Studia Swedenborgiana

Vol. 8 May,  1994 Number 4 

Boundaries, Looks and Style: Overlooked Aspects of Faithful Translation

by Jonathan S. Rose


An assumption underlying what I have to say this afternoon is that good translation aims to be faithful. By my definition, to translate faithfully is to recreate for the reader in a modern way the experience a Latin reader of the eighteenth century would have had reading Swedenborg's original texts. To put it another way, a translated edition should not keep from its reader any significant aspects of the experience of reading the original. Thus a translation will ideally convey from Swedenborg's world to ours both the intellectual content and the visceral experience of reading his first editions. I am not concerned here with whether the intellectual content has been adequately conveyed by prior translations. I wish to focus instead on three aspects of the visceral impact that have too often been overlooked: I call them issues of boundaries, looks and style.


I would like a new library edition of the theological writings to preserve, or rather restore, the distinction between the two main categories of Swedenborg's theological legacy: the published and the unpublished. Since becoming immersed in the world of classical Greek and Latin I have grown to appreciate the simple condition of Swedenborg's works. There are no second and third editions. With the exception of Apocalypse Explained, there are no multiple manuscripts of the same work that disagree with each other. There are simply two categories of works: either Swedenborg published the work or he did not. With the exception of volumes 2 through 8 of Arcana Coelestia there is never a manuscript and a printed edition of the same work.

Although I get such requests as Curator of the Swedenborgiana Library, one cannot look up what it says in the manuscript of Heaven and Hell number 258. This simplicity seems to have been deliberate on Swedenborg's part. We do not have the manuscripts of most of the published works because they were apparently destroyed upon publication. Swedenborg left us with the simplest tradition possible뾞 remarkably clear and straightforward body of work.

As all of you know who have worked with them, each of the two original forms of Swedenborg's writings뾲he published quarto volumes and the tall manuscripts뾟y nature never lets you forget which form it is. For one thing, the distinction in legibility is striking. A number of times I have conducted a little field experiment. I get a group of people with no Latin to copy a sentence from a published work and another sentence from an unpublished work. Their transcriptions, as you can imagine, are about 98% accurate for the published works, and 0% accurate for the unpublished works. If all New Church Latinists died at once, people with no Latin at all could accurately transcribe the published works. But the posthumous works are vulnerable. Very few people on earth are able to read them well; lay people would be unable to transcribe them.

For another thing, the posthumous works are all incomplete or organizationally flawed in one way or another. The reader of the manuscripts is constantly reminded that he or she is dealing with a work in progress, often full of scratchings out, sometimes with whole changes in method and direction. The posthumous works generally lack titles and their beginnings and endings are sometimes hard to locate. The difference between reading a manuscript and a first edition is strikingly obvious.

This distinction is all but lost on the English readers of the existing standard edition. Although some posthumous works are gathered in a two-volume set with the title Posthumous Theological Works, and the word posthumous appears in miniscule type on the title page of Apocalypse Explained, the reader can easily forget the distinction. The posthumous works have been edited and transcribed, translated and published in books with exactly the same typeface, font, size, leading, margins, type and color of binding as the published works. Sometimes published and posthumous works have been bound together in the same volume, with perhaps a word or two buried in a preface to signal the reader of the distinction. This did not begin with English publication. Within a mere decade of Swedenborg's death Hindmarsh used the same printing houses, the same font, typeface, margins and leading to publish posthumous works like the Hieroglyphic Key and bind them in the same volume with a first edition. This has caused confusion about what was published and what was not even for people as educated as previous Swedenborgiana librarians, who placed such volumes beside genuine first editions.

The erasure of the distinction between posthumous and published has confused more than librarians. If you tested New Church people, I wonder how many of them would be able to pass a "published vs. posthumous" quiz? A minister I know who read from Brief Exposition in the Bryn Athyn Cathedral was accosted by a lay person for reading a posthumous work like that from the pulpit. Brief Exposition is a published work, and that person was an unusually confident although mistaken lay person. I wonder how many people, as they read the Doctrine of Charity, realize that it is actually two incomplete versions of the same thing back to back. The publication's look of perfection tells them they are reading a finished work like Heaven and Hell. In many cases, just giving an unpublished work a title, a beginning and an ending creates something of a false impression. In the manuscript volumes, there are no tight boundaries around posthumous works. This Bible index entry is followed by that paragraph intended as part of the Spiritual Experiences, and sits next to a list of things to take to England and a projection of the cost of room and board.

