Tuesday, January 06, 2009

babble from Babel 6

Here is the second half of Gen. 11:3 in several different forms.

נִלְבְּנָה לְבֵנִים‏
niləbənâ ləḇēnîm ‏‏
let us make bricks,

‎ ‏‏ וְנִשְׂרְפָה לִשְׂרֵפָה
wəniśərəfâ liśərēfâ
and burn them thoroughly

הַלְּבֵנָה לְאָבֶן
halləḇēnâ lə’āḇen
brick for stone

וְהַחֵמָר לַחֹמֶר
wəhaḥēmār laḥōmer:
and slime for mortar

In these four lines the second proposition repeats the sounds of the first one. The first two times this is achieved by using a cognate word, a related word, really a different form of the first word. In the third line, the two words are not related semantically but are still similar in sound. In the fourth line, the words are once again related.

Four lines each having a repeated set of sounds, creates the "babel" or "babble" of the people talking, the meaninglessness of the yammering, the repetitive nature of this talk, whose goal was to promote the building of a city and a tower. No wonder God broke it up and dispersed these people.

Let's try this. (linking words are omitted with the readers indulgence.

bake ourselves bricks
fire them with fire
brick for block
bitumen for bond

Now you get the some rhythm, some babble. Let's see how the translators dealt with this.

πλινθεύσωμεν πλίνθους
ὀπτήσωμεν αὐτὰς πυρί
ἡ πλίνθος εἰς λίθον
ἄσφαλτος ὁ πηλός

In the Septuagint there was clearly an attempt to maintain the alliterative aspect of this speech.

faciamus lateres,
coquamus eos igni.
lateres pro saxis
bitumen pro cæmento Vulgate

faciamus lateres,
igni coquamus
lateres vice lapidum
bitumen vice cæmento Pagnini

Pagnini makes only one revision from the Vulgate replacing saxis with lapidum. However he does this in order to create an additional alliteration. It appears to be deliberate.

Gen. 11:3 is one of the most evocative verses of the Bible.

They spoke,
person to the one next,
let us
bake ourselves bricks
fire them with fire
brick for block
and bitumen for bond

Here we have one of the most important propositions of the bible, that each of us is in reciprocal relations with our next one. Here we also have one of the most alliterative utterances of the bible, brick for block.

What a perfect presentation of precept and pleasure..... But what happens next?


Jane said...

These posts on Babel have been brilliant - thank you! Long may it snow and keep you blogging!

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Thank you, Jane. I am enjoying this writing very much.

J. K. Gayle said...

Wow, what wonderful work: word weavings! What will happen next? Dittos on what Jane says!

Have you noticed that Julia Evelina Smith (barred from translating with men but insisting and demonstrating she could translate as well) has this "literal" translation, an alliterative, repetitive English translation nonethless:

"And they shall say a man to his neighbor,
Come, we will make bricks,
and we shall burn to a burning,
and brick shall be to them for stone,
and potter's clay shall be to them for potter's clay."

Contrast the (woman-translator excluding) Revised Version:

"And they said one to another,
Go to, let us make brick,
and burn them thoroughly.
And they had brick for stone,
and slime had they for mortar."

Which is the better Bible?