Opposition, 6.2 – 2 Nephi 2:11 in German Translation
Posted by joespencer on October 16, 2012
In my last post, I addressed the history of the French translation of 2 Nephi 2:11. That history was complicated, and it provided a good many things to reflect on. As it turns out, the history of the German text is far more complicated. Where there have been only four French translations, two of them being almost identical, there have been six German translations, and they differ among themselves much more radically than the various French versions. We’ve got a lot to cover in this post, consequently.
But let’s get started. There have been, as I say, six German translations of the Book of Mormon. The first translation (about which, as with the French, a not unhelpful articles has been written), appeared in 1852, just as did the first French translation. But where it took a full century for a second French rendering to appear (and even then it was largely unchanged), it took only fifty years for a second German translation to appear, in 1902. A third translation appeared in 1928, a fourth in 1950. A fifth translation came along in 1982, and one would probably expect that to have been the most recent, but the text was retranslated yet again in the 1990s, providing German readers with a sixth production. As we’ll see, all these various translations complicate the text of 2 Nephi 2:11 in fascinating ways.
So let’s get started. I’ll use the same approach as I did in my last post, taking up 2 Nephi 2:11 in its several parts successively.
For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.
Among the six different translations, there are four distinct versions of this first sentence (the 1852, 1902, and 1928 translations all rendered this first part of the verse identically). The first rendering, then, which held for about a century runs as follows: “Denn alle Dinge müssen nothwendigerweise zwei entgegengesetzte Seiten haben.” This was changed in 1950 to: “Daher muß jedes Ding notwendigerweise seinen Gegensatz haben.” In 1982, this became: “Denn es muß notwendigerweise so sein, daß es in allem einen Gegensatz gibt.” Finally, in the 1990s, this last rendering was changed just slightly: “denn es muß notwendigerweise so sein, daß es in allen Dingen einen Gegensatz gibt.” What’s to be said about these variations?
The earliest translation takes some real liberties: “For all things must necessarily have two opposing sides.” Note first that “all things” has shifted from its position in a preposition (in the “original” English) to being the subject of the sentence. Consequently, the things in question have something, rather than there being something in them. And what they have is not, straightforwardly, an opposition or even just opposition; what they have is “two opposing sides” (it’s possible to translate Seiten as “parties” as well, interestingly). A somewhat similar but differently constructed idea is at work in the 1950 translation: “Therefore, every thing must necessarily have its opposite.” Here “all things” has been replaced by “every thing,” and the singular construction forces a replacement of talk of having “two opposing sides” with talk of every thing having “its opposite” (or “its antithesis”). (Note also the shift from “for” to “therefore,” which changes the implied relationship between verse 11 and verse 10. I’ll make this point only in parentheses, though, since subsequent translations returned to the more literal “for.”)
These first renderings of the first sentence of 2 Nephi 2:11 are profoundly interpretive, almost entirely uninterested in any sort of literalism. This changed with the 1982 translation: “For it must necessarily be the case that there is an opposition in everything.” Notice the shift toward literalism with the sudden appearance of the English text’s “that”-structure, with the return of “all things” (here, “all,” with the colloquial meaning of “everything”) to its prepositional home, with the employment of a “there is” construction, etc. Interestingly, all this syntactic reworking takes place with few—almost no—changes in the several words employed, with their semantic implications. The very slight change in the most recent translation only marks this shift toward literalism more starkly, replacing “everything” (again, literally, “all”) with “all things”: “For it must necessarily be the case that there is an opposition in all things.”
What’s to be learned from these variations?
Most interesting here are the earlier renderings with their less literalistic and therefore more speculative, more experimental, more interpretive handling of the text. Does “there is an opposition in all things” amount to the claim that “all things have two opposing sides” or that “every thing has its opposite”? Are the latter two claims even equivalent to each other? The first would seem to suggest that every individual thing is in some sense divided internally, a kind of unstable fusion, while the second would seem to suggest that every individual thing is a kind of unity that is guaranteed precisely by the opposition relation it sustains with the opposite proper to it. Which of these is to be preferred as an interpretation of the English text? Is either of them even a first approximation to the text’s meaning?
But we’re only warming up.
If not so, my first-born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad.