Identical printing of published and posthumous works has deprived English readers of the awareness of the true nature of what they are reading. It has given an artificial gloss to rough works in transition. Therefore I would like to see a library edition somehow restore to the English reader the distinction between posthumous and published works. For one thing, no published and posthumous works should be bound in the same volume with each other. Then, to signal the reader, the posthumous works should be bound in a different color, clearly labeled as posthumous works on the spines and title pages, and kept separately from the published works in such a way that you have all the published works, then all the posthumous ones.

I have found more and more that the sequence of Swedenborg's publication, I.e., the date of the originals, is significant. I would like a new library edition to be arranged in chronological order, with only smaller works that were produced at more or less the same time housed in one volume. There are developments over the course of his work that are important.

A smaller issue of boundaries, but still an important one to me, is to preserve a distinction between what is in Swedenborg's original volume and what we have added. I believe in learned prefaces and indexes, and I support this approach to a new library edition. I would like the new edition to do as Dr. J. Durban Odhner's Experientiae Spirituales has done in using font type and size as well as brackets to communicate what translators and editors have added, so that one can readily see what was original to the work. The proper scholarly approach in my opinion would be to include everything that Swedenborg included in a published work, such as his indexes of memorable relations. It is somewhat shocking that Swedenborg's very important list of his own works at the back of De Amore Conjugiali is not reproduced in most English translations. Let us include all of what Swedenborg included in his first edition, and clearly demarcate what we have added.


In this section I am not going to give specific recommendations of typefaces, fonts or margins, but instead to address the effects of physical beauty as an aspect of faithful translation. Here I focus on the published theological works. As I have shown many of my classes at the Academy of the New Church College, the visceral experience of handling an original published edition of Swedenborg is starkly different from handling the existing standard English edition. My students have been amazed and astounded at the difference. In Apocalypse Revealed for example, the original title page has a large, beautiful graphic on it, with generous blank paper and a handsome font. The beginning of the preface has a large decorated letter; the beginning of the text proper has a full-width decorative bar across the top; and throughout the text there are curlecues and coronises, fancy asterisks and decorations. The margins are generous, the font pleasant and easily readable, and there are breaks and demarcations that tell what portion of the text one is in. The laid paper is substantial and aesthetically pleasing, and the book has an overall heft, quality and beauty that combine with the intellectual content to create in the reader a sense of joy.

The standard edition on the other hand lacks graphical ornamentation of any kind, has a crowded unpleasant title page, miserly margins, packed pages, a bland font, no spacing or demarcation between different categories of text, and the overall look and impression of a long-winded reference work. The intellectual content has been represented to the English reader with some degree of success, but the joy and awe one feels in holding and reading the original has been lost in the transition. I would recommend that a library edition include graphics and an overall beauty that would be as pleasing and dignified to the modern reader as the originals were to the eighteenth century readership.


The last aspect on which I wish to dwell is that of style. There seems to exist a view that Swedenborg's theological Latin has no style, and therefore the translators can cast their translations in whatever English style seems most appropriate to them and/or their employers. There has been much debate about whether the translations should be readable or not, without to my knowledge asking whether the original was readable or not. For a truly faithful translation, however, better questions would surely be these: Is the original formal or colloquial? Is it poetical or prosaic? Is it lively and interesting, or dull and boring? Does its style change from one book to the next? From chapter to memorable relation? From one paragraph or even sentence to the next? How can we reproduce the style of the original in our translations?

Swedenborg has style, or rather a variety of styles. A faithful translation will, in my view, attempt to craft an equivalent style in the target language. I was at first a little timid to peek into the Latin of Swedenborg's writings, fearing that they would be duller and more difficult than the English standard translations. I have been overjoyed to find that Swedenborg's original Latin is generally clear and lucid, often lively, colorful and vivid, and shows a great variety of styles.

