Re: Untranslatable Texts

From: Micheal Palmer (
Date: Fri May 23 1997 - 02:24:38 EDT

At 5:27 PM -0400 5/22/97, Carl W. Conrad wrote:
>At 5:51 PM -0400 5/22/97, Will Wagers wrote:
>>Dear B-Greeks,
>>I am collecting a list of "untranslatable" texts (in any language) for
>>the Hyperliteral Page. If you have a favorite untranslatable text,
>>please give me the reference and the nature of and reason for its
>My colleague at Washington U, Merritt Sale, insists that Epicurus (we have
>relatively little--three letters and some aphorisms) is untranslatable
>because it is impossible to be clear at several points on exactly what he
>is saying in the Greek or what it means. My own favorite untranslatables
>are Thucydides (the speeches rather than the expository prose or narrative)
>and Aeschylus (esp.the Agamemnon). I think these are also the most
>difficult prose and poetry, respectively (add Pindar's epinician odes to
>the poetry) extant. What makes them especially difficult is syntax strained
>creatively to achieve fascinating ambiguities that one dare not (or so it
>seems to me) resolve the issue by deciding for a single one of multiple
>possible interpretations. The more I think about it, I believe there are
>some passages of Paul in the NT like this too, a couple of them recently
>under discussion, like Rom 8:1-4 or 7:1-6--and others will have their
>"favorites" too, no doubt.

Am I to take it, then, that 'untranslatable' means roughly,
'incomprehensible'? Or are we talking about texts which are merely
difficult to translate (i.e. that require us to use different grammatical
forms, perhaps even two clauses where there is only one in the original

I am legitmately puzzled by the use of 'untranslatable.' I don't think I've
ever seen an untranslatable text. I've seen plenty that were very
difficult, and I've done translations which I later felt were terribly
inadequate. But I've never encountered a text that I could understand, but
could not put into English (or Spanish) in at least some way.

Micheal W. Palmer
Religion & Philosophy
Meredith College

Visit the Greek Language and Linguistics Gateway at

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:38:16 EDT