There’s a bit more variation in this second part of the verse, since, while the first and second translations rendered this part of the passage the same, the third translation went in its own direction. Here’s the translation as it appeared in 1852 and 1902: “Wenn es nicht so wäre, mein Erstgeborner in der Wüste, dann könnte die Gerechtigkeit nicht bestehen, noch die Ungerechtigkeit, weder Heiligkeit noch Elend, weder Gutes noch Böses.” This was changed only slightly in 1928: “Wenn es nicht so wäre, mein Erstgeborner in der Wüste, dann könnte weder Gerechtigkeit noch Ungerechtigkeit bestehen, weder Heiligkeit noch Elend, weder Gutes noch Böses.” Some more significant changes—as much in word-choice as in construction—were made in 1950: “Wenn es nicht so wäre, mein Erstgeborner in der Wildnis, dann könnte weder Gerechtigkeit noch Gottlosigkeit, weder Heiligkeit noch Elend, weder Gutes noch Böses zustande gebracht werden.” 1982 saw just a few terminological changes (and slight change or two in construction): “Wäre es nicht so, mein Erstgeborener in der Wildnis, dann könnte weder Rechtschaffenheit noch Schlechtigkeit zustande gebracht werden, weder Heiligkeit noch Elend, weder Gutes noch Schlimmes.” In the 1990s, however, the changes were entirely a matter of construction, and they were more significant: “Wenn nicht, mein Erstgeborener in der Wildnis, könnte Rechtschaffenheit nicht zustande gebracht werden, auch nicht Schlechtigkeit, weder Heiligkeit noch Elend, weder Gutes noch Böses.” What to say about these several renderings?
The first two clauses have experienced some changes over the several translations, but not terribly substantial ones. The earliest rendering of the first clause (“if it were not so”), which went a little further than the English “original” (“if not so”) was simplified slightly in the 1980s (“were it not so”) and then again in the 1990s (“if not”). There’s a kind of move toward one-to-one correspondence here (though “so” disappears, interestingly). Parallel, perhaps, is the one change to the second clause. The earlier translations translated “wilderness” with Wüste, “desert” or “waste.” Since 1950, though, this was replaced by Wildnis, a more obviously literal, less interpretive, translation. But all this is small potatoes. It’s the remainder of the sentence where things get interesting.
There’s much to say just about word choice, but let me begin with syntactic construction. In 1852 and 1902: “then justice could not exist, nor injustice, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor evil.” Here the construction more or less follows the English “original”: something is asserted about the first thing (“justice,” here), and then it is asserted as well as about its opposite, and then there follow the other two pairs of opposites with neither/nor constructions. Note, though, that the 1928 rendering altered the construction, slightly but significantly: “then neither justice nor injustice could exist, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor evil.” Here the first pair of opposites are brought together and both attached directly to the assertion of impossibility of existence, and the other pairs follow. Yet another slight but significant reconstruction appeared in 1950: “then could neither justice nor godlessness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor evil be brought to pass.” This is a kind of radicalization of the 1928 rendering, with all three pairs of opposites being attached directly to the assertion about impossibility! But then the 1982 rendering returned, curiously, to the 1928 construction, though with different word choice: “then neither righteousness nor wickedness could be brought to pass, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad.” Finally, in the most recent translation, there was a return all the way to the earliest construction, closest to the “original” (and indeed, even closer than the earliest version, since it drops the “then” and uses “neither” instead of “nor” before the second element of the first pair of opposites): “righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor evil.”
There’s a strange trajectory there, basically chiastic:
(A) then X could not exist, nor not-X, neither Y nor not-Y, neither Z nor not-Z
(B) then neither X nor not-X could exist, neither Y nor not-Y, neither Z nor not-Z
(C) then neither X nor not-X, neither Y nor not-Y, neither Z nor not-Z could be brought to pass
(B) then neither X nor not-X could be brought to pass, neither Y nor not-Y, neither Z nor not-Z
(A) X could not be brought to pass, neither not-X, neither Y nor not-Y, neither Z not not-Z
There (away from syntactic fidelity) and back (to syntactic fidelity). I haven’t any idea what’s to be made of that.