A feature of Swedenborg's Latin that is strikingly absent from English translations is his poetical turns of phrase. Swedenborg started out his publishing life as a poet, and the farther he went into the theological period the more poetical his prose became. For example, analogies start to surface in Divine Providence. Shortly thereafter memorable relations begin, which are lively narratives with a greater amount of concrete vocabulary and action than elsewhere. Finally in True Christian Religion, Swedenborg's last and crowning published work, there are memorable relations in quantity, and analogies in great abundance뾬ne for every page of the Latin text on average, and sometimes as many as fifteen analogies in a row to illustrate a single point. The memorable relations and analogies are supplemented by five other types of imagery that I outline briefly in my paper for the proceedings of the eighth congress of the International Association for Neo-Latin Studies, now in publication. Swedenborg's poeticisms seem not to have been noticed by many translators of the past; they are rendered in much the same English style as the expository text.

I have the impression, though I may be wrong, that such translators tend to take Swedenborg's Latin word as a given, and then find anywhere from one to five or six English words or phrases that could translate it. The translator chooses one of those equivalents on the basis of his or her target style. This method of translating, however, may overlook the fact that the Latin word or phrase was itself one of several possibilities. Swedenborg arrived at that expression by choosing from a range of possible words or phrases on the basis of his target style. If the translator can develop a sense of the choices Swedenborg made in composing a given passage, he or she can be guided thereby in the choice of English renditions.

One prominent issue of style is whether the sentences are hypotactic or paratactic. Parataxis places clauses side by side, connected by et, ac, tum and the like, with indicative verbs. It is a typical story-telling mode: "He went home, and he found a bucket and a sponge and he cleaned the floor." Hypotaxis, on the other hand, is the subordination of clauses using relative pronouns, more sophisticated conjunctions, and more verbs in the subjunctive mood. To give an exaggerated example: "That the main sentence, which when being parsed is still not able to be found, can frustrate the grammar student is clearly evident." The style of the memorable relations is generally paratactic, the expository text hypotactic.

The memorable relations also contain much dialog. Someone once asked why the angels all sound like Swedenborg! The real answer is bad translation. The spoken words and the narrative in the memorable relations show a great variety of styles. To illustrate this variety of styles I will use a passage I came across in a leisurely reading of the facsimile edition of De Amore Conjugiali. The passage is a long memorable relation concerning nine small groups of wise spirits from different countries on the subject of the origins of married love and male sexual potency.

In the paratactic or narrative style of the memorable relations, the nouns tend to be more concrete and the verbs more active. For example, at one point in the passage at hand Swedenborg describes the action of the memorable relation. I have underlined the eleven finite verbs in this paragraph. They are all indicative main verbs. There is no hypotaxis at all.

His dictis Angelus abivit, et dixit, "redibo;" et tunc quinque Populares in quovis Conclavio ad fenestras, edictum illud versabant, dispiciebant, et secundum praestantiam dotum suorum judiciorum decernebant, chartis inscribebant, subscripta litera initiali sui Regni, et in argenteum Cavum immittebant. His post trihorium peractis, redibat Angelus, et ex Urna eduxit chartas ordine, et legit coram Congregatis.

Having said this the angel went away and said, "I will return;" and then the five fellow countrymen in each alcove by the windows considered the angel's edict, analyzed it, and according to the excellence of their gifts of judgment came to a decision, wrote their decision on paper, signed with their country's initial, and put it into the silver bowl. Three hours later with this all completed, the angel returned and took the papers out one after the other and read them before the whole group.

This "blow by blow" style is noticeably different from the ensuing reports given by the different nationalities, each of which has its own distinct style. I want to contrast in particular the statements by the English and the Danes. Note all the lists, here in bold italics, in the verdict of the English, and its breathless opening sentence 109 words in length:

