Friday, December 07, 2012


Haupt on Interpretation

Henry Nettleship (1839–1893), "Moritz Haupt," in Lectures and Essays on Subjects Connected with Latin Literature and Scholarship (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1885), pp. 1-22 (at 19-20):
Textual criticism is one great branch of classical philology; the other is interpretation. On interpretation Haupt had three main principles, derived mainly from Hermann's precept and practice in his superintendence of the Societas Gracea at Leipzig, which he set out in the form of paradoxes. The first was, 'Do not translate: translation is the death of understanding.' The second was, 'Use no technical terms of grammar.' The third was, 'Understand your author not logically but psychologically.' None of these rules, of course, were to be taken literally. With regard to translation, Haupt meant apparently that although it was a good exercise for enabling a schoolboy to master the construction of sentences, it was no help to the riper student towards the real understanding of an ancient author. This must be won by patient study and analysis of the language. 'The first stage is to learn to translate; the second, to see that translation is impossible.' I am not sure that I fully realize from his biographer's words the full extent of Haupt's meaning on this point; but I suppose that he intended to protest against the idea that a ready translation, without previous analysis of the meaning of the words, is always a sign that a passage is understood. At the later stages of a student's progress, translation is more useful for making a writer than for training a scholar.

The second rule was a protest against the use of technical terms, such as zeugma, ellipse, pleonasm, and the like, without a sufficient analysis of the individual case to which they are applied; and thus understood its truth is obvious.

The third requires a somewhat fuller explanation. 'Understand your author not logically but psychologically,' was another way of saying, 'explain your author historically,' 'remember his times and circumstances.' In other words, remember that a Greek writer did not think even the same thought precisely as a Roman writer would have done, still less as a modern Englishman or German would do; every nation has its nuances of thought as well as of language; the language is the form or body in which these nuances live and have their being.
The German form of Haupt's first rule is apparently "Die Übersetzung ist der Tod des Verständnisses."

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