translating the decameron

DecameronSteve Donoghue at The Quarterly Conversation:

“Translation,” our translator tells us, “makes strangers feel familiar, but a good one should also allow us to sense something of the alien in our midst.” The care with which Rebhorn pursues this “clearly contradictory, indeed paradoxical” balance is downright charming, and it pays off: this is a Decameron at once elegant and effusive, as varied in its tones and moods as the original. It’s as bawdy and explicit as, say, Richard Aldington’s scandalous and much-maligned 1930 version; it’s as soundly researched as Nichols or McWilliam, and if it lacks the doyennish aura of command Frances Winwar was able to bring to her own 1930 translation (the only full version by a woman to date, it seems), it also lacks that version’s thee’s and thou’s, so lethal to 21st-century ears. Rebhorn’s Decameron will be the definitive one for a lifetime mainly because it manages the paradox he identifies: it sets this stranger down in our midst and proceeds to find our common dialects.

Evidence of his care and playfulness is everywhere, especially in the tell-tale details. This is amply true in such famous stories as that of the patient Griselda or the naive young woman Alibech and the randy monk Rustico (a tale so gloriously, sacrilegiously raunchy it cannot be bowdlerized and was simply omitted from many a pre-modern translation), but it also shows to keen effect in much smaller moments. Take as one example the tenth story of the third day: the Venetian cook Chichibio, in the employ of Florentine magnate Currado Gianfigliazzi, is cooking a crane in the kitchen for his master and his master’s guests when a girl he loves asks him for a thigh of the bird.

more here.