But let me turn to word choice. Notice that here, as in the French, the earliest translators render the English “righteousness” as “justice” (Gerechtigkeit) and its opposite, “wickedness,” as “injustice” (Ungerechtigkeit). But where the French translators have continued with “justice”/”injustice” right to the present, the German translators since 1982 replaced this with “righteousness”/”wickedness,” more obviously with an emphasis on integrity or obedience (maybe “uprightness” would be a better rendering of the German here). This is, in a certain sense, a shift toward the literal, but as we’ve seen with regard to the French version, it may well be that “righteousness” in the English should be understood, precisely, as “justice.” (Note, curiously, that the 1950 translation replaced “injustice” not with “wickedness,” but with “godlessness.”) Another terminological change that came in the 1982 rendering was a more literal replacement of “evil” (Böse) with “bad” (Schlimme). That “evil” returned in the most recent translation is interesting, though, especially because it’s actually a little less literal. Finally, as with the French translation, the text was originally rendered in terms of existence (“righteousness could not exist,” etc.), but beginning in 1950 this was replaced with a statement about being brought to pass (“righteousness could not be brought to pass,” etc.).
What’s to be learned about interpretation from all these changes?
At the very least, the variations in construction here should alert us to the strangeness of the original English: “X could not be brought to pass, neither X’s opposite, neither Y nor its opposite, neither Z nor its opposite.” How is this to be interpreted? How much of a difference does it make to replace the “neither” of “neither X’s opposite” with “nor,” as the 1852 German translation did? How much of a difference does it make to inscribe both X and its opposite within the “could not be brought to pass” business, as both the 1928 and the 1982 German translations did? How much of a difference does it make to inscribe all three pairs of opposites within the “could not be brought to pass” business, as the 1950 German translation did? Are these all equivalent? What’s to be made of the “X could not be brought to pass, neither X’s opposite” construction? Is there something to learn, theologically, from that way of telling the story?
Further, the fact that we here get “justice” in the earlier translations but “uprightness” in the more recent translations (coupled with “injustice,” then with “godlessness,” and then with “wickedness”) should alert us to the importance of deciding exactly what’s meant by “righteousness.” Should we be reading it, as the French translations consistently seem to do, in terms of the Hebrew or the Greek terms behind the KJV’s “righteousness”? Or should we read into it, as we’re wont to do, a sense of uprightness or obedience? Also of interest here is the difference between “evil” and “bad” in the two versions of the last word of the sentence. When Lehi refers to bad as good’s opposite, does he have reference to bad (unproductive? non-conducive? impotent? corrupted?—all this without a moral judgment) or to evil (wicked? depraved? rebellious? violent?—all this with an emphatic moral judgment)? These are interpretive questions that need to be asked in dealing with the English text.
Good questions. And now we turn to the most difficult bit of all: the “compound in one” bit.
Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one.
We’ve already seen how wildly distinct the various French renderings were. But things are far more complicated in German. Here’s the earliest rendering, from 1852: “Also müssen nothwendig alle Dinge in einem vereiniget sein.” This is changed pretty drastically in the 1902 rendering: “Also muß notwendigerweise in allen Dingen eine zusammensetzung zum Einen sein.” This is radically altered again in 1928: “Daher müssen alle Dinge notwendigerweise in eine zusammengesetzt sein.” An even more radical alteration comes in 1950: “Daher muß jedes Ding notwendigerweise aus Bestand teilen zur Einheit zusammengefügt sein.” And then perhaps the most radical change of all in 1982 (unaltered since): “Darum muß es notwendigerweise so sein, daß alles aus Teilen zu einem Ganzen zusammengesetzt ist.” What on earth are we to do with all this?
First, the various renderings of “wherefore” at the beginning of this sentence must be noted. We saw with the French an unwavering translation of the word as c’est pourquoi, a translation that determined in advance that the phrase “a compound in one” is another way of stating the positive idea that there is “an opposition in all things” (rather than the negative idea that there isn’t). Is something like this the case in German? The first two translations rendered “wherefore” as also, “thus,” “consequently”—somewhat ambiguous. The word changes with the next two translations to daher, “hence,” “for that reason,” pointing more in the direction in which the French consistently points. Finally, however, since 1982, the word darum has replaced the other renderings, and that’s more ambiguous again: “regarding that,” “therefore.” It looks as if the most recent rendering is meant to point in the direction of the usual interpretation among English-speaking scholars: that “a compound in one” is the bad thing that would follow from the “if not so” business. But we’ll have to sort this out one translation at a time, really.
Note the several distinct ways of handling “all things,” something we’ve seen already with the French. Up through 1928, the several translations rendered it quite literally as alle Dinge, “all things,” but that changes in 1950. There we get jedes Ding, “each thing,” not like the French tout chose and then chaque chose. And then in 1982 (and since), this has been replaced simply by alles, “all” (with the sense of “everything”). Here we see something not unlike the French progression away from literalism, though there’s a complex twist with the shift from “each thing” to “all.” That last move marks a kind of shift back in the direction of literalism, but it still marks an interpretive distance by rendering “all things” simply as “all.”
