Introduction to Fortunatus
Brief History of the Text
Fortunatus was first published in
- The Itinerarius of Johannes von Montevilla
(John de Mandeville), 1355; translated into German 1480, the oldest extant
dated editions having been printed in
Story of Wlad IV. Drakul (1456-62, 1476 Lord of Wallachia), the oldest extant
dated German accounts having been printed in
- The Gesta Romanorum, printed in
accounts of St. Patrickfs Purgatory printed in
Tucher der Ältere, Beschreibung der Reyß ins
Bernhard von Breydenbach, Peregrinationes
in terram sanctam (1486); Die
heyligen reyssen gen Jherusalem (
Rudolf von Ems, Willehalms von Orlens und
Amelies. 13th C; printed in
Perhaps the travels of the Bohemian nobleman Leo von Rozmital (1465-67). These
can be read in: Malcom Letts (ed.), The Travels
of Leo of Rozmital through
The author is not known; it has been suggested that he
may have been Burkhard Zink (1396-1474/5), an
were numerous editions in
these translations were based on the
What is the authorfs style? In contrast to my translations of Hoffmann or Chamisso, I find myself here translating an unknown author who has no recognizable eartisticf style. His vocabulary is bare, his sentence formation basic, and the impression of the whole is one of roughness and rawness. He writes in a Bavarian-Swabian dialect. To the modern German, the language is heavy, difficult, and impeditive; the text needs the renewal of translation. An excerpt from the German, followed by an eexactf translation, is here given as representative:
Ain land genanntt Cipern / Ist ain
inßel und künigreich gegen der sonnen auffgang im moer gelegen / fast [sehr] wunsam
/ lustig und fruchtbar aller handen edler natürlicher fruechten. manigem wissend / der tzu dem
A land named
The authorfs style is not only eroughf; his prose
often bears the stamp of the echancelleryf style, for example in the frequent
employment of doublets: gDo Cassandra sach und marckth
[gWhen Cassandra saw and markedh], gFortunatus gedacht und betrachteth
[Fortunatus thought and considered] (Roloff 100, 101), and so on. His language is at times clumsy and redundant. When the kinsman of the murdered
noblemanfs widow hears that she has found the jewels, he speaks in an
unnecessarily verbose style: egso ir meines rats begerent so will ich ratten
Now, the first task of the translator is to recognise the authorfs style; the second task is to judge it; and the third, and most demanding, task is to decide how to translate it. Could we replace German prose at an early stage of artistic development with a correspondingly inchoate English? That would not ring true; the use of such language in this age lacks the stay of authenticity. The effect on us of the German text depends in part on our knowing that it dates from the early Renaissance. Pseudo-language is no equivalent. There are also the not unimportant considerations that I cannot write such language, and the intelligent reader cannot read it; it may be supportable in a short poem, but not in a substantial narrative. Only by using current language can we create the illusion of the past; we build a clock and turn its hands back, but its components belong to our age. We cannot write as we read, when the text read dates from a distant age. This does, of course, give rise to complications, notably the issue of how to define ecurrent languagef, but the point holds.
When an author completes a text, his work is done, but the text is not; every sentence is strewn with the seeds of choice. To write is to leave more choices than are made, for this act of composition is restricted to one language. When the eyes of a foreigner pass over the text, then, as if through a magic glass, a host of possibilities and alternatives are revealed. Some alternatives are more plausible than others; but even the ones that seem least suitable can be accommodated if the translator is consistent – if he exerts greater effort in order to change the context. A translation can be thought of as a huge and extremely complex flow-chart. If we once divert the stream from its original course, we must follow the diversion throughout; if we open one lock, we must open all others.
However, we tend to prefer not to move away from our original, choosing instead to pursue the idea of recreation. Knowing all too well that what has once been said is unrepeatable, we attempt to repeat it; accepting the inevitability of difference, and indeed celebrating that difference, we strive towards identity. The goal is impossible, but it is not the end that matters, any more than the point of life resides in its termination; of true importance are the results of the experiment. It is the process – the journey – that is of the essence, and not the destination.
