Happy International Translation Day

Saint Jerome in His Study, Jan van Eyck (1442)

You may never have heard of it, but translation has had its own holiday since 1953, held on September 30, the feast day of the patron saint of translation, St. Jerome. Since there is no Nobel Prize for translation, the top award currently available for translators is sainthood, which apparently has its perks in terms of posthumous glory, but I am here to tell you that if you crave recognition in your lifetime, this might not be the metier for you. On the other hand, who would want to deny that translation is a fruitful, worthwhile, helpful and even life-shaping activity? And what’s not to like about Jerome, who sat down and did due diligence with the Latin translations of the Bible available during his lifetime, one-upping the Septuagint and going back to the Hebrew or at least the Greek. He is said to have spent years in the Syrian desert, where he quite possibly kept company with lions. Lions require no translation, though they can translate you if you get too close. In any case, today’s the designated day for celebrating translators and translation; and while, for some of us, celebrating translation is an activity to be performed ceaselessly, day after day, others may

St. Jerome in His Study, Albrecht Dürer (1514)

find it a useful reminder of the folks whose work makes it possible for those of us who have yet to master all the languages of the world to enjoy not only the Bible but also Death in Venice (translated by Michael Henry Heim, multilingual virtuoso and beloved mentor to generations of translators), The Odyssey (with whose translator, Robert Fagles, I studied at Princeton), Madame Bovary (now also by Lydia Davis, a magnificent writer in her own right), Les Miserables (courtesy of Lee Fahnestock, past president of the  American Literary Translators Association), War and Peace (whose translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky got us talking all over again about what we want translation to be), and the blockbuster The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (whose translator, Steven T. Murray, took his name off the book in protest after his publisher mucked too much with his work). Every one of these English-language books has a story behind its making, and some of these are riveting tales. I’ll do my best to keep telling them on this blog; thank you for reading. And to all my fellow translators: May this day find you lavished with flowers, chocolates, theater tickets, bubbly, and back rubs.

From The Temptation of St. Anthony
by Hieronymus Bosch (1505)

By the way, Hieronymus is a namesake of Jerome. I’ll leave you with that thought.

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