Academic journal article Antichthon

Rufinus Translation Techniques in the Regula Basili

Academic journal article Antichthon

Rufinus Translation Techniques in the Regula Basili

Article excerpt

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Rufinus of Aquileia1 (c. 345-411 A.D.)2 is one of the most important Latin translators of Greek texts in Late Antiquity. In the summer of 397 A.D. he returned to the west, after some 25 years spent in Alexandria and Jerusalem. He brought with him a considerable library of Greek manuscripts. The first task he undertook - very shortly after his arrival - was to translate Basil of Caesarea's Asketikon,3 which became known in its Latin dress as the Regula Basili. This paper is dedicated to examining the translation techniques used by Rufinus in the Regula Basili.

Rufinus' tendency as a translator to paraphrase, to gloss his text and interpolate material into it, to abbreviate or omit sections, has often been noted4 and deplored.5 He is quite candid in explaining his approach to translation in the prefaces to several works and is consistent in carrying out his stated intentions. The following characteristic statement comes from the preface to his translation of Gregory of Nyssa's Life of Gregory Thaumaturgus:

Sanctorum scripturarum doctores egregii, cum de graeca lingua latinis auribus iradere aliquid statuerunt, non verbum verbo, sed sensum sensui reddere curaverunt. Et merito. Nam si latinus sermo graeco idiomati respondere voluerit, et euphoniae subtilitatem et rationis sensum penitus suffocat. Et nos beati Gregorii Thaumaturgi vit am ex loquela attica tran s fer entes, imitando earn quam sanctus Gregorius Nyssenus pontifex in peregrina, hoc est in graeca lingua composuit, plurimis odditis, plurimis ademptis, ut ratio utillima postulabat, sensum attendentes latinis viris compethose curavimus ministrare.6

When the expert teachers of the Sacred Scriptures try to convey something from the Greek language for Latin ears, they take care not to translate word for word, but sense for sense. And well they might. For if Latin discourse intended to imitate Greek idiom, it would quite choke both the rhythm of speech and the sense of meaning. And so it is for us too in translating the life of Gregory Thaumaturgus from Attic speech. In recasting what the holy Gregory of Nyssa composed in a foreign, that is, in the Greek tongue, we have made many additions and many omissions, as the most suitable meaning required, attending to the sense while fittingly accommodating Latin readers.

In short, Rufinus sought to refashion his Greek source document into a Latin work of art in its own right. In this broad approach to translation he is rather liberally following an established convention of both pre-Christian and Christian translators. This was a topic well canvassed by Jerome in his Letter 57. In fact, Rufinus invoked Jerome himself as an exemplar of the approach he wished to follow.7

Rufinus' testimony above also highlights a significant cultural difference between his world and ours. In his time, even literary composition itself remained intimately bound to an oral culture. He translated his works not so much to be read only with the eyes by solitary individuals, but to be read out aloud and heard by the ears, frequently in company. His care to ensure the credible 'latinity' of his work reflects his concern to bring about a native oral and aural quality in the end-product.

Other less overt but significant cultural factors affected the translation process. Rist contrasts the linguistic and cultural worlds of thought inhabited by Origen and by Rufinus.8 He shows that Origen's discourse presumes a philosophically conversant culture, disposed to speculative thought. His was certainly a Christian discourse, but was often implicitly and sometimes explicitly intended to engage interested pagans as well. A century and a half later Rufinus' constituency is an explicitly theocratic Christian world in which the 'habit of authority' is more developed. Moreover, it continues the rhetorical, didactic culture of classical Rome in which the spirit of philosophical enquiry was not entirely germane. …

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