Next, the various renderings of the obvious key term are fascinating. How does each translation handle “compound”? Remember that “compound” is, in the English “original,” a noun (qualified by an indefinite article). But the earliest translation transformed it into a verb, or part of a verbal construction: “all things must . . . be united [vereiniget sein].” Obviously, that’s a translation that takes some (fascinating) liberties. In 1902, a noun replaces this verbal construction: “a composing,” “a constructing/forming,” or “a synthesizing” (eine zusammensetzung). The 1928 rendering returned to a verbal construction while retaining, semantically, the word used in the 1902 rendering: “all things must . . . be composed/synthesized [zusammengesetzt sein].” The 1950 translation continued with the verbal construction, but used a slightly different verb: “each thing must . . . be assembled [zusammengefügt sein].” As we’ll see when we look closer at this rendering, there are remarkable interpretive liberties being taken here. And similar liberties have been taken with the translations since 1982, where a verbal construction remains, but now employing the verbal form of the noun employed in the 1928 translation (and, because a “that”-construction is being employed, an indicative ist replaces the infinitive sein): “all is composed [zusammengesetzt ist].” These various approaches to “a compound” are wildly distinct, and it’ll take some work to make sense of them.
But let me say a word about “in one.” This was literally rendered in the 1852 translation, despite the fact that it makes relatively little sense in German: “in one.” It’s worth noting, though, that the “one” of this translation is employed as a kind of adjectival construction. This will be important because the 1902 translation took “one” to be a noun (with a definite article). That translation replaced the “in” of “in one,” moreover, with “into,” building from the nominalized verb: “a synthesizing into the one.” The 1928 translation basically returned to the “in one” of the 1852 translation, but then the 1950 translation transformed the “in” into an “into,” but now replaced “one” with “oneness” or “unity”: “must be assembled . . . into oneness.” Finally, the 1982 translation and its sequel take more liberties, retaining the “into” of some of their predecessors but replacing “one” or even “unity” with “a whole”: “must be composed into a whole.” Here the rather startling variation of renderings continues to manifest itself.
Now, a bit about syntactic construction. The “original” English, of course, employs “all things” as the subject of the sentence and then asserts of that subject that it “must needs be” a certain thing—”a compound”—and that “in one.” How is this handled in German? The earliest translation follows suit generally, changing the construction only its swapping out the nominal “a compound” for the verbal construction “be united.” While the next translation returns from a verbal construction to a noun, it changes the rest of the construction rather drastically, making the noun in question the subject of the sentence, replacing the “in” of “in one” with an “into,” and shift into the prepositional qualifier at the end of the sentence (“in one”) the term “all things” (“in all things”): “Thus, a composing/synthesizing into the one must necessarily be in all things.” This is at quite a distance from the English original, syntactically. But the things come a bit closer to home in the 1928 rendering, except that the verbal construction returns, from this point on to stay: “Hence, all things must necessarily be composed/synthesized in one.” Apart from the replacement of the English’s noun with a verbal construction, this is almost identical to the “original.” And then the 1950 translation begins to move away from the English again: “Hence, each thing must necessarily be assembled from elements/ingredients [Bestandteilen] into unity.” Note that here an entire preposition has been conjured from thin air: “from elements/ingredients”! (And that’s not to mention the other liberties being taken: replacing “one” with “unity” and “all things” with “each thing,” etc.) As if this weren’t far enough from the English, the 1982 translation (and the identical 1990s translation) introduced a “that”-construction that doesn’t at all appear in the “original” English (though perhaps it is being drawn from the “that”-construction of the first sentence in 2 Nephi 2:11?): “Therefore it must necessarily be the case that all is composed/synthesized from parts [Teilen] into a whole.” Here it almost seems as if the syntactic structure of the “original” has been left behind indiscriminately!
Can all these sorts of variations (the various takes on “wherefore,” the distinct handlings of “all things,” the several approaches to “a compound,” the assorted renderings of “in one,” and the different employments of syntax) be made sense of more generally?
