Opposition, 6.3 – 2 Nephi 2:11 in Italian Translation
Posted by joespencer on October 22, 2012
My last post, on the German translations of 2 Nephi 2:11, ended up a bit long. Dealing with the Italian translations of the passage should be a bit easier (though, let me be frank: I’m far less familiar with Italian than with any of the other languages we’re dealing with here!). At least, though, there aren’t so many variations to work through!
I’ll follow my now-wonted pattern. My aim, as before, will be to mark the possibilities of interpretation forced by the history of translation.
So far as I’ve been able to discover, there have been four distinct renderings of this passage in Italian, one from 1852, one from 1971, one from 1980, and one from the 1990s. The Italian case is a bit unique, note. There is a very early translation, and then there’s nothing new until the past few decades, at which point the book goes through a rapid series of translations.
But let’s go to work.
For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.
There have been, I believe, three different versions of this first sentence. The 1852 rendering: “Poichè fa d’uopo che vi sia una resistenza in tutte le cose.” Then, in 1971: “Perchè è necessario che ogni cosa abia il suo contrasto.” Finally, since 1980, the text has been rendered: “Poiché è necessario che si sia un’opposizione in tutte le cose.” These are all quite distinct, so what to say about them?
First, the distance between fa d’uopo and è necessario might be noted. The former, a bit archaic, means something more like “it behooves” than, as with the latter, “it is necessary.” But this is perhaps a minor difference, so let’s move on.
Second, then, and much more important, is the different renderings of the “an opposition in all things.” Interestingly, from the very beginning the Italian translators employed the indefinite article (“an”), rather than only coming to it much more recently. Somewhat peculiarly, though, they didn’t employ the noun “opposition,” but rendered it as “resistance”: “it behooves that there is a resistance in all things.” What exactly did the translators have in mind here? Does this reflect something like the usual handling of this passage today, where “opposition” is taken to imply something like “unavoidable hardships in the course of life” (hence “resistance”)? Or is there another way to understand this rendering? Be that as it may, it was replaced in 1971 with a rendering we’ve seen a couple times already in French and German: the “all things” is transformed into “every thing” or “each thing” and then said to “have” its “contrast.” In full, the 1971 rendering reads: “For it is necessary that every thing has its contrast.” By this point, there’s nothing terribly surprising about this translation appearing along the way, though it seems to mark a pretty sharp departure from the much more literalistic-minded 1852 translation. And then a bit of literalism returns in 1980: “Because it is necessary that there is an opposition in all things.”
What might be said in a general vein here?
The most important point to be noted here is the interesting rendering of “opposition” as “resistance” in the earliest Italian translation. What’s to be learned from that particular interpretation? And why does it appear so early if it does indeed reflect what seems only today to have become the standard popular interpretation of the passage in English? Is there any significance in the fact that it disappears in the decades when, precisely, the current popular version is taking hold? Is there another way to understand “resistance”? All this is food for thought.
But let’s get on.
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.
With the second sentence of the passage, we have four different Italian renderings. From 1852: “Se così non fosse, mio primo-nato nel deserto, la rettitudine non potrebbe aver loco; e neppure la malvagità; e neppure santità nè miseria; e nè il buono, od il cattivo.” This changes quite a bit in the 1971 rendering: “Se ciò non fosse, mio primogenito nel deserto, non vi potrebbe essere né giustizia, né malvagità, né santità, né miseria, né il bene né il male.” Only a single word is changed from this rendering in the 1980 translation: “Se ciò non fosse, mio primogenito nel deserto, non vi potrebbe essere né giustizia, né malvagità, né santità, né infelicità, né il bene né il male.” For the 1990s, most recent, translation, however, a few more substantive changes appear: “Se non fosse così, mio primogenito nel deserto, non potrebbe realizzarsi la rettitudine, né la malvagità, né la santità né l’infelicità, né il bene né il male.” What to say about these various renderings?
I won’t bother here with the slight differences among “se così non fosse,” “se ciò non fosse,” and “se non fosse così” (which at best amounts to the difference between “if it weren’t so” and “if it weren’t”). Nor, curiously, is there much reason to deal with the structuring of the series of opposites here. (True, there’s a slight difference between the earliest rendering’s use of neppure and subsequent renderings’ straightforward use solely of né, but the difference is negligible.) We might say just a word, though, about the different renderings of “brought to pass” before going on to word choice among the several renderings of the “ethical” opposites.
