our own to be in the present day.  À chacun son monde. Each to his own world, as they say. Amusingly enough, googling that saying in French takes us straight to an article in a liberal arts journal on Arthur Schopenhauer, whose views are often described as falling into the category of atheistic idealism.

In pursuit of the idea that translating for years at a stretch as a hermit in a cave would be the ultimate disconnection from the world and reconnection with one’s core being a modern translator could have, I set about searching on the internet for a description, possibly in the words of Eusebius Hieronymous Sophronius himself, of what it might have been like scratching away at dry parchment in a desert cave where, if various artworks are to be believed, the dress code was remarkably like the pitiful vest with rib bones showing I myself adopt during the arduous summer months in the Algarve. I have to say, at this point that I do thank God that I am a woman and do not have to suffer the burden of that enormous beard sported by Jerome which is also depicted in such works of art with uncanny consistency.

My search alighted on Amazon dot com where for two cents more than the price of a double espresso (EUR 1.22) I purchased a very big book first published in 1892 (and now in my Kindle Cloud Reader) entitled, The Principle Works of St Jerome, translated by the Honourable W H Freemantle, M.A., Canon of Canterbury Cathedral and Fellow and Tutor of Balliol College, Oxford, with the assistance of the Reverend G. Lewis, M.A., of Balliol College, Oxford, Vicar of Dodderhill near Droitwick, and the Reverend W.G. Martley, M.A., of Balliol College, Oxford, who must have been young and not yet attached to an institution impressive enough to mention on the title page.

These are exciting and interesting times for those who crave knowledge. All the more reason to create a cave.

When I last wrote about St. Jerome four years ago, I made mention of the amazing amount of information we now have at our fingertips on this subject alone compared to what was available back when Pa fell off the bus. I can tell you now that in the preceding four years, the phenomenon of big data combined with the enormous advances in digitization of entire libraries the world over has made available so much more. These are exciting and interesting times for those who crave knowledge. All the more reason to create a cave. More on that a little later.

I have come to love prefaces. This is where one discovers the true thoughts behind the work produced. I discovered the perfectionism of Jerome, and the thoroughness of scholarship of both Jerome and the authors of the above work. The Translator’s Preface by W H Freemantle to this work is well worth a read. How strange to think that St. Jerome the original author, here in English translation, was a translator too. And then there is little me, a translator, writing a blog about translation for translators to read. I am not writing a review. I am merely pointing out that this ‘find’ contains a few gems, including several prefaces written by St. Jerome which focus on the process of translation, and on the process of revision of existing translations. The following three screenshots concern Jerome’s ‘Preface to the Chronicles of Eusebius’. I have highlighted the parts which interested me:


This is just a snippet of a large book which has captured my imagination. I have foraged, and found something to sustain me. I have taken it to my ‘cave’.

If you haven’t got a cave, make one. If you do have a cave but have not visited it in a while, get rid of the cobwebs and the dust, and make yourself comfortable in it regularly.

Everyone should have a cave, I think. A place where solitude is possible; where you figure things out for yourself; where you learn exactly what it is that you have learnt, whether during your most recent research efforts for a translation or the last training session or conference you attended. Of course it is important to network and connect with other professionals. Of course it is important to share your insights and knowledge with colleagues in a collaborative way. Of course it is imperative to engage meaningfully with your clients and the world inhabited by your clients. But it is also important to create a space big enough and quiet enough where the translator in you can grow.

If you haven’t got a cave, make one. If you do have a cave but have not visited it in a while, get rid of the cobwebs and the dust, and make yourself comfortable in it regularly. When you emerge from your own special cave, you will come back to what we call civilisation refreshed and ready to tackle your translations with the kind of passion and dedication of which perhaps even Saint Jerome might have approved.

Best wishes for a happy International Translators’ Day!

©2016 Allison Wright

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