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The Persian Letters in seven English translations © Philip Stewart - page 5 / 16





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Thou commandest them, and thou obeyist them. Thou dost whatever they will of thee, and they do implicitly whatever thou will’st of them, according to the laws of the seraglio. Thou makest it thy glory to render them the meanest services, and with respect and fear submittest to their lawful orders. Thou servest them as the slave of their slaves; but as master in thy turn, commandest them as sovereignly as I do myself, when thou art apprehensive of any transgression of the laws of chastity and modesty.

Remember that I raised thee from nothing ; and from the lowest of my slaves, lifted thee to the office thou are now possessed of […].

Since Flloyd (but no one subsequently) does likewise, such passages have substantially the same flavor in his translation, though he often chooses different terminology in specific instances. He tends to prefer a higher degree of explicitness, as when he changes “as the slave of their slaves” to “as though thou wert the slave of their slaves”. Instead of “Thou dost whatever they will of thee” he gives “thou implicitly fulfillest all their desires” (D will transpose directly in the plural to “You fulfill implicitly all their desires”), and “thou resumest thy power” (D: “resuming your power”) replaces “as master in thy turn”; “I raised thee from nothing” changes to “the obscurity from which I took thee”. Davidson’s version of this last phrase is: “I raised you from the lowest position among my slaves”. Most astonishingly, however, Davidson reads the first sentence of this passage as “You command them and they obey”! But even Homer nods.

Elsewhere in the passage, par un retour d’empire and néant become:

(D) by an exchange of authority […] the void from which I drew you (H) resuming your power […] the oblivion from which you, then the meanest of my slaves, were brought (B) But their power is transferred […] the nothingness from which I took you (M) but by a reversion of power […] the abyss from which I raised you 11

Pudeur and modestie, particularly the former, are very difficulty to handle in English insofar as the English word “modesty” covers both semantic fields, however inadequately, and while English once had the lovely word pudicity it now has no real equivalent for pudeur. Consequently, the tendency is to follow Ozell’s example of “chastity and modesty”, though Loy, whom Healy echoes, prefers “decency and modesty”, and Mauldon the circumlocution: “the laws of chaste and seemly behaviour.”

II. J’errais d’appartements en appartements, te cherchant toujours, et ne te trouvant jamais ; mais rencontrant partout un cruel souvenir de ma félicité passée : tantôt je me voyais en ce lieu, où pour la première fois de ma vie je te reçus dans mes bras : tantôt dans celui, où tu décidas cette fameuse querelle entre tes femmes : chacune de nous se prétendait supérieure aux autres en beauté : nous nous présentâmes devant toi, après avoir épuisé tout ce que l’imagination peut fournir de parures, et d’ornements : tu vis avec plaisir les miracles de notre art : tu admiras jusques où nous avait emporté l’ardeur de te plaire : mais tu fis bientôt

11It will be obvious from ellipses and capitals that translators have differing policies on subdividing (or fragmenting) sentences (or paragraphs); I have not attempted to take account of these differences.

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