Interestingly, the earliest, 1852 rendering of the text translations “could not be brought to pass” as “could not take place” (non potrebbe aver loco). It’s not a bad rendering, though it introduces a kind of topology to the text. This is replaced in 1971 with a rendering not unlike some we’ve seen before: “there could not be.” There’s not quite talk of “existence” here, as we’ve seen elsewhere, but the emphasis is, at any rate, on being, rather than on being brought to pass. Finally, in the most recent rendering, we get “could not be realized,” which does mean something much more like “could not be brought to pass.” The trajectory among translations here is similar to others we’ve already seen. But let me turn to word choice.
We’ve seen in both French and German good reason to watch the rendering of “righteousness” carefully. And here we’re rewarded for our care. The earliest rendering translates the word with something like “uprightness” (rettitudine), but this is replaced in 1971 with “justice” (giustizia), a rendering that appears again in 1980 before it is replaced, in the 1990s, with “uprightness” again. Here we see a shift from the righteousness-as-uprightness (or -as-obedience) understanding to the righteousness-as-justice understanding and back. That’s most interesting. What else? There’s some variation, as we’ve seen elsewhere, in the rendering of “misery.” Interestingly, it’s the earlier translations (1852 and 1971) that attempt literalism here (miseria) while the more recent translations (1980 and the 1990s) replace this with something like “unhappiness” (infelicità). It’s curious that this move from “misery” to “unhappiness” doesn’t aim at establishing a certain symmetry, since “misery” balances not “happiness” but “holiness” in the received text. It’s not entirely clear what to make of the shift, then. One final note: il buono and il cattivo in the original translation have been replaced by il bene and il male in translations from the past few decades. This difference, though, seems relatively minor.
What, then, to say about the renderings of this second sentence, generally?
Here we’re not seeing much we haven’t seen before. It’s interesting that there seems to be an unrepentant shift from “misery” to “unhappiness” here (we’ll see it again later), and it’s fascinating to see a shift away from and back to “uprightness” (as against “justice”). These are curious details we’ll have to continue thinking about, but at the level of variation in word choice and basic sentence construction, everything we’re seeing here is familiar.
But what of the most difficult part of the passage—the “compound in one” business?
Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one.
Here, interestingly, we have only three Italian options on the table. Here’s the earliest, 1852 rendering: “Impertanto, ogni cosa dee essere accordata assieme.” Then, in 1971 (and replicated in 1980): “Perciò ogni cosa va composta di varie parti.” Finally, the current rendering, produced in the 1990s: “Pertanto tutte le cose devono necessariamente essere un solo insieme.” What’s to be learned here?
First, it should be noted how radically distinct the verbs are in the several cases, each with an entirely different modality. In the 1852 rendering, we have “ought to be” (dee essere), while in the 1970s and 1980s we get “is” (literally “goes,” va, which bears the sense of “the way things are,” or even “the way things must necessarily be”), and then in the 1990s we end up with “must necessarily be” (devono necessariamente essere). All these inflect the English “original” in a unique way. Does “must needs be” imply a kind of obligation to be? Or can it be summed up in the simple indicative? Or does it rather imply a full “must necessarily be”? This is, I think, something of an open question.
Second, notice that here, as before, we get a bit of alternation between “every thing” (or “each thing”) and “all things.” (There is, though, no real consistency about rendering “all things” the same way in both the first and the third sentences in any one translation. The 1852 rendering provides “tutte le cose” in the first sentence but “ogni cosa” here; 1971 gives us “ogni cosa” in both cases, but 1980 leaves “ogni cosa” in the third sentence and inserts “tutte le cose” in the first sentence; finally, the most recent rendering gives us, in a more literal vein, “tutte le cose” in both cases.) Yet again, then, it is necessary to ask what exactly is meant by “all things” here. As we’ll see in a moment, it may be significant that when, in the most recent rendering, “all things” takes the place of “every thing” or “each thing,” we get a reworking of “a compound in one” in a way that might be reworking the meaning of the whole clause substantially. At any rate, it’s clear yet again how profoundly unstable this passage is.