There are two conflicting forces, two opposing loyalties at work: loyalty to the text; and loyalty to the translatorfs language. These concepts are often taken too literally. Thus loyalty to the text is construed as being the reproduction of its entire matter, which may involve the preservation of the authorfs mistakes and moments of failed judgement. But what manner of recreation is eloyalf? Writing in a style close to the authorfs language and time, or in one lifted from the translatorfs language and age? Loyalty to the translatorfs language is believed to be found in the usage of accepted forms and phrases, but this is not necessarily the case; the translator who attempts to refresh his language, to open it to new possibilities, or to revive turns of phrases which were dealt premature deaths, is every inch as loyal. Of course, this must be done sparingly, or his efforts will be viewed as precious or eccentric. Where language and currency are concerned, the English mind has always been extremely conservative.
To claim that it is necessary to reproduce the effect of the original is not enough. What is this effect? And how does the author achieve it? Do we mean its effect on its original readers, on its present readers, or on all the intervening generations of readers? And will it really have the same effect on all readers of one generation? A manuscript or printed text allows us to study the passage of preserved thought. However, when we read or translate it, we are changing a written past. Writers often wish language to be static, so that the reader will contain and keep in the mind that which they have written; at the same time, they celebrate its vivacity, its instability, its perpetual motion. In the present age, the reader is allotted a more positive and active role; it is acknowledged that his experience of a text is affected by what he brings along to the reading. As far as ereproducing the effectf of the original is concerned, the arguments are highly unsatisfactory, and too easy to refute. I could say that I wish to impart to the reader some of the enthusiasm that was generated by my encounter with the text – that same enthusiasm which encouraged me to undertake the translation, and which sustained me throughout the lengthy process. I would go no farther than that.
To return to the relationship between the style of the translator and of his original. The translator may reproduce the means employed (in this instance, basic and terse language), but he will be condemned by his audience – with justice – and pronounced guilty of writing with the hand of a child. They know that they are reading a 21st-century English translation of late 15th-/ early 16th-century dialect German; they do not need to be told this in every sentence. In order to give them a window on to the linguistic patterns of the original, it suffices to provide a sample, like that given above. To maintain that style throughout the translation would be to write no language and to place oneself in no time.
Could the translator attempt the other extreme and aim for wordy elegance? (The talk of eextremesf is not entirely satisfactory, for it suggests that we are pointing the reader towards our proffered esolutionf, when in fact our method is one of several alternatives; however, the human mind does tend to think in threes, forming two extremes and a centre rather than an equilateral triangle). That would diffuse the concentrated energy of the text, especially where dialogue is concerned. In Fortunatus, we meet many characters, and although the meeting is usually brief, it is memorable. They are skilfully drawn with a few bold strokes; words are not wasted on their appearance, but are employed to explain the motivation and reasoning behind their actions.
My attitude towards the style to be employed changed during the process of revision. This translation has been considerably revised: I was 28 when I completed the first version, and it employed far more colloquial language. Such was the effect that the bluntness, the vigour, the force of the original had on me; such was my way of finding equivalence, of expressing the rawness of the late 15th-century/ early 16th-century German in modern English. Now I am six years older, and I no longer think that the text is best served with such an approach; and if this style is undertaken, then it should be at the hands of a writer with a better command of colloquial idiom than I can claim to possess. I have not gone far in the other direction, but I have attempted to avoid that easy, conversational style which can be found in many supposedly literary texts at the present time. In fact, there were three stages to my translation. The first version was plain, literal, and poor; the second was an elaborative revision; and the third constituted a slight simplification, a restrained movement back towards the original.
This movement towards the original is significant. When we learn a language, we find that improvement in our grasp of advanced vocabulary and grammar is often accompanied by forgetfulness of the basics. A similar phenomenon can be observed in the practice of translation: the translator finds himself leaning too heavily on the original text. Not because he is a novice who is learning his trade – he has years of experience under his pen – but because he has accustomed himself to justifying the authorfs choices, to searching for artistry, to finding (or inventing) reasons why this word here, or this sentence there, is essential to the harmony and entirety of the text. It may be seen as a crisis of confidence, but that is only part of the truth. The nature of a revision depends upon the presence, or absence, of the source text: if we have it at hand, then it becomes increasingly influential and persuasive; the strains it strikes enchants us, and we feel that the magic generated by that combination of notes can be recreated only if the combination is preserved. Only by ignoring the source can we break the spell, and measure our translation against the current motion, and the living and overlooked traditions, of our language.
