Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0015518, Mon, 1 Oct 2007 14:29:27 -0300

Off-List Carolyn Kunin called my attention to fresh vicissitudes of a translator's task:
She informed me that " Elph is also close to the word for "one thousand" in Hebrew & in Arabic (as in 1001 nights)."
She added: "stone or 'ston' means groan in Russian".

Nabokov's variations on "elphin" may carry this a hidden link with "a thousand stones" or "a thousand groans", with known legends and myths, but it is simultaneously backed by an entomologist's scientific terminology, like the word "nymph".
Besides, there are the often mentioned Kinbotean/Alfin's intromissions in the translation of Shakespeare and the "Erlkönig" ( "Alder King" versus "King of the Elves"). Last year we also read the equally playful verses by Morgenstern about the "Elf elf" ( Elf = eleven in German).

The return to the "a thousand" ( "Elph" ) impelled me to add something to my former note on Jorge Luis Borges and his Norton Lectures reference to of Sir R.Burton, for Borges developed his theories more fully in a chapter of his 1936 La historia de la eternidad (" Los traductores de las 1001 noches), a most delightful debate that refers us to others ( such as Newman's and Arnold's in 1861-62, about the choice of a literal or a poetic rendition of the stories) and to the German translations by Gustav Weil, Max Henning, Felix Paul Greve and Enno Littmann.
Borges concludes the first paragraph of this essay by stating that "Lane translated against Galland, Burton against Lane". Always praising Sir R.Burton's adventurous spirit and erudition, Borges expresses his admiration of Jean Antoine Galland ( following the enthusiastic acclaim of Galland's translation by Coleridge, Thomas de Quincey, Stendhal, Tennyson, E.A.Poe...)
"Galland domesticated his Arabs to make them presentable in Paris..he ignored literal precision ( but imported to Paris a maronite who added the story of Aladdin, de Ahmed prince with Pari Banu fairy, the nocturnal adventures of Harum Alrashid) to those that had already been written down. Lane justified every doubtful word in copious annotation, etc. The most literal erotica, nevertheless, was brought about first by Mardrus, then by R. Burton.

In his closing paragraphs ( written in 1935) Borges quoted Tennyson to invoke the world of involution ( elaborated by Appel in his Annotations to Lolita, invoked by Don Johnson's "Worlds in Regression". From the theme of Elphin thousands elves, stones, groans through Tennyson we return to...ivory!
Laborious orient ivory, sphere in sphere

Elphinstone revisited?

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