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Thread: Half-Baked Translations

  1. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dragon's Tail View Post
    I'm not sure about what you are inferring with the "some of you" thing precisely.
    I mean that some people here may be aware of such individuals/groups who released such "watered down"/inaccurate translations with conscious ill intent.

    But actually, it's not really worth bothering with...

    Bottom line: There IS an issue with bad/incomplete/erroneous translations of Alchemical literature. That's basically what my point is about.

  2. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Warmheart View Post
    Scholarly efforts usually inject the most dangerous mistakes (either because of ignorance or on purpose). Oftentimes they enforce their own vision of subject, which is reflected in their translations. Most of them are outsiders and they think that the subject of their translation is some kind of superstition. If to use wording of Paracelsus, they are evil sophists.
    Maybe I was being too general in my usage of the word "scholarly." I agree with what you're saying but IMHO what you're saying is a general condition applicable to many (most?). What makes it worse is the symbology/imagery is also left to interpretation between both the artist and the perceiver so definitely room for error as well.

    Quote Originally Posted by Warmheart View Post
    I think that one needs to always search for the roots of everything, which includes original texts in original languages. Sadly, colonizers were always trying their best to destroy big libraries and subvert old teachings, with scholar people being the most notorious to do that - they keep faking up the history, culture and knowledge of old nations, they invent religions which never existed and naive people believe all that.

    Sincere seekers will be surprised at great depth of knowledge of old nations about this reality if they will refer to texts on original languages and they will be greatly upset about current direction of so-called civilization.
    Yes, I agree with you 100%. Unfortunately, we don't have the luxury to learn 3-5 'root' languages or understand the colloquialism common in those days to mostly understand what was being said. I'm using the term 'mostly' to imply that even if one were a scholar of a particular root language my sense/perspective is that something is still lost in translation...

  3. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Andro View Post
    Due to my recent research of some German texts, I've come across a horrifying truth:

    Many English translations available either online or in collections such as RAMS are either inaccurate or incomplete - or both!

    Some books are a few hundred pages long in their German versions, yet the English versions are often in the 2 digit page-count region... Much of the content is simply missing!

    Other texts (so I have found) contain inaccuracies that can actually mislead the reader. I'm not talking about general grammar or misplaced commas, I'm talking about actual practical stuff that is incorrectly translated, and some of the errors may be critical for the practical experimenter.

    RAMS (for example) contains a lot of translations from German or from Latin. While the RAMS project is highly commendable for making such texts available to English speaking researchers, I now consider it to be a "half-baked" product.

    The more recent translation projects, such as 'Old Nature Path' and '13 Secret Letters' are (again, IMO) VERY well done and presented. I believe the English translation of 'Hermetic Recreations' to be of similar high quality, although I don't read French... However, from the older translated English bits I've gone through so far (such as in RAMS, Levity, etc...) - the picture doesn't look so good...

    GRRRR!!! ARRRRGGGG!!!
    The translation of 13 Secret Letters is actually quite filled with mistakes, many of them due to the translator's lack of enough familiarity with the technical jargon of alchemy & chymistry in English (sometimes he leaves German terms without any translation, since he does not know the English equivalent.) The average RAMS translations are quite better done than that one.

    As for the reason why so many of those translations in RAMS are incomplete: a great deal of them are in fact transcriptions of the surviving personal manuscripts of Bacstrom. This guy very often did not translate the entire texts he was studying, just the parts that interested him. As a translator of German, French and Latin, however, he was pretty good, so what he translated is usually accurate (though his practical "interpretations" of the texts often leave a lot to be desired; he was a stubborn antimonialist who tried to make almost every alchemy text he read fit into such schemes.)

  4. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by JDP View Post
    The translation of 13 Secret Letters is actually quite filled with mistakes
    You may well be right about this one. I haven't read it so "deeply" as 'Old Nature Path' (although both ICH and 13 include the German version after the English translation). There was also a note somewhere on this forum that more recent editions had some of the mistakes corrected. I have purchased the first editions of the books I mentioned.

    Quote Originally Posted by JDP View Post
    As for the reason why so many of those translations in RAMS are incomplete: a great deal of them are in fact transcriptions of the surviving personal manuscripts of Bacstrom. This guy very often did not translate the entire texts he was studying, just the parts that interested him.
    Good point.

    For example, the Manly P. Hall MS collection contains a longer and seemingly more 'complete' English version of 'Chemical Moonshine' than the one in the RAMS/Bacstrom version. Possibly a different translation?

