The Alchemist's Lair
Thoughts on writing, language, life as a freelancer,
and what comes to mind.
and what comes to mind.
A few days ago, I translated an essay on metre in classical Roman poetry. I don’t translate these kinds of texts as often as I used to, but linguistics is still one of my favourite knowledge areas.
Halfway between Catullus and Horace, sweet 'n' sour memories of my first translation project emerged. A few minutes later, I caught myself smiling at my younger self.
Back to the roots
It happened in the late 90s.
That is, in a wibbly wobbly timey wimey bubble known as “early adulthood”.
Young and enthusiastic, I accepted what turned to be an exciting (and exhausting) couple of months’ work: the translation (German to Italian) of 150 pages of essays and papers on the lives and works of Greek and Roman poets.
Now, picture this.
You’re a bookworm living in flannel shirts and blue jeans.
Your life is relatively simple … until you dive into Greek and Roman satirical poetry.
Believe me, it’s a life-changing experience.
One of the main perks? You discover some of the most delicate verses you’ll ever get to read – just like these:
“Rumor has it, Chiona, that you are a virgin,
Oh, wait: here comes the first translation problem too.
The essays were in German, and so were the samples. The client needed them in Italian, of course … and wanted me to refer to a specific published translation for that.
The solution? If you’re thinking of Google Books, you’re getting this wrong.
Remember: we’re in the Nineties.
The Internet is still a new deal, which comes with a weird and creepy sound.
So I borrowed a few monster-size books (parallel text) from the library.
One for each author referenced in the essays.
Every time a quote popped up (and there were dozens), I needed to browse the gargantuan reference text to find the relevant verses. Good luck with that.
Second translation problem: in academic writing, convoluted sentences were considered top of the crop – a pretty good challenge in themselves, not to mention the intricate topic.
Fortunately, the technical information and jargon were not an issue.
However, the extreme love Germans have for compound words often got me thrills and chills. When paper dictionaries and prayers didn’t help with a term, it was time to “look it up on the Internet” (Google wasn’t a verb yet).
You know, Latin poets knew how to get naughty.
Especially when questioning politics and morals.
As a result, Internet search with less refined engines sometimes led to unexpected and embarrassing results. You see, those poets often indulged in jokes and references to intimate parts of the body – enough said.
When I handed down the floppy disk (!) to the proofreader over 2 months later, it felt like heaven and hell. I was worn out, thrilled, and glowing all at once. When the text came back a couple weeks later, the feedback was good and everyone was happy ...
… and yet, I've skipped Martialis' work for quite a bit after that translation.
Things that changed, things I (kinda) miss
As my younger self smiled back at me, I realised what a long strange trip it's been.
Nowadays, modems and routers are less noisy, and the quantity of information available in a few clicks is mind-blowing. Terminology search and reference cross-checking have become more convenient, and almost stress-free.
Honestly, I wouldn't go back to translating like it's 1999. The tools and resources we use every day have made a translator's life easier, more productive, and even more social.
And yet I kinda miss those early days. Back then, doing business often meant enjoying a quick business chat ... over a nice cup of coffee. In real life, not on Instagram.
Also, I dearly miss the monumental reference books from the library.
Indulging in leisure reading about composition and rhetorics helped me develop a critical eye for reading - and literally turned into gold for my future copywriting business too.
Plus, I indeed discovered exquisite verses and writers.
An addiction was born.
What about YOU?
How was your first translation project like? Was it scary, exciting, the time of your life?
Did it leave you hungry for more, or you just thought "why the h**l I did this"?
Be brave! Share your experience in the comments below, on your blog, or via your favourite social channel. Join this trip down Memory Lane with #myfirstxl8 – I’m looking forward to reading your stories!