Next week we’re taking a look at theology from a Pagan perspective and as a result I’ve been wading through the classics. I’m finding it a bit frustrating, not because I have problems understanding the philosophers and theologians of ancient times, but because the translations seem off.
While reading through Sallust’s On The Gods And The World, I found the perspective was constantly shifting between a polytheistic and monotheistic viewpoint. While grappling with this it occurred to me that I had been frustrated before at translations of classics that seemed “off”. Why is this?
Well, for many, many years the classics were translated by Christian scholars, who often drew on Pagan philosophers and theologians in their own discussions of theology. Just as they used Pagan ideas to help formulate their own theology, when they translated the classics they did so with a Christian viewpoint. This is frustrating because it feels as if our philosophical and religious heritage has been hijacked to the point that it no longer has anything to do with the old Gods.
A good example of the way translations can skew the original work is Gilgamesh. Discovered in the 1870’s, this Pagan epic was fresh, original and unmarred by years of copying and translating. Even so, it fell victim to Victorian sensibilities. I tried to read Gilgamesh several times, but it didn’t grab me. One day a friend placed Stephen Mitchell’s translation into my hands, telling me it was worth a read as it wasn’t “bowdlerized”. Suddenly the story was fresh, lithe and deeply human. The story of Gilgamesh’s attempt to come to grips with death and the human condition hadn’t changed, but the translation breathed life into a saga that had been weighed down by a prudish modern perspective.
Maybe what I really need is a beacon as I peruse the bookshelves. Bibles come in different branded translations. Everyone knows the KJV stands for the King James Version of the Bible. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could peruse the shelves for classics marked NPT? The New Pagan Translation?