    I also discovered some translation errors in other texts, such as the "famous" Epistle of Pontanus.

    But no matter how hard we would try, something will always be "lost in translation" - and perhaps even more so with labyrinthine alchemical writing styles...

  5. #15
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    What's adding even more challenges, is that some of the German texts were previously translated from Latin...

  6. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Andro View Post
    What's adding even more challenges, is that some of the German texts were previously translated from Latin...
    I think we’ve taken a language survey before but I’d vote for taking selected Latin texts and having them translated with assistance. Problem may be in finding qualified translator(s). Setup Skype meetings 2-3 times a week to work through the translations with the translator but possibly doable. Logistics may be a bit difficult given different time zones but it could be done.

    To me this seems like a much better option than what some on this forum have done where they have had to personally pay to translate selected texts that they were interested in... That has got to be pricey but maybe worth it to them.

  7. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aham View Post
    I think we’ve taken a language survey before but I’d vote for taking selected Latin texts and having them translated with assistance. Problem may be in finding qualified translator(s). Setup Skype meetings 2-3 times a week to work through the translations with the translator but possibly doable. Logistics may be a bit difficult given different time zones but it could be done.

    To me this seems like a much better option than what some on this forum have done where they have had to personally pay to translate selected texts that they were interested in... That has got to be pricey but maybe worth it to them.
    Finding a competent Latin translator who doesn't charge you a small fortune for his services is already an extremely difficult task. It has taken me years of testing and I still haven't found one that I can say was totally satisfactory. When I need assistance in having a Latin text translated, I just go to my current German translator, who also happens to know a good deal of Latin, but it's not his "thing". But between the both of us pretty much we can handle most of the content of a given text, as long as they are not overly complex texts, like Michael Maier's, for example (you need someone very knowledgeable in Latin to fully understand that dude. The guy was a Latin Poet Laureate, and he certainly liked to brag about his Latin skills!)

    German, Greek and Arabic translators are easier to find, but the majority of them are not up to the task either. They either find the texts too difficult to handle, or see the subject as just plain "weird" and lose interest in it rather fast and end up just quitting, even if they are in fact doing a good job. In all the years I have been engaged in such projects, I have only found 3 German and 3 Arabic translators who could handle the texts, did not shy away from the subject matter, and did not overcharge for their services. Of these, 3 are still working for me (2 Arabic translators and 1 German one.) As for Greek... the total number I have found is ZERO. Apparently ancient Greek and modern Greek are significantly different enough to make it quite difficult for the average modern Greek translator to be able to satisfactorily handle ancient Greek texts. It requires a translator with deep knowledge of ancient Greek. And who doesn't overcharge. And who doesn't shy away from the subject matter and won't quit like a scared little bitch after handling just a couple or so texts.

    As for joining forces to have texts translated: I have done it before, but the projects are usually short-lived, as it is very difficult for all people involved to agree on what texts to translate. The more reduced the number of participants, the more chances that all will agree on what to translate, but the more each person will have to contribute for the translation.
    Last edited by JDP; 07-23-2018 at 02:55 AM.

  8. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Andro View Post
    Many English translations available either online or in collections such as RAMS are either inaccurate or incomplete - or both!

    Some books are a few hundred pages long in their German versions, yet the English versions are often in the 2 digit page-count region... Much of the content is simply missing!

    Other texts (so I have found) contain inaccuracies that can actually mislead the reader. I'm not talking about general grammar or misplaced commas, I'm talking about actual practical stuff that is incorrectly translated, and some of the errors may be critical for the practical experimenter.

    RAMS (for example) contains a lot of translations from German or from Latin. While the RAMS project is highly commendable for making such texts available to English speaking researchers, I now consider it to be a "half-baked" product.
    Yes, I have been translating some texts from Latin to Spanish.... and some of them have well known English versions (not necessarily in RAMS)... and those English versions are a disaster to say the least.

    -Missing paragraphs.
    -Absolutely inaccurate translations which are hard to believe (and I do not mean "small mistakes, but even the metaphors or allegories were absolute inventions of the translators.... An example that made me laugh was a line that simply said more or less: "It is complicated for a ship to arrive to its destiny if there is a strong winter storm".... the English translation said: "Only God can make a ship arrive to where it belongs"... but the whole text was like that... it was possible to read it and have an idea of what the original author was talking about, but the translation was absolutely inaccurate).