Some translators like to eride beside the railway linef – in other words, take the quick and easy route. This has happened throughout history, but the emphasis on eaccessibilityf bears greater weight in an age in which languages are being simplified and reduced. Such translations have a role to play; I personally prefer to take the scenic route from A to B, to admire the scenery, to think, and to make the reader think. I have no interest in accessibility or econveniencef, but I do have faith in the intelligence of my audience.
Subduction and the Corridor of Expression
In the act of translation, two languages are brought into contact. The relationship between them is not equal, for the translator does not, in most cases, have an equal command of both; furthermore, one is in an active state, while the source language remains passive. This passivity induces creativity, and sparkles with suggestion, but it is passivity nonetheless. In the context of the collision of the two languages, and of the two minds, the source language and the mind through which it finds expression are subducted under the language and the mind of the translator. The exchange is reciprocal, in that a wider audience is introduced to the original author and (a nympholeptic desire from which we can never entirely free ourselves) to his language, while in return the foreign language reveals the limitations of the translatorfs mother tongue. From my perspective, each English phrase is seen to be only a door in a corridor of expression; every time that I encounter a phrase in another language, another light is switched on, and another door is illuminated. Translators from other nations, working with the same phrase, will enter the same corridor through other doors.
The Patient Denial of the Translator
Translation is a learning process; unfortunately, much of what the translator learns must remain in his mind and await future expression, for the immediate context often does not provide the opportunity to convey this knowledge. This is particularly so when the knowledge is pertaining to individual words; to attract the readerfs attention away from the ordinary, to make him dwell on an unusual habit of expression, or to show him a familiar habit in a new light, may be our artistic end, but it is one that must be pursued with moderation. We do not wish to sacrifice the passage to the phrase, or to lose sight of the wood for the trees.
The translator must also resist the temptation to attempt too much; should he wish to say more than the actual translation allows, then he has the ideal instrument in the eTranslatorfs Introductionf. Translation of a literary text creates a surplus of lexemes, a hoard of ideas that surpass the immediate context. We unearth more than we can carry home, and all we can do is to preserve the surplus in a safe place for future use; yet we doubt that this opportunity will arrive, and we wonder whether we shall remember the location, or indeed the object of our search. It is difficult to put ideas to the side; they demand instant attention, for they seem to shine with the glow of inspiration, and even if we do manage to return to them at a later date, we do not believe that it is possible to recover that initial impulse, that first breath of creativity. The state of mind which gave birth to them, which prepared them for development, is gone, and we find ourselves eating a reheated dish with little relish. However, we must learn to reject, and accept that practice is necessarily more conservative than theory; and once we have done this, and acknowledged the distance that separates practice from theory, then we are able to make a substantial contribution to our field. Translatorfs introductions – at least, the more interesting ones – often exceed the translation, containing claims that are not realised, abstract remarks that are not dressed in concrete examples; they are the ideal home for the surplus of language and thought generated by the practice of translation.
Audience and Intent
Ultimately, the questions the translator must ask are: what is my purpose in translating this text? Who is it for? And what is my relationship to the present condition of my mother tongue?
The first two questions are easily answered. I translated Fortunatus because I wanted to, because it made so strong an impression on my mind that I had to attempt to come to terms with this in my mother tongue, and because it is an excellent text, full of incident and rich in character, which needs to be available in a modern edition for those people who love literature but do not know German. It is many things to many people: it can be read on several levels, as a fairy-tale, a myth, a parable, a travel chronicle, or a socio-historical document; it can be read for its action-filled plot or impressively realistic characters. So I am translating for those people, but primarily I am translating for myself; this is not a commission, and I am receiving no emolument for my grinding toil. It is a labour of love. My ultimate loyalty, as a translator, lies to myself; I have to be true to me.
