The History of That Ingenious Gentleman, Don Quijote de la Mancha

By Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra; Burton Raffel | Go to book overview

Translator's Note

No one can reproduce Cervantes' style in English. Not only is his prose uniquely magnificent, but the very music of Spanish, its syntactical structures, and the thrust and flavor of its words, are literally untransportable into any other language. Syntactical organization being however the most basic hallmark of prose style — the stamp of a writer's mind — I have made it my special concern to re-create, as closely as possible, the organization of Cervantes' sentences. Neither this nor any other device can adequately capture Cervantes' style, but I have tried to track the movement — the pace; the complexity, or simplicity; the degree of linguistic density; the structural transitions — of Don Quijote's inimitable prose. I have also worked hard to match the rhetoric of that prose, as I have tried, when I could, to find reasonably exact verbal equivalences. I have been scrupulously careful not to mute Cervantes' dazzling irony, nor have I consciously suppressed, bowdlerized, or altered anything.

There have inevitably been dislocations: Spanish is a very different language from English; Spanish culture and social organization are different; and in the almost four hundred years since Cervantes wrote, much has changed in all sorts of way. I have tried to keep these dislocations as small and, relatively speaking, as unimportant as possible. But readers accustomed to Cervantes' Spanish, and especially readers learned in the ways of early seventeeth-century Spain, will inevitably be pained by any loss whatever. I do not blame them. I ask them, however, to remember that straightforward lexical dislocations, though they may often seem deeply objectionable, are in truth a good deal less important than such larger matters as style, pacing, fidelity to authorial intent, and the like. To turn Spanish canónigo into the English "canon," e.g., would in my considered opinion betray rather than accurately transmit what Cervantes was in fact saying. Accordingly, in order to faithfully reflect Cervantes' meaning, in the alien context of twentieth-century American English, I have here translated canónigo as "cathedral priest." So too the seventeenth-century Spanish capitán, which then meant "primary commander" (and had at one time the same meaning in English: think of the phrase "captains of industry"), can no longer be properly translated as twentieth-century "captain," that word now designating a subordinate commander. I have therefore translated capitán as "general," that being, again, what in our language it actually means. Linguistic history also reveals that the German word thaler entered Spanish before it entered English, being used both in Spain and in its colonies for the Spanish "piece of eight" coin, called (after the German) a dolar and worth eight reales. It was then borrowed — strictly, re-borrowed — as a

-xvii-

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