Celebrating seven famous translators from around the globe, we recognize the often overlooked art of translation. Though not always thankless, translators play a vital role in bringing the voices of renowned speakers and authors to a wider audience, stepping out from the shadows to share their crucial contributions.
St. Jerome (347-420 AD)
We can’t talk about famous translators without mentioning St. Jerome. St. Jerome’s works translated most of the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into Latin. His translations were called the Vulgate and would become the official Catholic translation of the Bible. What’s more, this would be the only translation of the Bible used for one thousand years.
Interesting Fact: St. Jerome made a mistake in translating the Hebrew “keren” as “grew horn” instead of “radiated light.” This led to photos of Moses with horns on his head instead of radiating light.
Constance Garnett (1861-1946)
Garnett became famous for her Russian literature translations. Works included Chekhov, Tolstoy, and Dostoyevsky. Garnett translated an astounding 71 volumes of Russian literature before retiring at 73 years old in 1934.
Interesting Fact: When Garnett did not know the translation of a particular word or phrase, she would sometimes leave it out altogether. Also interesting, her translations were very controversial. Although Tolstoy and Conrad both loved her, Nabokov was quite the opposite. However, in the end, Garnett’s work brought Russian authors to an English audience, which influenced famous writers along the way, like Hemingway.
Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986)
The famous author Jorge Luis Borges was also a very notable translator. In the early years, when he was nine, he translated The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde into Spanish for a Buenos Aires newspaper.
Later, he translated Edgar Allan Poe, Andre Gide, Franz Kafka, William Faulkner, Walt Whitman, Hermann Hesse, Virginia Woolf, Rudyard Kipling, and many more into Spanish.
Interesting Fact: As both an author and translator, Borges wrote about translation. He stressed being less confined when translating. To not stick too firmly to the source text but rather to what the context is saying.
Edward George Seidensticker (1921-2007)
Bringing works by Japanese authors Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, Yukio Mishima, and Yasunari Kawabata to English readers, Seidensticker became one of the most highly regarded Japanese translators.
Interesting Fact: The New York Times stated, “Mr. Seidensticker’s translations of Kawabata’s work are generally credited with helping Kawabata secure the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1968, the first Japanese writer to receive the award.” Thus reinforcing the importance of translation.
Gregory Rabassa (1922-2016)
Most notable for translating works of literature from Portuguese and Spanish into English comes Gregory Rabassa. He translated great Latin American authors, including Jorge Amado, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Julio Cortazar.
Interesting Fact: The author, Garcia Marquez, wanted to work with Rabassa so badly that he waited three years for him to translate One Hundred Years of Solitude. After this translation, Marquez was so impressed that he thought the translation to be better than his original work.
Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky
This husband and wife translating duo worked together on updated translations of Russian literary classics. Some works included Anna Karenina and The Brothers Karamazov. Pevear is an American professor who taught Russian literature and translation courses. Volokhonsky is a Russian native who speaks Russian fluently.
Interesting Fact: Richard and Larissa’s version of Anna Karenina was chosen by Oprah Winfrey for her Book Club back in 2004. In addition, Pevear and Volokhonsky won the PEN/Book of the Month Club Translation Prize not once but twice.
Stephen Mitchell, born in 1943, is most known for his modern translations of Tao Te Ching, Gilgamesh, The Iliad, and The Odyssey, among many others. He translates from German, Chinese, and Hebrew and provides new translations of past literature.
Interesting Fact: The Wall Street Journal called Stephen Mitchell the “rock star of translators”.
Many more famous translators can be on this list, too. The best translators in the world all have something in common: their document translations have brought the world closer together by expanding the work of different cultures.
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