Scanlators have been working on a manga adaption of the Divine Comedy (I seem to recall that Lelouch was a fan). However! Rather than simply translating the dialogue they’ve decided to admix it with appropriate lines from existing translations — not translations of the manga, but of the Comedy itself:
[W]hat we are doing with this as of now is 1. translating the manga, 2. comparing to the original divine comedy/history (when the mangaka leaves the context of the Divine Comedy), 3. mixing it all together and 4. re-writing it in a decasyllabic meter to match with the Divine Comedy’s poetry style. We used mostly H.F. Cary’s translation of the original Divine Comedy as reference, but if the translation was to archaic to be applicable, we used Longfellow’s.
While there’s obviously a lot of potential for a mismatch of tastes here — one person’s archaism is another’s ornament, and not all of us enjoy Longfellow — I instinctively approve of this. A translation is a new text, and so it’s perfectly permissible (though not always advisable) for a translator to throw accuracy out of the window and try something creative.
Indeed, in certain circumstances, the addition of completely unrelated text can be an improvement. One example that comes to mine is (the ‘quite spectacularly not safe for work’) A Kentucky Barmaid in the Court of King Louis XIII, which is a bit like The Magic Roundabout, except with pornography instead of French children’s television. Of course, A Kentucky Barmaid and the other works of ‘newdog15’ are messing with originals that have no prestige: hentai manga, and hentai manga previously rewritten by others at that.
I wonder if the translators in this case felt more able to do this because the manga is already an adaption, and an adaption of a text (the Comedy) with much greater prestige? Of course, one thing that does separate them is that the alteration of this manga retains the purpose of the manga and of the Divine Comedy, while A Kentucky Barmaid alters its text’s expected response, from arousal to laughter. So is this creativity, or the assertion of the authority of one more prestigious original (the canonical late medieval epic) over another less prestigious one (the modern manga)?
Actually, how close to the prestigious original do we want to get? If my memory serves me rightly, the Comedy was predominantly hendecasyllabic — composed in lines of eleven syllables, usually with an unstressed eleventh syllable (what we used to call a feminine ending) — not decasyllabic. But for extended poetry in English I prefer decasyllabic lines. Or rather, I prefer a pentameter of disyllabic feet. (Presumably anapestic pentameter, for example, would be ‘pendecasyllabic’? There seem to be several competing and equally esoteric theories of rhythm in each language, and no unanimously-agreed terminology. Excuse me if this is wrong and/or incomprehensible.) So while I don’t know how closely this resembles the Comedy‘s ‘poetry style’, and I don’t even know how one would judge, I’m not that bothered.
And does the manga continue to stick to Dante’s plot, thereby remaining open to the insertion of translations of Dante’s original? This is, according to the scanlators, by Go Nagai, after all. I don’t know much about Nagai, but my impression from what I’ve picked up here and there is that he’s a bit of a loose cannon.
Pressing questions, but not necessarily questions for us. Leave them aside; try reading this, and pay attention to the movements of your eyes:
Ignore the punctuation in that first sentence, which is either going over or under my head, and look at the kind of extreme enjambment this creates! Our eyes don’t just have to cope with ‘my life was passed / Beneath fair Augustus,’ they also have to handle ‘in the time /[shift up and leftwards]/ Of false and fabled deities.’ The shoe-horning of English verse into the manga’s speech bubbles adds a counterintuitive (for those of us brought up with English) right-to-left jump to the shift between lines that enjambment normally creates. Presumably the writers of comic books actually think about this sort of effect, but I must admit I’d never considered it before.
It gets better: in the second panel in the image above, the same movement is repeated, with the added challenge of shifting from reading left-to-right (within a right-to-left page layout) to reading top-to-bottom. (The dialogue in that second panel isn’t from the Comedy; the first panel on the next page returns to it with a translation of Dante’s ‘Or se’ tu quel Virgilio e quella fonte / &c’.)
Such complexity doesn’t put me off. Quite the contrary: I find this easier to read than most scanlated manga, which is normally, for reasons outlined in the second half of this post, a bit of a struggle. Being asked to process a crazy mix of verse and images seems to slow me down and help me to pay attention to the art too. Recognising Father Virgil (or indeed Father Vergil) can be pretty hard, but the task’s difficulty has turned out to be rather valuable.