ἐὰν γὰρ καὶ πορευθῶ
ἐν μέσῳ σκιᾶς θανάτου
οὐ φοβηθήσομαι κακά
ὅτι σὺ μετ᾽ ἐμοῦ
Dad undergoes his radiation therapy this morning to arrest the growth of inoperable, nonresectable, uncurable cancer tumors. I’ve been working on memorizing John Radcliffe’s rendering of the 23rd Psalm. His words bring my family and me a measure of comfort; but I often wonder how translators conceive of words. When John came to the Hebrew word צַלְמָוֶת (tsalmaveth), he rendered it “dark”. I could ask him what he, the author and the translator, meant by that English word; he would tell me all he thought and remembered he intended. But, pardon my pun, the word “dark” has various shades, non-colorful shades of meaning for me. Does that change when I hear the context?
“And even if that way is dark
… – as dark as death can be,
I need not fear I’ll come to grief,
… because he comes with me.”
And I so enjoy the Greek translation presumably by Jews in Alexandria, Egypt, a city established in the name of the conqueror Alexander the Great. Alexander accomplished his teacher Aristotle’s wish for worldwide Greek politics based on his teacher Plato’s ideal Republic, to spite the poets who used ambiguities to misguide the peoples, allegedly.
The poetic Greek work that the LXX translators use for the Hebrew word John makes “dark” is σκιᾶς (skias). Don’t know what you make of that, but at least one of us has wondered whether it meant what the poet Pindar intended it to be.
In the title and a line of one of his poems, he wrote:
σκιᾶς ὄναρ ἄνθρωπος
What does that mean, and what to you? “a shade of a dream of a human” perhaps? The ambiguities make for shades of darkness, for us humans.
Scholar Anne Lebeck says,
The philologist should not restrict himself to a single interpretation of such passages but should give free rein to all possibilities and associations, ultimately selecting as many as form part of a larger pattern and contribute to the meaning of the total work. The linguistic devices by which ambiguity is effected should be analyzed and the significance of the passage then interpreted in the light of its obscurity.
I really like what Lebeck says and sees because she allows for us humans to hear and view language in multiple dimensionality. We may find profound comfort in some of it. What might you think?