The last question is more difficult. Do I want to translate Fortunatus in to plain English – in to that unlovely language, that Anglo-American construct, which presently spans the globe? Do I want to overlook the difference between written and spoken language? No. Written language is the product of time and reflection; spoken language, in our age, is the child of the moment, and it is a thoughtless, unimaginative, badly-behaved and boring child. I wish to write with considered language, and to put considered speech into the mouths of the characters, without making this speech seem too eprepared.f If you are instructed in good habits at an early age, then such usage of language requires little effort throughout life; if, like me, you are deprived of instruction into the grammar of your mother tongue because some gibbering imbecile at the head of the educational system decides it is not necessary, you will be faced with a constant struggle to catch up, and careless errors will occur at unguarded moments. When a text presents no distinguishable style, I shall translate according to my understanding of the ideal English language. Perhaps eidealf, like eEmpiref, is an unfashionable word nowadays. I do not care. The English language and the English sense of humour are the best things about our country; the latter lies in no danger of labefaction, but the former must be handled with care. There is right, and there is wrong; I prefer prescriptive to descriptive grammars. Give the child rigid rules; as the individual becomes more mature, he will apply those rules with increased understanding and flexibility. To encourage laxness in language – to emphasise relativity and the predominance of eintelligibilityf over correctness, as do certain linguisticians – is to encourage laxness in life. If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well.
The word ecompromisef is often used in discussions of translation, and I came to the conclusion that there is a time to be plain, terse, and forceful, and a time to elaborate. The authorfs plain speech does not always fulfil a specific function. In fact, this issue is one that occurs whenever anyone attempts to write literary English: he finds himself swaying in the balance between elegance and force of expression, between Latinate diction and Anglo-Saxon phrasing. I sometimes feel that writing English is like trying to run with two legs of different length. Some readers may be thinking that they could have told me this; I may have made the same observation before I began to translate Fortunatus and to study previous translations of the text; but learning often consists of discovering what other people already know. It is achieved, and consolidated, by understanding; and this understanding is acquired on our own personal journey.
This introduction is mainly theoretical; the introduction to Peter Schlemihl is more illustrative and text-based. I shall conclude with one or two practical points. The division into two parts and the chapter headings are my responsibility. In the original, there are many excellent woodcuts punctuating the text and giving the impression of separation into chapters; and I am not the first continuator to respond to the invitation implicit in the original to divide the text into two parts. The break is complete; neither Andolosia nor Ampedo says a word until Fortunatus is dead and buried. Although I have translated the whole text, I very occasionally had to summarise, for the original was needlessly wordy at times. I shall limit myself to two examples, the first being the account of the jousting prizes awarded at Fortunatusfs wedding festivities (Roloff 94-5). Three prizes are given for three ranks of society, and the author tells us the worth of each prize, the rank of those competing for that prize, and then a clause along the lines of ewer da das best thet unnd dem der preyß geben wurd / solt das klainat habenf (for the reader who has no German, this is literally: ewho there the best did and to whom the prize given was / should the prize havef). This is a recognisable tripartite pattern, an old device which conjures images of oral tales, charms, and childrenfs stories; however, it serves no effective function in this particular written narrative. Furthermore, it is a cumulative effect that builds to a climax; yet this description begins at the (social) top and works its way down. The second example concerns the travel descriptions. I give merely one example of the authorfs habit of cataloguing cities and giving their distance from one another:
Von Pariß gen Biana an das moer ist .lxxv. meil. von Biana gen Panplion ist die haubstat des künigs von Naverren. ist xxv. meil / von Panplion auf die lincken seitten gen Sarragossa / ist die haubtstat des küngreichs von Arrogon ist .xxx. meil / von dannen gen Burges und gen dem hailigen Sant Jacob / haißt die stat Compostel. ist lij. meilc (Roloff, p. 63)
the list goes on. These
descriptions are taken from sources such as Hans Tucherfs eBeschreibung der Reyß ins
If I had to summarise my approach in one clause, then I would claim to have attempted to observe the timing of the author, for his control of time is impressive. I followed the virgule.
To the Translation
 Citation from The Archives of the City of