Et momento extraxit Quartam, e qua legit haec: "Nos populares sub nostra Fenestra decrevimus, quod origo Amoris conjugialis et amoris sexus sit eadem, quia ex hoc ille est; modo quod amor sexus sit illimitatus, interminatus, solutus, promiscuus, et vagus, at Amor conjugialis limitatus, determinatus, constrictus, certus et constans; et quod hic amor ideo a prudentia sapientiae humanae sancitus et constabilitus sit, quia alioquin non foret imperium, non regnum, non respublica, imo non societas, sed homines ut catervae et catervae vagarentur in campis et sylvis cum scortis et foeminis raptis, ac fugerent a sede in sedem ad evitandum cruentas caedes, violationes et rapinas, per quas universum genus humanum exstirpatum iret; hoc nostrum judicium est de origine Amoris conjugialis. At Virtutem seu potentiam Amoris conjugialis educimus ex sanitate corporis continue perstante a partu ad senectam; homo enim continue sospes et stabili potitus valetudine non deficitur vigore; ejus fibrae, nervi, musculi, cremasteres, non torpescunt, relaxantur, et flaccescunt, sed permanent in robore virium suarum; valete.

In a moment he pulled out a fourth piece of paper, from which he read the following: "We, the countrymen under this window, have decided that the origin of married love is the same as the origin of love for the opposite sex, because the former comes from the latter; only love for the opposite sex is unlimited, unfocused, dissolute, promiscuous and fickle, but married love is limited, focused, restricted, fixed and constant; and therefore married love has been sanctioned and established by the prudence of human wisdom, because otherwise there would be no empire, no kingdom, no republic, indeed no community, but people would wander like herds and herds in fields and forests with whores and kidnapped women, and be on the run from place to place to avoid the gory slaughter, violence and plundering that would eventually uproot the entire human race; this is our judgment on the origin of married love. But the male sexual potency of married love, this we attribute to physical health persisting continually from birth to old age; for a man who remains uninjured and has stable health does not lack for vigor; his fibers, nerves, muscles, testicular muscles, do not become dysfunctional, loose and flaccid, but remain in the strength of their forces; how are you!"

The final clause of a single Latin word is a witty pun that seems to me an intentionally amusing closure to two matter-of-fact yet at the same time baroque and lengthy sentences.

Very different is the lofty classical tone of the Danish report.

Vice Octava exivit charta, ex qua legit haec: "Nos populares in nostro Conventu non invenimus ipsam originem Amoris conjugialis, quia illa in sacrariis mentis latet intime reposta; consummatissima sapientia ne quidem aliquo radio intellectus potest illum amorem in origine sua attingere; divinavimus multa, sed post subtilitates inaniter agitatas, non scivimus an nugas vel an judicia augurati simus; quare qui originem illius amoris vult e sacrariis mentis educere, et dare sibi in conspectum, adeat Delphos. Nos contemplati sumus amorem illum infra originem suam, quod sit spiritualis in mentibus, et ibi sicut fons venae dulcis, ex quo defluit in pectus, ubi fit jucundus, et vocatur amor pectoralis, qui in se spectatus est plenus amicitia, et plenus confidentia ex plena inclinatione ad mutuum; et quod ille dum pertransiit pectus fiat amor genitalis: haec et similia cum Ephebus cogitationibus suis volvit, quod facit cum ex sexu sibi praeoptat unam, accendunt in corde ignem amoris conjugialis, qui ignis, quia est primitivus illius amoris, est origo ejus. Originem Virtutis seu potentiae non aliam agnoscimus, quam ipsum illum amorem, sunt enim individui comites, sed usque tales, ut quandoque unus praecedat, et quandoque alter; dum amor praecedit, ac virtus seu potentia illum sequitur, est uterque nobilis, quia potentia tunc est virtus amoris conjugialis; at si potentia praecedit et amor sequitur, tunc est uterque ignobilis, quia amor tunc est potentiae carnalis; nos itaque ex ordine, in quo amor descendit aut ascendit, et sic a sua origine ad metam progreditur, qualitatem utriusque judicamus."

