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The Persian Letters in seven English translations © Philip Stewart - page 8 / 16

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These first two sentences present, as it turns out, turns of phrase that prove difficult for translators, who render them in widely varying versions involving considerable syntactic manipulation. Such liberty is particularly noticeable in Ozell: 12

(O) Notwithstanding all this, I too have my torments as well as they; and, in my turn, meet with an infinite variety of vexations. These revengeful creatures are every day projecting how to be quit with me; and so they are sometimes, with a vengeance. The turns of rule between us, are like the ebbings and flowings of the sea.

He seems less to replicate eunuch’s syntactic structures than to weave new sentences that capture much of their gist but in different ways. The first original clause (up to the comma) is expanded and made more explicit. To “be quit with me” is closer to getting even than outdoing (renchérir), but gets the idea pretty well; “turns of rule” on the other hand seems quite inadequate for des revers terribles, and Ozell for some reason chooses to metaphorize flux et reflux with the modular “like”, while simply omitting the complement d’empire et de soumission.

Flloyd is much more succinct, but not without his own dubious shortcuts:

(F) Not but that in my turn I suffer a number of disagreeable things from these vindictive women, who daily endeavour to repay me the evils I heap on them; there is between us a kind of interchange of empire and obedience.

His “repay” mirrors Ozell’s “be quit with”; he omits revers terribles and replaces flux et reflux with “interchange”. Four others stick with “ebb and flow”, Mauldon preferring “flux and reflux”. Translating empire by “empire” is a frequent cognate mistake; D, L and M get it right with “ascendancy”, “dominion”, and “power”, where Healy and Betts choose “authority”.

Renchérir is ably rendered as “repay me with interest” (D), “retaliate” (H), “pay me back” (M); feebly by Bett’s “do better than I”. As for Elles ont des revers terribles, we find this variety:

  • (D)

    their reprisals are often terrible

  • (H)

    Their revenge is dreadful

  • (B)

    Their counter-attacks can be terrible

  • (M)

    They devise terrible revenges

Loy’s “return to me, twofold” is a conflation of the two phrases. It bears pointing out, however, that both “reprisals” and “revenge” are misconstruals of revers, which could correspond to the definition “un coup qu’on donne de l’arrière-main” (a backhand blow) but probably more closely, metaphorically, to this one: “la seconde face d’une médaille”13 (the obverse or “tails” of a coin or medal). Not to mention that “terrible” is an impoverished understatement of the much more portentous terrible. 14

12Ozell claims in his original preface that the work benefits by translation because the style of the original is so obscure. Dictionnaire de Trévoux. “Qui doit épouvanter, donner de la terreur” (Trévoux). 13 14

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