It might be said that the earliest, 1852 translation attempted a kind of literalism, though it replaced the nominal “a compound” with the verbal “united.” Importantly, moreover, it clearly understood this sentence to be describing the good way of opposition in all things, not the bad lack therefore described in the preceding sentence. The second, 1902 translation seems to have given up on literalism, perhaps because of the awkwardness of the “original” English, drastically reworking syntactic structure. The consequent meaning is difficult to decipher: What does it mean to say that “a composing/synthesizing into the one must necessarily be in all things”? But it should be noted how strongly this echoes the English of the first sentence in 2 Nephi 2:11: “it must needs be that there is an opposition in all things.” Ironically, the rendering of that first sentence in this same 1902 translation doesn’t at all reflect the English of the first sentence. It’s difficult to know exactly what the translators were thinking at this point. Be that as it may, it’s worth noting that here again there seems to have been an understanding of this sentence as a description of there actually being an opposition in all things, rather than the opposite. As I’ve already noted, a kind of literalism seems to return in the third, 1928 translation. The verbal construction remains a mark of some distance, but that’s more or less it. Here, and only here among the translations, it’s a little bit ambiguous whether this sentence is taken to describe opposition in all things or not. With the 1950 translation, ambiguity again disappears, but now literalism seems to have been thrown to the winds, with “all things” being replaced with “each thing,” “in one” being replaced with “into unity,” with the more literal verbal construction “be composed/synthesized” being replaced with “be assembled,” with the conjuration from thin air of the phrase “from elements,” and so on. Here it’s clear that the translators were simply trying to make sense of the English “original,” and they did so rather heavy-handedly. The same is true, I think, of the 1982 translation (carried over into the most recent edition), but there seems to be even more at work in this most recent of translations, since an entirely foreign syntactic structure (the “that”-construction) is introduced into the passage, perhaps a kind of echo of the first sentence in the passage. At any rate, the emphasis continues to lie on heavy-handed interpretation rather than on syntactic or semantic literalism.
In this unique case, then, the translators emphasize less all the time literalism, since there seems to have been a consistent effort just to make sense of the sentence. Through the whole history of translation of this sentence, though, there seems to have been unanimous agreement that this sentence describes the presence of an opposition in all things, so that these translators, like the French translators, are at odds with the most consistent tradition of interpretation among English-speaking scholars. But apart from that sort of general gesture, there seems to be little agreement among the translators as to the meaning of “all things must needs be a compound in one.” Does it imply a uniting of all things “in one”? Does it imply a composing or synthesizing to be (at work) in all things? Does it imply a composing or synthesizing of all things? Does it imply that every individual thing is a unity assembled from elements? Does it imply that everything is constructed from parts into a whole? At the very least, the various translations of this sentence reveal a few of the possibilities of interpretation in approaching this rather complicated sentence.
What, now, of the last part of the verse?
Wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.
With the preceding three parts of 2 Nephi 2:11, there have been some translations that just copy over a preceding effort at translating. With this last part of the verse, however, all six translations are distinct. Here’s the 1852 rendering: “wenn es daher ein Körper wäre, so müßte er wie todt bleiben, ohne Leben, weder Tod noch Verwesung, noch ohne Verwesung, weder Glück noch Unglück, weder Gefühl noch Fühllosigkeit.” This, then, appeared in 1902: “wenn es daher ein Körper ware, so müßte er wie tot bleiben, ohne Leben, noch Tod, weder Verwesung, noch Verweslichkeit, weder Glück noch Unglück, weder Gefühl noch Fühlosigkeit.” From 1928, next: “wenn er weder Leben noch Tod hätte, weder Verwesung noch Unverweslichkeit, weder Glückselichkeit noch Elend, weder Gefühl noch Gefühllosigkeit.” Then in 1950: “denn wenn es nur aus einem Bestandteil ware, müßte es unbedingt wie tot verbleiben und hätte weder Leben noch Tod, weder Verwesung noch Unverweslichkeit, weder Glückseligkeit noch Elend, weder Gefühl noch Empfindungslosigkeit.” More recently, of course, from 1982: “denn ware etwas von nur einerlei Beschaffenheit, so müßte es notwendigerweise wie tot verbleiben und hätte nicht Leben noch Tod, weder Verweslichkeit noch Unverweslichkeit, nicht Glücklichsein noch Elend, weder Empfindung noch Empfindungslosigkeit.” Finally, the current translation, produced in the 1990s: “denn wäre etwas von nur einerlei Beschaffenheit, müßte es notwendigerweise wie tot verbleiben und hätte nicht Leben noch Tod, noch Verweslichkeit, noch Unverweslichkeit, Glücklichsein noch Elend, weder Empfindung noch Empfindungslosigkeit.” What’s to be said here?
