Monday, March 29, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
Nina Mindt, Manfred Fuhrmann als Vermittler der Antike: ein Beitrag zu Theorie und Praxis des Übersetzens. Transformationen der Antike, Bd. 5. Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2008. Pp. viii, 203. ISBN 9783110203646. $93.00.
Reviewed by Ioana Claudia Popa, Eduard Nebelthau Grammar School, Bremen-Lesum, Germany

The purpose of this book is the correct placement of Manfred Fuhrmann within the German translation tradition and the just appreciation of his contribution to general translation theory based on the close examination of his work.

Manfred Fuhrmann (1925-2005) is the author of seven volumes containing the translation of all Ciceronian speeches. He also translated Greek tragedies, prose, Christian literature, Tacitus, Aristotle, etc. Beside this, he has repeatedly reflected upon his own translations, considering also theoretical issues regarding the translation of ancient literature in general.

The most important part of Fuhrmann's theoretical views on translation is found in his lectures. According to him, the history of translation of classical works into German has been neglected, especially that of Latin literature. Classical philology in German-speaking countries has started only quite recently to relate to general translation theory and practice. As a result, Mindt finds it necessary to evaluate Fuhrmann's work both in the context of general translation theory and from the point of view of translation practice.

The book has three main parts: Fuhrmann in the context of translation theory (his statements on translation in general, his views regarding its history and criticism as well as Fuhrmann's own translation "norms"), his translation work, and, as a conclusion, his place in the field of translation.

1. Fuhrmann in the context of translation theory

A. Fuhrmann's statements on translation

In his work Neue Übersetzungen? (1985), Fuhrmann showed that in Goethe's time, the norms for translating contemporary and ancient literature were quite distinct, and that this distinction is still valid today. This view is not shared by Fuhrmann out of his fundamental belief that the translation of ancient texts should follow the principles of general translation theory. According to it, the ideal translation should be accurate, reproducing as exactly as possible the meaning of the source text; natural, using natural forms of the target (or receptor) language in a way that is appropriate to the kind of text being translated, and also communicative, expressing all aspects of the meaning in a way that is readily understandable to the intended audience.1

The vocabulary of ancient languages reflects a cultural context that modern Europe left behind a long time ago. Ancient texts describe a completely different life, a fact that poses serious problems to translators and also to readers, especially to those who did not have the chance to receive a classical education. Beside this, new translations of classical authors have become necessary due to modifications of the target languages along time.

B. Fuhrmann's views on translation history and criticism

Fuhrmann is also the author of analyses of translation history and criticism, specificially his commentaries on the translations of Christoph Martin Wieland, Schiller, and Goethe. While discussing Fuhrmann's research, Mindt outlines in parallel a brief history of the translation of classical works into German. Fuhrmann himself studied the translation tradition beginning with antiquity, and Mindt believes he had good reasons in doing so, for the development of Latin literature was influenced by translations from Greek. Mindt highlights the great importance of Cicero in the tradition of translation. Cicero was the one who gave the term interpres a negative connotation, regarding it as the opposite of the literary-oriented translator (word-by-word versus artistic translation).2

Speaking about translation in the 18th century, Mindt refers mainly to the views of Wieland, whose ideas on translation were highly appreciated by Fuhrmann. Wieland believed that the main barrier in translation is represented by the differences in the various language systems, each with its different nature and 'spirit', but he considered this barrier surmountable. It was Wieland, who transformed the hexameter of Horace's satires into the German iambus, thus aiming towards the equivalence of reception, which is one of the precepts of modern translation theory. A translation that respects this principle is one in which the translator manages to find the middle path between the source language and the target language by respecting their grammar rules and 'spirit', while reproducing the style of the source text as much as possible.

In the chapter concerning the beginning of the 19th century, Mindt analyzes the views of Goethe, Humboldt, Schleiermacher, and Voss, and at the same time Fuhrmann's reading of them. This double undertaking and the fact that there is no clear separation among the four authors make this section hard to follow. The chapter referring to Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff3 is systematic and clear. His views are also part of the modernizing wave in the context of translation theory.

In his work Von Wieland bis Voss (1987), Fuhrmann examines the evidence in order to prove his hypothesis that there was a turning point in translation history at the beginning of the 19th century. This turning point is represented by the emphasis on the preservation of the foreign character of the source text and the diminishing attention paid to idiom and grammatical correctness of the target language.

Fuhrmann asserts that the science of translation was born in the middle of the 20th century. In his discussions of this topic he remarks, with regret, that classical philologists are quite reticent on the topic of contemporary translation theory. There is no systematic and general theory of translation, in part because of the great variety of literary genres and subgenres.

The most vivid debate and, at the same time, the best review of scientific discussions on translation between 1950 and the mid-seventies belongs to Rainer Nickel.4 Fuhrmann maintained that the vast majority of translators of ancient texts, whether they are writers or classical philologists, pay no notice to this debate.

