Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Wordplay Translation in Greek Isaiah 3:1?

It's striking how the translator in 3:1 seems to have tried to preserve the wordplay. For example the alliteration in this מ-initial phrasing:


is matched by this ι-initial phrasing:

ἰσχὺν ἄρτου
ἰσχὺν ὕδατος
ἰδοὺ δὴ ὁ δεσπότης κύριος σαβαωθ ἀφελεῖ ἀπὸ τῆς Ιουδαίας καὶ ἀπὸ Ιερουσαλημ ἰσχύοντα καὶ ἰσχύουσαν ἰσχὺν ἄρτου καὶ ἰσχὺν ὕδατος 
for this:
כי הנה האדון יהוה צבאות מסיר מירושלם ומיהודה משען ומשענה כל משען־לחם וכל משען־מים
UPDATE: And on facebook, this:  

Bob MacDonald - While I like the pointing out of such things and the play of language, it seems to me this is more of an accident than design in this case - what might be said though about the words with ἰσχ in them - several in a row. Are these related to support (mainstay, staff) or to shame in Greek - or is this also an accident? Also is there a difference between LXX and NT Greek over the 300 years(?) between them?  

Me - Bob, there are so many such "accidents' in the LXX that we begin to suspect them on purpose. The proliferation of the initial Pi in chapter 1 verses 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 21, for instance, makes the paraphrasing sound perhaps plenty like the opener to the Odyssey on accident or or purpose. Who can, this far out, know the author's or translator's intentions?  

Bob MacDonald - The use of mem in audible lip-smacking form is I think in Psalm 73:10. וּמֵי מָלֵא יִמָּצוּ לָֽמֹו; Greek (72:10) seems to have no lip-smacking in its imitation καὶ ἡμέραι πλήρεις εὑρεθήσονται αὐτοῖς. I read this as a sneer from the rich who delight in exploiting the poor - fully milking them to get the lip-smacking intent in it. I'd like to hear this beyond an initial iota - so K [that's me] - allowing this as deliberate - can you comment on the 2nd half of my question -or even the third half :)  

Me -

Bob - you ask "Are these [ words with ἰσχ in them - several in a row] related to support (mainstay, staff) or to shame in Greek - or is this also an accident?"

Funny you should ask. There's a humorous (maybe vulgar) answer perhaps.

There's a humorous (maybe vulgar) answer perhaps.

How much might the Greek translator in Alexandria have known of the plays of Aristophanes? Is he with Greek Isaiah 3:1 somehow invoking one of the playful lines of the play The Acharnians (around line 590)?

 In Greek, that line reads like this (but I warn the readers here of the vulgarity in the humor) with a reference to circumcision (which is of interest to all readers of Torah) -

οὐ γὰρ κατ’ ἰσχύν ἐστιν· εἰ δ’ ἰσχυρὸς εἶ,
τί μ’ οὐκ ἀπεψώλησας; Εὔοπλος γὰρ εἶ. 

Here are three different English translations of that Greek (again, a warning to the reader here) -

"Violence is out of place here! But as you are so strong, why did you not circumcise me? You have all the tools you want for the operation there."
[from Perseus online - "Aristophanes. Acharnians. The Eleven Comedies. Anonymous. New York. Liveright. 192?"] 

"That’s not your forte! Your forte is to decapitate pricks. (He brandishes his phallus) Here! Come on, do mine… if you’re so strong! You’ve got all the tools you need! Sword, spear, shield, feathers…"
[trans. by George Theodoridis] 

"I don't doubt that you're strong. Though if you are, why don't you skin my cock? You're well equipped."
[trans by Jeffrey Henderson;

Henderson offers this note - "An insulting double-meaning. In one sense 'skin my cock' refers to circumcision, regarded by the Greeks as a barbaric mutilation, which Dicaeopolis invites Lamachus to perform with his sword. In the other it refers to retraction of the foreskin by stimulating an erection, and 'well equipped' refers to Lamachus' stage-phallos, which Dicaeopolis (in double-meaning) professes to find arousing."] 

For Aristophanes and his audiences, there is wordplay here with the ἰσχύν and ἰσχυρὸς (and no doubt this some connotes "shame" as with αἰσχύνη and καταισχύνῃ).

But who can say whether the Jewish translator and Jewish readers of LXX Isaiah were reading into "the words with ἰσχ in them - several in a row" some strong allusion "to circumcision, regarded by the Greeks as a barbaric mutilation"?  

Bob MacDonald - Thanks K [that's me again] - I will bear this in mind when translating  

Me - lol, Bob.

Me again -

Bob, In most languages the bilabial sounds /m/ and /p/ are the first made sense of by babies. Ma ma and Pa pa are the calls for those nearest, probably the former having some vocalized association with nursing. The /isk/ sound (as in the Greek phrases for "strength" and "shame") is much more complex and much less intimate and familial or familiar, I would guess. So the Hellene translator of Isaiah is using wordplay, even phonologically, in a much different (non "lip-smaking") way here. I don't know that we can make too much out of this. But it's certainly wordplay with sounds. And by "play" in English I think we can mean what a playwright writes that actors perform that audiences laugh or cry at; what children do on the playground; and even semantic play, as in hermeneutic wiggleroom.


and earlier in the day on fb, I'd wondered about this:
In 3:3, there's a huge translational turn, a rhetorical one: for נבון לחש ("the skilful enchanter" JPS; "the eloquent orator" KJV), there's συνετὸν ἀκροατήν ("the intelligent hearer" Lancelot Brenton, "intelligent listener" Moisés Silva).

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