Doniger O'Flaherty's translations (1 of 2)

Wed Nov 15 10:44:50 UTC 1995

On 10.11. Dominik Wujastyk wrote:

> It seems to me that the translations of Prof. Wendy Doniger / O'Flaherty
> (henceforth WDO) that Prof. Michael Witzel (henceforth MW) has critiqued
> have nevertheless performed a vital function in bringing a knowledge of
> Sanskrit literature to thousands of people who would otherwise not have
> had this opportunity. The errors in her translations that MW has pointed
> out do not seem to me to mean that her RV, Manu, and JB publications
> were not worth doing, or that we and others do not benefit from buying
> and reading them.  There is -- and should be -- a difference between
> scholarly translations and popular ones.  Of course it is a pity if a
> popular translation is not always as accurate as it might be, but it is
> essential to see this as a matter of degree. 

Sorry, I don't get the point. It's not W. Doniger, it's the popularity
of Penguin that ensured the wide circulation of her Rigveda-
anthology. That probably would have been so, no matter who did it.
No bonus-points for that! Paul Thieme's Rigveda-anthology
mentioned by M. Witzel was also published in a series intended for
the general public (Reclam), and it can perhaps claim as much merit
in its field (German) as D. Wujastyk attributes to Doniger's. Still,
Thieme made no compromise on standards. Can we assume that
Doniger could have done better, if it hadn't been for Penguin??

  But do we really want to introduce double standards? Are mistakes
and distortions acceptable in publications intended for the general
public? How can we prevent students or - horror of horrors -
colleagues from reading these books and getting the "wrong" ideas,
too. Given the obvious scarcity of "up-to-date" Rigveda-translations 
in English, e.g., this is not as far-fetched as it may seem. 
Convenience prevails, especially in the "English-speaking
[part of the] world". And with so few people at all willing to take
notice of anything written in other languages (German is just one
example), who will be there to set things right afterwards?
   In a way, this brings us back to an aspect of our recent discussion
of textual criticism. Preparing a good translation is a time-
consuming affair, and it is not always considered very "original", 
unless you spice it with street-language, psycho-jargon or the 
"theory of the month". Not too many people would be prepared to spend 
a good part of their lives trying to penetrate just one text, as 
Geldner did. M. Witzel's appeal shows that it can already be a bit of 
a problem to find someone for a secondary translation of Geldner's 
magnum opus. And why should anybody bother as long as it seems so 
much more rewarding to have a quick shot at the Rigveda today and at 
Puranas or perhaps Homer tomorrow?

Reinhold Gruenendahl
Niedersaechsische Staats- und Universitaetsbibliothek
37070 Goettingen
Phone: 0551/395283

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