Third, then, the “compound in one” business. The earliest rendering is quite speculative: “Therefore, every thing ought to be attuned to one another” or “Therefore, every thing ought to be given/granted together.” Obviously, there’s a bit of a translation issue from the Italian here. The verb accordare (rendered participially as accordata here) means “to grant,” but it’s also the verb “to tune (an instrument).” (Incidentally, it’s also the verb used for grammatical agreement, making it possible that the translators meant to say that “every thing should agree together.”) As if to remove the (beautiful) ambiguities of this translation, the 1971 translators replaced it with: “Thus every thing is composed of various parts.” Here we get a rendering we’ve seen again and again in the various translations of this passage. But then this disappears in the most recent translation: “Therefore, all things must necessarily be a single set [or a single whole].” Here for the first time in Italian there seems to have been an attempt to bring “in one” from the English, but it’s used in a curious way—as a qualifier of the “set” (“a single set”). And what sense is to be made of the translation of “compound” as “set” (the word used for “set” in set theory, incidentally, but also when referring to a music ensemble, etc.)?
This most recent translation, actually, is quite significant. It seems only to make sense if one takes it to interpret this sentence as drawing a further conclusion from the “if not” business of the previous sentence. In this way, it differs from more or less every translation we’ve seen among the several languages. It seems universally to be the case that translators take this “compound in one” business to be describing anew the idea that there is an opposition in all things, even though English-speakers tend to interpret it as describing the unfortunate state of affairs that would hold if there were no opposition. Here in the most recent Italian rendering, it seems to me that we may finally have a translation that adopts the standard reading of the English. (But maybe not? It’s curious that devono is in the indicative, not in a conditional form.) At any rate, there are real difficulties here as well.
So what to say in a general way about this most difficult sentence?
Actually, in the Italian we have something a little easier to deal with than in the French or the German. What’s new to be taken away, though, is the sheer creativity of two of the renderings, which understand compoundedness to be a question of attunement and a set, respectively. These renderings give much food for thought. Whether we interpret the “compound in one” bit to reflect the presence of opposition in all things or its negation, how does it change the meaning of the passage to think of compoundedness in terms of attunement? Or we might ask the same in terms of all things being a set: how does that alter our interpretation of this verse?
Also of significance is the real possibility that in the most recent translation into Italian we have a rendering that reflects the common English-speaking interpretation of “compound in one,” in the sense that the phrase is meant to negate the presence of opposition in all things. Does this suggest that there’s real strength in that interpretation?
But let’s wrap this up by turning to the last sentence.
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
Here again there are three options. From 1852: “e però, se fosse un corpo, forza sarebbe che esso se ne rimanesse qual estinto, non avente vita, nè morte nè corruzione, nè incorruzione, felicità ne miseria, nè sensi nè insensibilità.” Then, the 1971 translation (reproduced, as before, in the 1980 edition): “perchè, se fosse d’un solo corpo, rimarrebbe come morto, non avrebbe né vita né morte, né corruzione né incorruttibilità, né felicità né miseria, né sensibilità né insensibilità.” Finally, the most recent, 1990s, translation: “pertanto, se fosse un unico corpo, dovrebbe necessariamente rimanere come morto, non avendo né vita né morte, né corruzione né incorruttibilità, né felicità né infelicità, né sensibilità né insensibilità.” What needs to be dealt with here?
First, of course, we ask how the several translations handle the “if it should be one body” bit. The earliest rendering: “if it were a body.” Here there’s lacking the heavy emphasis on “one” that English-speakers tend to hear in the passage. But that’s remedied in the 1871 translation (which is reproduced in 1980), while a slight change is introduced by the addition of an “of”: “if it were of a single body.” Why the “of”? Remember that this rendering follows immediately after the reworking of the preceding sentence as “every thing is composed of various parts.” The added “of” builds on that sentence thus rendered: “every thing is composed of various parts; therefore, if it were [composed] of a single body,” etc. This does a bit of interesting interpretive work: not “if it [whatever that's meant to refer to] were itself a single body,” etc., but “if it [that is, "every thing"] were of [that is, composed of] a single body,” etc. This is a bit speculative, but perhaps interpretively productive. Finally, though, a more literal rendering in the 1990s: “if it were one body.”