    A lot of "classics" of alchemy have very bad translations to English (also to Spanish, but most people here doesn't speak Spanish anyway).... I have noticed that this is more typical with the texts originally written in Latin.

    As the Italian phrase says: Traduttore, Traditore (Translator, traitor).

    EDIT: I do not think that the real issue is that it is hard to find a translator who ALSO knows a lot about alchemy... at least the terrible mistakes I have found didn't show to me any kind of problem with "understanding alchemy", it was simply a matter of translators who certainly have a very bad comprehension of the language they are translating...
    Probably this is because alchemy is not exactly a very popular subject, so if you get a book by Virgil, it is likely that it has a good (or at least decent) translator.... but when it is a book that will have certainly a small audience.... well, sometimes the translator has more enthusiasm than knowledge (and I mean knowledge of the language he is translating, there is no need to be a marvelous alchemist as to translate a classic)... and "hiring" someone as to translate an alchemy text and publish it is crazy (unless you don't mind losing money, but that's not what most people who publish books want... because hiring a translator is quite expensive, so it only makes sense if the book will sell a very large amount of copies).
    Last edited by zoas23; 07-23-2018 at 02:44 AM.

  9. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by JDP View Post
    As for joining forces to have texts translated: I have done it before, but the projects are usually short-lived, as it is very difficult for all people involved to agree on what texts to translate. The more reduced the number of participants, the more chances that all will agree on what to translate, but the more each person will have to contribute for the translation.
    This makes sense from the perspective that each person is on their own journey and facing their own alchemical obstacles. What one considers to be a well known fact may be a complete enigma to the next person and therefore the priorities for translation may be different.

    Translation expenses may still be shareable if we post, say 10 books on the list and have people vote for what they want translated. If we can critical mass (5?) we're good to go provided the critical mass can handle the translation expense. In most cases, I think we'll see less than 10 on the forum willing to join any given translation but I could be completely wrong. Worth a shot I think.

    What say you?

  10. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aham View Post
    This makes sense from the perspective that each person is on their own journey and facing their own alchemical obstacles. What one considers to be a well known fact may be a complete enigma to the next person and therefore the priorities for translation may be different.

    Translation expenses may still be shareable if we post, say 10 books on the list and have people vote for what they want translated. If we can critical mass (5?) we're good to go provided the critical mass can handle the translation expense. In most cases, I think we'll see less than 10 on the forum willing to join any given translation but I could be completely wrong. Worth a shot I think.

    What say you?
    Like I said, having participated in such projects many times, I know they invariably end up dissolving and most participants going their own way. A point always comes when the majority of participants simply will not agree on what exactly to translate. For example, I am not interested in "Spiritus Mundi" type of claims. Texts that deal mostly with this fantasy do not appeal to me at all, I deem them a waste of time & money, and in fact I do not even consider them "alchemical", properly, but a subset of speculative chymical texts. When dealing with what alchemical and chymical texts could be worth translating, I am interested in the ones that deal with things that are within the realm of actual empirical possibilities, not fancy theoretical phantoms that are simply impossible in actual practice. Alchemical texts by authors (like al-Iraqi, for example) who are well-aware that the "matter" of the alchemists is an artificial composite of several substances DO interest me. Now that I can certainly believe in and investigate, not invisible, intangible, elusive ghosts that no one has ever seen/touched/smelled, or equally elusive and imaginary "one matter onlies" that actually exist nowhere in nature. Those are the alchemical texts that I invest my time & money to have translated, not the obvious blind alleys that lead nowhere fast.

    As for "chymical" texts: my empirical experience on the subject allows me to often know when a given author has a lot of experience himself and knows his stuff, and when he is an inexperienced and/or credulous chump simply parroting fanciful claims and/or false processes, or is experienced but being misleading on purpose (Glauber is a great example of this last class: an excellent experimenter, no friggin' doubt about that, but at the same time a sadistic bastard who enjoyed making the average reader waste his time and money on false processes.) An author like Jugel, for example, I deem as pretty much a waste of time & money, as this guy makes a lot of absurd, outlandish claims and promotes a bunch of false processes. The author of "Alchymia Denudata", on the other side of the coin, is quite an interesting fellow, and though he also lies and exaggerates, at least he sometimes tells naked truths as well. Result:

    Jugel = NOT interesting credulous chump, his texts regarding transmutation are basically a bunch of lies and fantasies

    author of "Alchymia Denudata" = interesting experienced man, who sometimes tells naked truths

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