In the splendid Travels with a Tangerine, Tim MacKintosh-Smith touches briefly on a translation problem that has always preoccupied me: aesthetic vs literal.
In this case, he was looking at various translations for the title of Ibn Battutah’s accounts of his 14th century voyage to China and back. One literal translation is The Precious Gift of Lookers into the Marvels of Cities and the Wonders of Travel. However, MacKintosh-Smith prefers an aesthetic translation that maintains the rhythm and poetry of Arabic – the so-called ‘cooing of doves’ of the language. He suggests: An Armchair Traveller’s Treasure: the Mirabilia of Metropolises and the Wonders of Wandering.
Personally, I’ve always used a pop culture reference to describe the gulf between literal and aesthetic translation. In North America, there is a beloved animated character named ‘Dora the Explorer’ who travels the world, teaching kids about culture, geography, and self-sufficiency. In France, they have chosen a literal translation, ‘Dora l’exploratrice’, losing the charming rhyme. I would have preferred an aesthetic translation here, and named the character ‘Beatrice l’exploratrice’ in France.
So, what do you think? ‘Dora l’exporatrice’ or ‘Beatrice l’exploratrice’ ?