Second, naturally, comes the metaphor: “it must needs remain as dead.” The earliest translation here is giving me a bit of difficulty, since Italian is less familiar to me. My best guess at the meaning of the Italian (a little help here, anyone?) would be something like: “it would forcibly be that this would remain as if extinct” (forza sarebbe che esso se ne rimanesse qual estinto). Like I say, I’m not entirely sure about the grammatical structure there, so I won’t comment on any of it. I will, though, note the creative translation of “dead” here as “extinct.” What’s to be learned from that, I wonder. But such interesting speculation disappears with the 1971/1980 translation: “it would remain as dead.” And then this is replaced only by a little more literal rendering in the 1990s: “it should necessarily remain as dead.” We’ll leave those renderings without comment. In the meanwhile, I’ll ask a little less parenthetically whether anyone out there with a bit of Italian expertise might say something about the earliest translation of this phrase.
Third, syntactic structure for the remainder of the sentence. Here, actually, there’s almost no variation. The earliest rendering was the most literal here, reproducing the structure of the English exactly. The more recent translations make only one slight alteration, adding a “neither” before “happiness.” But that’s it. (Well, one other slight change: the 1971/1980 translation replaces “not having” with “it would not have,” but that’s quite minor, especially given that the 1990s translation returns to the “not having” rendering.) So let me move past structure to look at word choice.
There are only two variations in word choice here, revealing the Italian translation to be a good deal more stable than what we’ve been seeing with other languages. “Incorruption” appears, rather literally, as “incorruption” in the earliest Italian rendering, but it’s replaced with “incorruptibility” in the more recent translations. This is something we’ve seen in other languages as well, so I don’t know that it needs further comment here. The other variation is also something we’ve seen before. The 1852 rendering, as well as the 1971/1980 translation, translates “misery” literally, but the most recent, 1990s, translation replaces it with “unhappiness,” moving away from literalism. But this, as I say, is again something we’ve seen before, so I don’t know that we need to dedicate too much commentary to it here.
So what’s to be said about this last part of the verse in its several Italian renderings?
There are, here, only two interpretive possibilities we haven’t glimpsed before. The simpler of the two is the rendering of “dead” in “it must needs remain as dead” as “extinct.” Since every translation we’ve dealt with has rendered “dead” rather literally, this is the first time we’ve been forced to ask what exactly is meant by “dead.” (Other translations have struggled a bit with the metaphor as such, but this is the first time that struggle has focused on the actual word “dead” and not on the nature of the “as” in “as dead.”) Does “dead” amount to “extinct”? And what would it mean to interpret “dead” as “extinct” here? These are questions well worth asking.
The other point of interest here is the inserted “of” in one rendering of “if it should be one body.” Every translation we’ve dealt with (that I’m remembering at the moment, anyway!) has assumed that whatever the “it” of “if it should be one body” refers to, it’s supposed to be considered here as one body. This one rendering, though, asks about whether the one body in question isn’t something from which a “bad” compound would be constructed. If the idea of the “compound in one” business is that everything is composed of parts or woven of things in tension, then can we think of the “one body” bit as the source of a non-oppositional composition, a composition without composition? It’s a speculative but very interesting interpretation, one that destabilizes the relationship between “compound in one” and “one body.” Where every other translation assumes a kind of simple opposition between these two phrases, this one rendering takes the two phrases to be in opposition, but wonders whether the one is only to be undone when its resources are drawn from the other. That’s interesting and productive.
But let’s finish off this post.
What have we learned along the way this time?
Well, overall, the Italian translations have given us a bit less variation, a bit more sustained literalism, and so a little less to speculate about. That said, though, we’ve seen a few things that should give us food for thought. The most interesting of these have appeared just in the last part of this discussion, so it feels a bit forced to review them at any length: the thinking of compoundedness as attunement, the rendering that reflects the common English-speaking interpretation of “compound in one,” the rendering of “dead” as extinct,” and the inserted “of” in “if it should be one body.” The only other major find in this discussion is the curious rendering of “opposition” as “resistance” in the earliest translation of the first sentence of 2 Nephi 2:11. Apart from these novelties, we’ve seen a handful of things we’ve seen before: alternation between “uprightness” and “justice,” the replacement of “misery” with “unhappiness,” etc.
But what might we say in a general vein?
We’ve certainly seen that the earliest Italian translation deserves close interpretation. It’s among the most speculative and theologically interesting translations we’ve seen yet. It tends to explore possibilities inherent in the original that other translators (in this language, in other languages) ignore, and it tends to bring out possibilities that might too easily be missed. At the same time, there are important ways in which the original is the most literal rendering we’ve seen. It reproduces the syntax of the original rather well, it draws on archaic constructions like the English text does, and so on. It’s a translation to which we should return in thinking about this passage generally.