Global study finds Milton’s verse epic rendered in languages from Tamil to Tongan, and argues interest is linked to social turmoil and political revolutions
Alison Flood; Thursday 20 July 2017 06.01 BST
Three hundred and fifty years after it was first published, John Milton’s epic revolutionary poem about the fall of man, Paradise Lost, continues to find relevance around the world, with research revealing that new translations in the last 30 years outnumber the previous three centuries’ output combined.
More than 50 academics around the world collaborated to research a new book, Milton in Translation, discovering that the works of the 17th-century author have been translated more than 300 times and into 57 different languages. These range from Faroese and Manx to Tamil and Tongan, from Persian and Hebrew to Frisian and Welsh.
The scholars, led by Purdue University’s Professor Angelica Duran, Birmingham City University’s Dr Islam Issa, and Grand Canyon University’s Dr Jonathan Olson, found that translations of Paradise Lost often “mirror[ed] periods of rebellious ideology or nationalism”. In Soviet Estonia, the translation was an act of national resistance against the USSR, they said, while in the Middle East, translations took place during the Arab spring uprisings. Yugoslavian political prisoner Milovan Djilas translated Paradise Lost into Serbo-Croatian in the 1960s while he was imprisoned, writing the epic out on toilet paper with a pencil, and smuggling it out of prison.
“We were surprised by the number of languages [Milton] is translated into,” said Issa.
“We expected lots of translations of Paradise Lost, but we didn’t expect so many different languages, and so many which aren’t spoken by millions of people, such as Manx. You assume Spanish or French, but you don’t assume Welsh and Manx.”
Paradise Lost is, according to Issa, “a very universal story – Adam and Eve, the fall – it’s timeless. And with Milton specifically, there is the revolutionary nature of his writing. He was a republican who played a part in the execution of Charles I, he was anti-Catholic, and there’s his characterisation of Satan, trying to revolt against God the father. As a result, at times of political and religious struggle, such as countries trying to move away from Soviet rule, or the Middle East during the Arab spring, people are translating these revolutionary ideas.” … Read more. Click on here.
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