In turn, the eighth piece of paper came out, from which the angel read the following: "We, the fellow countrymen of this conclave, have not discovered the origin itself of married love, because this lies deeply enshrouded in the sanctuaries of the mind; the most consummate wisdom could not touch that love in its origin with even a ray of comprehension. Many things we did divine, but after fruitlessly ventilating the fine points we could not tell whether we had presaged useless nonsense or sound judgments; wherefore one who wishes to draw the origin of that love forth from the sanctuaries of the mind and give it to oneself for inspection should go to the oracle of Delphi. Our contemplation of married love downstream from its origin led us to conclude that at the level of the mind it is spiritual, and is like the spring of a sweet rivulet there; from there it flows down into the chest where it becomes delightful and is called the love in one's breast. In and of itself such love is full of friendliness and trust from the partners' fully turning towards each other. And when it has passed through the chest it becomes genital love. These and other such attributes, when a jeune homme turns them over in his thoughts, as he does when he preopts for himself a single member of the opposite sex, kindle in his heart the fire of married love, and this fire, because it is the first appearance of that love, is its origin. We acknowledge the same love to be the source of male sexual potency, for love and potency are companions to each other, although sometimes the one leads and sometimes the other. When love leads and sexual potency follows both are noble, because in this case the potency is a result of married love; but if sexual potency leads and love follows both are ignoble, because in that case the love is a result of the physical possibility; we therefore, from the sequence in which the love either descends or ascends and so progresses from its origin to the goal post, determine the nature of each."

Elements that contribute to the overall elevation of style are as follows: the reference to sacrariis mentis (sanctuaries of the mind), the poetical contraction reposta for reposita (as English poetry will have ne'er for never) whose uncontracted form Swedenborg uses 70 times but this poetical contracted form only 4 other times, always in the context of a memorable relation and/or heightened imagery; the reference to Delphi; the verbose phrase dare sibi in conspectum (give to oneself for inspection); the rather flowery fons venae dulcis (spring of a sweet rivulet); the presence of the unusual Grecism Ephebus (a term for an eighteen to twenty year old male that Swedenborg uses only three times elsewhere), the fancy word praeoptat (which is used only here in all Swedenborg's theological writings), and the vivid classical phrase ad metam (to the cone-shaped turning-post of a race track, the furthest goal of the race). Note too the word order; for instance to convey the idea that this is their judgment, this group stretched the entire predicate between nos and judicamus in a considerably elevated statement ending in three words of four syllables each with the accent always on the penultimate syllable:

nos itaque ex ordine, in quo amor descendit aut ascendit, et sic a sua origine ad metam progreditur, qualitatem utriusque judicamus.

we therefore, from the sequence in which the love either descends or ascends and so progresses from its origin to the goal post, determine the nature of each.

In contrast, the previously quoted group made the same point by flatly stating,

hoc nostrum judicium est de origine Amoris conjugialis.

this is our judgment on the origin of married love.

These spirits, at least, do not all sound like Swedenborg. Although their statements were made in some heavenly language, these Latin words were chosen to represent them. The fact that poeticisms and Greek loan words were chosen over viable Latin alternatives reflects a definite style, which, to be stylistically faithful, the translator should attempt to reproduce in the target language.

In the interests of time I will limit myself to one other example, although I have a number of them that I would be happy to discuss with you individually if you wish. My last example is from True Christian Religion. There, those who believe Jesus is only the son of Mary are likened to people whose home-made boat comes apart at sea:

Assimilari etiam possunt illis, qui naviculam contexunt ex juncis et cannis, et conglutinant illam pice, ut cohaereat, et super illa se immittunt in pelagum, sed quod ibi conglutinatio picea solvatur, et illi suffocati aquis pelagi absorbeantur, et in fundo ejus sepeliantur. (342)

They can also be compared to people who weave a little boat out of reeds and canes and glue it together with pitch so it sticks, and in it they launch out upon the brine; but there the pitch-glue dissolves, and drowning in the billows of the sea they sink and are swallowed up and buried in its deep.

Here the style is paratactic and the tone is poetical. Most notably, the poetical Greek loan word pelagum is used for the sea instead of mare, and the people are said to be lost "in its deep." Faithful stylistic translation would here use words and phrases from a comparably poetical English tradition, such as "brine" for pelagum.

In conclusion, true faithfulness in translation will be approached when we produce translations of Swedenborg that communicate the distinctions between published and posthumous works, the graphics and general publishing aesthetic of the originals, and an English style or styles that reflect the color, variety and lucidity of the original. It would gladden my heart to see the proposed new library edition take significant steps in this direction.