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Epic Translations

May 19, 2019 5 years ago

From Shakespeare to Mary Shelley, the English language is home to a fantastic amount of excellent literature. So much, even, that many English speakers never need to read anything translated from another language. However, there are a number of great epics that most English speakers at least know about. The Iliad, Epic of Gilgamesh, and even The Bible are just a few. Translators of these works have several problems they must figure out how to work around. They must figure out how to retain the basic rhythm of the story and retain the meaning of words that do not have an English correspondent, all while keeping the plot intact. The Armenian epic, Sasna Tsrrer poses a unique challenge to any translator. First of all, there are over 150 different versions, all written in different dialects. Many versions are not even complete and are missing various plotlines. However, one of the biggest problems in translating Sasna Tsrrer is the word "tsrrer." Many people believe Sasna Tsrrer to have ancient origins, but people only wrote it down first in the late 19th century. Between then and 1915, more and more versions got recorded, all from different areas of Armenia and all in different dialects. Many versions are missing one or multiple parts of the story. However, the most troubling thing for any translator is that many of these dialects became extinct during the Armenian Genocide. A lot of old Western Armenian dialects used to utilize a wide variety of Turkish and Arabic words and grammar in a way no language really does. Leon Surmelian's translation, Daredevils of Sassoun, manages to avoid some of this untranslatability by utilizing footnotes. At the end of each chapter, Surmelian explains a few words by telling the reader about both the possible meanings of the word and how he decides to use it in the book. Even so, Surmelian's translation is based on the "official" version published by the Soviet Union in 1939 with a unifying use of the language. Of course, this would be the easiest to translate, but if one wanted to translate many of the other versions, he or she would not only have to understand Armenian and English but probably Turkish and maybe some Arabic too. Until someone decides to attempt this task, sadly, many of the most dialectal versions will remain untranslated. Obviously, so many versions of a story recorded from so many sources will not remain consistent throughout. However, many versions of Sasna Tsrrer do not even retain the same story structure and plotlines. Some versions have different characters playing different roles, some versions are obviously pre-Christian and pagan in origin, and some versions simply do not contain certain cycles and storylines. While the Soviet Union did publish an "official" version in 1939, that does not make it right to suddenly disregard the other versions. Some versions are so different that some people argue that they are not from the same story, but part of a larger Armenian folk genre (Hambardzumyan 2). Still, the perceived incompleteness can deter translators from translating the more obscure versions of the epic. Finally, the word "tsrrer" poses a problem for translators. It does not have an English equivalent, but is one of the most important words in the epic. "Tsrrer" can mean, depending on the context, foolish, brave, or even naive. This is very important in characterizing the main characters. It acknowledges the strangeness and foolish braveness not only they, but the Armenian people are known for. The number of preposterous things the main characters do may seem stupidly unnecessary or overpowered without knowledge of the word "tsrrer". Of course, one cannot translate "tsrrer" as the same thing every time in English, but Surmelian explains what the word means in the introduction and then translates to depending on the context for the rest of the book. Translators really do have a difficult job. Especially translating epics such as Sasna Tsrrer. Luckily, not only Surmelian, but a whole slew of other translator dedicate their time and patience in making the best translation possible so that people all around the world can enjoy this Armenian classic. It is possible that there will never be a perfect translation, but it is still wonderful that people are trying their best. There is so much amazing literature from all around the world, and with the help of translators, it is all getting more accessible to the global population. Works cited Hambardzumyan, H. A. “Some Features of Translation of the Epic: English Translations of the Armenian Epic ‘David of Sassoun.'” Вестник Северо-Восточного Федерального Университета Имени М.К. Аммосова: Серия Эпосоведение, 2017, p. 10. Cyberleninka, cyberleninka.ru/article/n/some-features-of-translation-of-the-epic-english-translations-of-the-armenian-national-epic-david-of-sassoun. Surmelian, Leon Z. Daredevils of Sassoun. Golden Jubilee Publication, 1966.

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