From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
17.1 (1997): 185-88.
Copyright © 1997, The Cervantes Society of America
Cervantes, Miguel de. The History of That Ingenious Gentleman Don
Quijote de La Mancha. Translated by Burton Raffel. New York: Norton,
One of the most striking and recommendable features of Burton Raffel's new translation of Don Quijote is his use of colloquial modern America English, which is not only refreshing, but perhaps will attract more (and younger)
readers to the text. This approach works particularly well in the dialogue
of Sancho Panza, which may sometimes appear to be rather stilted even
unbelievable in certain translations that use more formal language.
An excellent example is Raffel's rendering of the following passage:
I get it, said Sancho. I'll bet I should have said
rata (384), which, when compared to I see,
said Sancho. I'll bet I ought to have said rat
(The Ormsby Translation [Norton, 1981] 459) makes the latter effort appear
so formal as to seem out of character for Sancho (cf. J. M. Cohen [Penguin,
1967] 510 and Walter Starkie [Signet, 1964] 573). An interesting passage
in Raffel's work is the following remark by Sancho: if that knight
does what you ordered him to do, and goes and presents himself before Lady
Dulcinea del Toboso (49), which Ormsby translates as if the knight
has done what was commanded, presenting himself before my lady Dulcinea del
Toboso (71), and Cohen as if the knight has complied with your
orders and presented himself before my lady Dulcinea del Toboso (82).
However, Sancho seems to stiffen up a bit even in Raffel's translation, which
continues: he'll have completely discharged his debt to you
I am impressed by the format of this edition. For the most part, many notes are precisely where they should be: not at the foot of the page, but in brackets in the main body of the text. In this way, the information is where it is needed, which helps the reader to avoid the tedious and absurd tennis-match effect of eyes bouncing back and forth between the main text and footnotes. This, too may aid teachers in their (sometimes quixotic) quest to have their students read the text thoroughly.
Raffel's work is somewhat abridged, given the absence of translations of the original title pages, tables of contents, and other prefatory materials, especially the verses to Part I, which the Ormsby translation, among others, includes. This may not be problematical for some instructors, who may wish to hand out photocopies of these materials, or simply make an edition available that incorporates them.
In her Introduction to Raffel's translation, Diana de Armas Wilson writes that Raffel does not follow Golden Age transcriptions of common Arabic names, a practice now widely rejected as forming part of colonialist discourse (xv). This includes changing Cervantes's original Cide Hamete Benengeli to Sidi Hamid Benengeli. I find this change to be unfortunate, because I believe the original to have very effective rhythmic and comic qualities: to be noted are the increasing syllable count (Cide  Hamete  Benengeli ) and the musicality of the recurring es as well as the fact that all three of these words carry the accent on the penultimate syllable all of which add something special to this important name, which, in my opinion, is lost with Sidi Hamid Benengeli. It seems reasonable to assume that Cervantes deliberately crafted this name with certain rhetorical effects in mind among them, simply that it sounds funny. (Ginesillo de Parapilla, evidently, is another Quijote name that was used because of its amusing, musical nature.)
In his Translator's Note, Raffel states that his primary text has been the edition of Don Quijote by Martín de Riquer (xviii), whose rendering of the following excerpt from the well-known final paragraph of I, 8, reads:
Bien es verdad que el segundo autor desta obra no quiso creer que tan curiosa historia estuviese entregada a las leyes del olvido . . . y así . . . no se desesperó de hallar el fin desta apacible historia, el cual, el cielo siéndole favorable, le halló del modo que se contará en la segunda parte (89).
The Ormsby translation of this segment reads as follows:
It is true that the second author of this work was unwilling to believe that so interesting a history could have been allowed to lapse into oblivion . . . . Since such was his conviction, he did not despair of discovering the conclusion of this pleasant history. He did this, heaven favoring him, in a way to be related in the Second Part (64).
In their respective translations of this passage, both Cohen and Starkie retain the use of the third-person. Raffel's translation of the same text, however, erases the ambiguity of the above versions:
Now it's true that I, your second author, found it hard to believe that such a fascinating tale could have simply been consigned to the dust . . . And so, with this idea in mind, I was not without hope that I'd dig up the ending of this pleasant story, which, were the judgment of Heaven favorable, I proposed to narrate as, in fact, you may hereafter find it narrated in Part Two (43).
Even though this is the reading of this segment that I myself propose, I
believe that the ambiguity of the Spanish, which derives from the consistent
use of the third-person singular, was deliberately cultivated by Cervantes,
and my attention is drawn by its absence in Raffel's translation. The open-ended
nature of the passage has provided much room for controversy in the critical
debate concerning the identification of the narrator of Don Quijote.
(The major point of contention in this passage centers on whether or not
the third-person is self-referential.) Furthermore, the words I proposed
to narrate as, in fact, do not, strictly speaking, constitute a literal
translation of the Spanish.
There are some other minor issues. Concerning the translation from Spanish: the full title of the translation, The History of That Ingenious Gentleman, Don Quijote de la Mancha differs slightly from the Spanish, El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha Raffel preferring that to the. This is the first indication that Raffel's approach to his work would differ from that of Ormsby. I find that Raffel's translation, although accurate, tends not to be as strictly literal as that of Ormsby. The full title and the passage from I, 8, are two examples. Others include the opening of the work, En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme (35), which appears, in my opinion, a bit awkward as: In a village in La Mancha (I don't want to bother you with its name) (9). Likewise, . . . escribió su primer autor Cide Hamete Benengeli (713) is worded: written by its primal author, Sidi Hamid Benengeli (476); why primal? For: le truje a mi casa (94), which I would translate I brought him to my house, Raffel offers I carried him home with me (46). [A]lgún día será menester usar de ese conocimiento (102) is translated by Raffel as some day, we'll have use of
that knowledge (51), though a more literal translation might read:
some day it'll be necessary to use that knowledge. Raffel decides
to render puedes volver a nuestra aldea (179) as you are
free to go back to your village (104), instead of to our
village. One word, sotavento, apparently should be
leeward, not larboard, as Raffel has written it
There are some inconsistencies with spelling. For example, although, in Riquer's edition, Reinaldos is spelled only in this way, Raffel's translation offers no less than four variations: Renaldos (10, 35), Reynaldo (31), Reinaldos (358), and Reinaldo (518). Similarly, whereas Riquer's edition reads Puerto Lápice only (43, 83, 84), Raffel's contains both Blacklead Gate (14) and Lápice Pass (39,40), which might be a source of confusion for some readers. There are other inconsistencies regarding the inclusion or exclusion of accent marks: Bartolome (363), Bartolomé (422); Antonomasia (552), Antonomasía (553). Virues (34) should read Virués.
In Part I, chapter 20, Riquer's edition reads: y tornó a pasar a otra. Tenga vuestra merced cuenta en las cabras . . . (184), which Raffel punctuates rather curiously: and taking another one each time. But you'd better keep track of how many goats . . . (107). The sentence ends, and then a new sentence begins in the following manner: to tell another word. Anyway, let me go on (107). I have never encountered this use of dashes before; I am not sure why a more traditional mode of punctuation is not employed.
Relative to other translations, I find the language of Raffel's translation to be up-to-date and unaffected, which should encourage not only teachers to carefully consider it for courses in which the Quijote is required reading, but also any reader who would appreciate a good new reading of Cervantes's masterpiece. I prefer many of Raffel's renderings to those of Ormsby and others, and I plan to consult it regularly; however, due to the reasons mentioned above, I will continue to use the Ormsby translation as my principal English language edition of the Quijote.
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