Let me begin with the first clause, which in English is: “Wherefore, if it should be one body.” It’s perhaps here that the greatest variation occurs among the several renderings of this last part of the verse. I won’t bother with the different between denn and daher in rendering “wherefore,” though I will note the entire lack of a rendering of a “wherefore” in the 1928 translation—which is, as we’ll see, the really strange one. Let me move on to the handling of “if it should be one body.” The earliest rendering renders this simply as “if it were a body,” apparently ignoring what English-speaking readers tend today to assume is an emphasis on the word “one.” The same rendering appears in the 1902 translation. But the 1928 translation, the strange one, drops the phrase entirely, beginning the sentence (or this part of a the sentence?) with “if it had neither life nor death,” obviously skipping right past the “one body” business. (I’m still trying to decide exactly what this translation is doing. More on that later.) The 1950 translation comes back to the phrase, but now there’s some experimentation with its meaning—a bit of translational speculation, as we’ve been seeing in earlier parts of the verse: “if it were only out of one element/ingredient.” Note how dependent this rendering is on what precedes it in the translation. This is the rendering that spoke of each thing being assembled from elements/ingredients, and now the question is not of it being “one body” so much as being assembled from “one element/ingredient.” The 1982 translation, followed without alteration in the 1990s, is similarly interpretive: “were something of only one sort of quality.” All question of “body” here seems to have disappeared in favor of “quality.” Note also that here “it,” which would appear in English to have some identifiable referent, has been replaced with the generic “something.” And what’s to be said about the introduction of “sort”? Here, in the most recent translations, literalism isn’t the aim.
Next, then, this troubling metaphor from the “original” English: “it must needs continue as dead.” This, as we’ve already seen from the French translations, causes some difficulties. How is it handled in German? Quite literally in the earliest two translations, from 1852 and 1902: “it would have to remain as dead.” But then we come to the 1928, strange translation, and we find that this, just like the “one body” business, has been entirely left out of the translation. (Remember that it moves straight to “if it had neither life nor death,” etc.) The 1950 translation returns to a kind of literalism: “it would have unconditionally to remain as dead.” The “unconditionally” (unbedingt, “necessarily,” but a different word from what has usually been translated as “necessarily” in this course of this discussion) seems to have been added to capture the “needs” that follows “must” in the “original” English. This is, as elsewhere in the translations, replaced with “necessarily” (notwendigerweise) in the 1982 translation: “so it must necessarily remain as dead.” Here literalism has almost been achieved. And the stray “so” is dropped in the 1990s translation, more or less achieving literalism. In this case, then, there seems to be a determinate push toward literalism, and the pitfalls of the metaphor seem largely to have been avoided by the German translators.
Next, though, something has to be said about the basic construction of the neither/nor’s at the end of the verse. Remember the English construction: “having no W neither not-W, nor X nor not-X, Y nor not-Y, neither Z nor not-Z.” Notice how this is already, in a certain sense, a bit confused. Having-no/neither, then nor/nor, then [nothing]/nor, then neither/nor. This could itself lead to some confusion. Hence in 1852, the earliest translation into German, we have: “without W, neither not-W nor X, nor not-X, neither Y nor not-Y, neither Z nor not-Z.” Notice how closely this follows the English: “having no” has been replaced with “without,” and the [nothing]/nor has been replaced with neither/nor, but the translation largely follows the construction of the English. (The punctuation might suggest otherwise, coupling not-W with X, but that’s the way the early English versions were punctuated, remember.) But then this changes just slightly with the 1902 translation: “without W, nor not-W, neither X, nor not-X, neither Y nor not-Y, neither Z nor not-Z.” The punctuation has been slightly altered, and with it the without/neither has been replaced with a without/nor, a bit more grammatical. Then comes the strange 1928 rendering, but let me just deal with the construction here: “if it had neither W nor not-W, neither X nor not-X, neither Y nor not-Y, neither Z nor not-Z.” Here the whole construction has been flattened to, for the most part, a series of neither/nor’s, except in the first case, where the having-no/neither has been replacing with having-neither/nor. The flattening to neither/nor’s in this strange translation seems, however, to have been influential. The 1950 rendering constructs the text this way: “and would have neither W nor not-W, neither X nor not-X, neither Y nor not-Y, neither Z nor not-Z.” But then this flattening was canceled—in the name, it would seem, of syntactic fidelity—in the 1982 translation: “and it would have no W nor not-W, neither X nor not-X, no Y nor not-Y, neither Z nor not-Z.” The no/nor’s that replace two of the neither/nor’s here suggests a shift back toward the “original,” which is then completed in the 1990s translation: “and it would have no W nor not-W, nor X, nor not-X, Y nor not-Y, neither Z nor not-Z.” Here we’ve come as close as the German will get to syntactic fidelity.
