Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Thoughts on Literature: What If Literature Was Only Accessible In Its Original Language?

Have you wondered what our world would be like without the ability to read literature in our known language? Further, would the absence of "world" literature change our ideals and values?
Without translation, these works would never be made available to a larger audience. That's where a translation software company like Smartling comes in, who's mission is to preserve and carry over the original intent and purpose of the text.

I've thought of four classic literature works originally written in another dialect or language other than modern English.
  1. The Odyssey by Homer.
  2. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. 
  3. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.  
  4. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.
The Odyssey, an epic poem by Homer, was written in 675-725 B.C.E.  It was intended to be read orally. It was written in Greek. The Odyssey was arranged in twenty-four books. The story is of Odysseus, king of Ithaca, and his ten year journey home after the Trojan War. His heroic journey is filled with mythical creatures and strange lands. His yearning for home and family is something all humans can relate to. 

The Canterbury Tales, a collection of short stories written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century. The stories were told by people on a pilgrimage to Thomas Becket's shrine at Canterbury Cathedral. The stories were written in Middle English. Middle English is the precursor of Modern English.(Middle English language, from Britannica. The link will present both Middle English and Modern English examples by quoting the opening lines of The Canterbury Tales.) The tales are humorous, bawdy, engaging, and meant to be a form of entertainment for the travelers. The tales reveal English society during the 14th century. 

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. Les Miserables is a historical novel. It was written in French and published in 1862. The main character and theme is Jean Valjean and his journey to have liberty. His journey for liberty parallels France's journey for liberty. It parallels humanity's yearning for freedom and redemption. Valjean is both a hardened and stoic man because of the life he's lived, and a passionate and long-suffering man. The story has over-arching themes of grace and mercy, and they are in opposition to those who have hardened hearts.  

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. War and Peace is a historical novel. The story centers on several aristocratic families during the Napoleonic War of 1804-1814. The novel switches back and forth between the civilian society of the families and the men at war. The book shows the affects of war both during and afterwards. War and Peace was published in Russian in 1865-1869.

Without the collection of classic works I've mentioned, the world would be void of their contributions. They show the society and culture during these historical periods. They are tales of enchantment and entertainment. We are swept away to another place and time, where people live differently and speak differently; however, they are people just as we are, filled with thoughts of home, and yearnings for freedom and peace.
Reading world literature has a way of bringing together people of different races, religions, cultures, and societies. It is a reminder that humanity is more similar in traits than opposites.

References: Britannica, Wikipedia, The Literature Network,

Article written by Annette Kristynik.

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