Sacred texts have played a significant role in the emergence and evolution of the translation field, paving the way for its establishment as a distinguished academic field replete with techniques, principles and customs.
The translation of the Bible from Greek to Latin stands out as a prime example. Since those times, modern concepts such as literal, interpretive, and semantic translations, as well as “disloyalty” and “faithfulness,” have been circulating and gaining importance. What better context to apply the terms “disloyalty” and “faithfulness” than when conveying the word of God?
In certain cases — such as the execution of Englishman William Tyndale in 1536 for his translation of the Bible into English — the appropriate term was rather “heresy.” This vague term, which was responsible for the crucifixion of thousands, equated translation with blasphemy, making them one and the same “crime.”
A decade ago, researchers Kevin Windle and Anthony Pym highlighted in an article an incident that occurred around the same time as Tyndale's execution. The incident involved the execution of Frenchman Etienne Dolet in 1545. Dolet, who believed that those who merely translated texts word for word lacked true insight, was accused of “mistranslation” of Plato's dialogues.
In one instance, Dolet reworked a passage from Plato's book into French and added the words “anything at all” — a phrase not found in the original text — writing: “After death, you will no longer be anything at all.”
This alteration was deemed heretical by religious authorities of that time, as it was interpreted as a rejection of the afterlife, resulting in Dolet's execution.
Dark Ages live on in modernity
Let's take a 550-year leap forward. As the 20th century came to a close, a tragic event unfolded. In July 1991, Hitoshi Igarashi, a Japanese researcher and translator, was brutally stabbed to death in his university office. This followed a previous attempt on his life the year before, shortly after he announced his translation of ‘The Satanic Verses’ by Salman Rushdie.
Ettore Capriolo, an Italian translator, was also targeted and stabbed in July of the same year for the same reason. These incidents draw a clear link between the dark ages of Europe and the close-mindedness of the 20th century, which had nearly claimed the life of Salman Rushdie himself not long before.
Rushdie's ‘offense’ was daring to interpret and imaginatively explore the sacred text, while Igarashi and Capriolo's offense was simply translating it. In many parts of the world, the translator is still seen as a heretic, even though they are an essential part of the process of delivering the book in the translated language without contributing to its original creation.