According to Fuhrmann, Wolfgang Schadewaldt played a crucial part in the debate on translation during the 20th century. He defined another type of translation of ancient literature, the documentary one (dokumentarische Übersetzung).5 This "documentary translation" aims not only to approach the ways of feeling and thinking of the foreign author, but also to assimilate them in order to extend and enrich the reader's experience. It is opposed to "transposing translation" ("das transponierende Übersetzen"), which means translating in the narrow sense, without respecting the particularities of the national and personal features of the foreign author, by giving his work the patterns of the usual terms and expectations of our linguistic and poetic conventions.

Mindt points out some resemblances between the theories of Fuhrmann and Schadewaldt, the most important of which is the analogy between the dichotomies of source language versus target language-oriented translation (Fuhrmann) and documentary versus transposing translation (Schadewaldt).

C. Fuhrmann's own translation "norms"

Grammar and style are the two levels of language; the former is determined by compulsory rules ("zwingende Regeln"), the latter is shaped by the rules of the good style ("Regeln des guten Stils"). According to Mindt, it was exactly this distinction that Fuhrmann took as a starting point when he formulated his concepts of source language versus target language-oriented translation. He distinguished three categories of licence: at the level of syntax, word order, and choice of word types and phraseology.

Fuhrmann differentiates between the "normal", the "rhetorical", and the "poetic" style, based on the stylistic analysis of the original text. The texts belonging to the "normal" style (prose) have a conventional particularity, and their most important aspect is content. In this case, the appropriate translation is the target language-oriented one, except for philosophical texts or those containing many special terms, in which situations the better approach is the source language-oriented translation, for it eases the reader's work through these texts.

Fuhrmann's "rhetorical style" corresponds to artistic prose, for which he recommends only source language-oriented translations that preserve as much as possible the means of expression of the original text. The translator should not annihilate the artistic particularity of the text, thus reducing the translation to the reproduction of the text's content.

Fuhrmann formulates no rules for the translation of texts written in the poetic style. He remarks that every translator points out a different aspect of the original. Probably the most notable observation concerning the translation of this type of texts was made by Schadewaldt, who defined translation as "the art of the correct sacrifice".

2. Fuhrmann's translation work

As is widely known, Fuhrmann's main translation work is represented by the speeches of Cicero. Between 1970 and 1982, he published seven volumes containing the translation of all 58 speeches of Cicero, with introductions and explanatory notes.

According to Fuhrmann, there are two characteristics of Ciceronian oratory that are still impressive today: the art of narration and the suggestive power of the pladoyer. What especially lasts is the effect of the style, and Fuhrmann tried hard to translate Cicero's speeches by preserving their form. Not linguistic, but communication equivalence is what Fuhrmann aims for.

After the chapter dedicated to Fuhrmann's Cicero, Mindt discusses his other translation works. Tacitus' Germania is considered by Fuhrmann to be the most representative example of artistic prose, and, as such, of the rhetorical style. On the other hand, Latin law texts belong to the category of scientific prose. The translation of these texts should help the reader understand issues of Roman law, while at the same time entertain him.

Fuhrmann also became known as an editor of translations in his capacity as a member of the scientific council of The Artemis Publishing House. He wrote prefaces and epilogues of German editions of ancient literature and also edited two anthologies.

3. Fuhrmann's place in the field of translation

According to Mindt, Fuhrmann's particularity inside the field of translation relies in the fact that he followed "the middle path" between the original text and the reader, between the source and the target text, respectively. The dichotomy "literal/faithful" versus "free/creative" (ut interpres or ut orator) remains a constant issue of the general discussion of translation. Fuhrmann requires a correct stylistic classification of the source text, the determination of its primary function, and a translation based on the results of this analysis. His aim is the functional reproduction of the source text.

Fuhrmann's self-assigned mission was a more intense discussion of translations from ancient languages inside and outside classical philology. Mindt proved that he accomplished his mission. She also successfully demonstrated Fuhrmann's role as a "mediator of antiquity" ("Vermittler der Antike"), i.e. as a translator of ancient literature into contemporary German, thus enabling everyone's access to classical culture. Mindt managed to outline Fuhrmann's important contribution both to the general theory of translation and to the modern reception of classical texts in German speaking countries.


1.   Larson, Mildred L., editor, Translation: theory and practice, tension and interdependence, American Translators Association scholarly monographs, 5. Binghampton, NY: State University of New York, 1991, p. 1.
2.   For a detailed examination of translation and of reflections on translation in antiquity see Astrid Seele, Römische Übersetzer. Nöte, Freiheiten, Absichten--Verfahren des literarischen Übersetzens in der griechisch-römischen Antike, Darmstadt 1995.
3.   Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Was ist übersetzen?, 1891.
4.   Die Alten Sprachen in der Schule, 1974, 87-179.
5.   Das Problem der Übersetzung antiker Dichtung, 1963.

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