Finally, what of word choice? Nothing need be said about “life” and “death,” since all the translations render these rather literally. As for “corruption” and “incorruption,” there’s only slight variations (different uses of the same root): “decomposition/putrefaction” (Verwesung) translates “corruption” in the first four translations but “corruptibility” (Verweslichkeit) in the most recent two; “without decomposition/putrefaction” (ohne Verwesung) translates “incorruption” in the earliest translation, “corruptibility” (Verweslichkeit) in the second translation, and “incorruptibility” (Unverweslichkeit) in the remainder. These variations are slight, but they’re not without importance. The earliest translation takes a little bit of liberty by taking “corruption” to be a question of putrefaction (though symmetry is maintained and no “-ibility” business is introduced); the next strangely opposes “corruption” to “corruptibility” rather than to incorruption (was this simply a typo?); the next two oppose “corruption” to “incorruptilibity” (not exactly symmetrical); the most recent two translations restore symmetry but now make both terms a matter of “-ibility”: “corruptibility” and “incorruptibility.” There’s a complex history of interpretation right there. As for “happiness” and “misery,” the earliest two renderings creates a symmetry not present in the “original”: “happiness” and “unhappiness.” The less literal “unhappiness” has in the last four translations appeared instead as “misery,” however. At the same time, “happiness” is replaced first with “bliss” or “blessedness” (Glückseligkeit) and then, in the most recent two translations, with a more accurate German word for “happiness” (Glücklichsein). Finally, when it comes to “sense” and “insensibility” (not, again, the asymmetry in English), the first four translations render “sense” as “feeling” and the most recent two as “sensation,” while the first three translations render “insensibility” as “numbness” (more literally: “feelinglessness”) and the most recent three as “insensibility” (more literally: “sensationlessness”). Here again we see a bit of a battle over symmetry.
But what, finally, should be said in a general vein about this last part of the verse?
Here we see again an always-stronger lack of interest in literalism, an always-strong interest in interpretive translation—especially when it comes to talk of “one body.” We see all over again how radically unstable the text is in that regard: What on earth does it mean to say that “it should remain one body”? As for the rest of this passage, it’s less troubled, but we see as we saw earlier in the verse a kind of constant struggle with the structure of the English text in this last part of the verse. How seriously should the syntactic structure of the “original” be taken? And how important is symmetry to each pair of existential opposites? Also, we’ve seen a rather consistent sliding from “corruption” and “incorruption” to “corruptibility” and “incorruptibility.” What does that tell us about the interpretation of the English?
But I’m eager to hurry on to some general conclusions—especially since this post is getting close to six thousand words long!
I don’t want to say a whole lot here. Indeed, I’ll just list a few of the more important discoveries along this far-too long path—a few of the more radically unstable moments in the text.
First, the several German translations force us to ask after the meaning of the following phrases in the “original” English: “there is an opposition in all things”; “all things must needs be a compound in one”; and “if it should be one body.” These three phrases have, above all, seemed to call for German translators for an always less literal, and always more speculative, rendering. What on earth do these several phrases mean? And how should one begin to interpret them?
Second, there are a few terms in particular—whether they appear in the above phrases or not—whose meaning seems to be less than fully stable: “opposition,” “righteousness,” “bad,” “compound,” “body,” and “corruption/incorruption.” What do these several terms mean in the context of the “original”? What about in and of themselves (if that’s possible)? What about in translation?
Finally, how seriously should the syntactic structures of the second and fourth sentences of the English “original” be taken? They’re far from simple even in English, jumbling “neither’s” and “nor’s” in all kinds of strange combinations. This is even more contorted in the last sentence than in the second, and we can watch translators wrestling with how to make sense of it all. Further, to what extent is symmetry between opposed terms in these same two sentences important? The English sometimes provides symmetry and sometimes doesn’t. How important is the symmetry where it appears, and how important is the asymmetry when it appears?