End of Translation

From Jacques Lezra’s End of Translation:

“The question of how humanists  make the case for the value of  their disciplines to others […] is a  matter, it is understood, of  translation.”

Translation and politics are intimately linked in the view of this paper and he notes that translation is a “master term” when discussing the understanding of the Humanities and their current state, and the place they hold in a society in which they are dwindling.

I am a Comparative Literature major, and our program is very small. In addition to the fact that the humanities are dwindling, we have a firm requirement of taking upper level courses in a language other than English. This tends to scare people away from the program, which is unfortunate because it is a great one (I’ll admit, I’m biased as the Undergraduate Departmental Representative of the major!)

As someone who is very passionate about language, culture and communication I am always startled when I come across people who aren’t because to me language is one of, if not the most essential ways that we communicate with one another and I believe that we should be encouraging multilingualism because with different languages come different ways of thinking, and everyone can benefit from that. I’m not saying that language learning is something that everyone needs to do (I know that for some people it is an impossibility) but rather that widening our gazes into other ways of life is essential towards looking at each other deeply and complexly, and being multilingual can help with that.

At the very least, I believe that one should study other cultures and traditions, even if only from a monolingual standpoint, in order to gain a mutual understanding with others on this earth. In the wake of this, translation, in all its complexity, is made even more necessary. Not only do we have to translate the words, but sometimes even concepts.

People sometimes argue nature vs. nurture. Whatever one might believe, it is indubitable that where we grow affects how we do so. There is no denying there is inequality in this world, and as my Mythology Professor pointed said the other day in class – despite what we tell our children not everyone can do everything they set out to in life, and many people are born into this world who are at a crippling disadvantage. Some crosses are too hard to bear. Looking at the world like this can be bleak, but it is a reality. And I seriously doubt that we can ever fully grasp the realities of others without humanities and without translation.

In the same essay referenced before, End of Translation, Lezra speaks about rights and asks whether they are “translatable across cultures, languages, races, religions  in the name, or under the aegis, of a purportedly universal  standard which is also a universal  translating machine: ‘Human’  rights?” This is a startling question, and one I cannot possibly answer in a blog post. I will leave you with this question and encourage you to read the essay in full.*

I hope that readers of this blog enjoy my musings, because while I’ll write them anyway, it’s fun to see what other people think.



*Jacques Lezra, End of Translationhttps://humanitiesfutures.org/papers/end-of-translation/


On Thursday our topic in Classical Mythology was Bellerophon.

Bellerophon was one of the Heroes of Ancient Greek myth, and his story is particularly important because it covers what happens to him after all of his trials are over and he settles down into his life post-heroic deeds.

To give you some back story on Bellerophon, we first have to clarify that he was the one with the Pegasus. This is going to be a multiple choice question on the test and if we select Perseus instead we will get marked wrong. The pained look on my Professor’s face when Heracles was mentioned was slightly hilarious and he adamantly told us he would not be making him an option.*

Moving forward, Bellerophon is actually really interesting. Reportedly, an ancient hero equal at some points in Greek history to Perseus and Cadmus, he was the classic hero type: kills the monster and gets the princess.

If you are interested in more details about Bellerophon, here are a few of my class notes, but feel free to skip them:

Bellerophon in Homer

  • In Iliad 6, the Trojan ally Glaukos meets Diomedes on the field
  • Glaukos’ ancestor Bellerophon lived in Argos
  • The king Proetus hated him because of his wife
  • Anteia wanted to have sex with Bellerophon, but he wouldn’t
  • Proetus sent Bellerophon to Lykia with a sealed message to give to the king who was
  • Anteia’s father Iobates
  • The message said to kill him

Potiphar’s Wife

  • Potiphar’s Wife Motif: the adulterous wife who turns on her desired lover
    Genesis 39-40
  • Joseph, sold into slavery, was purchased by an Egyptian officer named Potiphar
  • Potiphar made him overseer of the house
  • His wife asked him to sleep with her, but he refused
  • She told Potiphar that Joseph tried to rape her
  • Joseph ended up in prison where his dream interpretations attracted the attentions of the Pharaoh

Bellerophon’s Deeds

  • Iobates cannot kill Bellerophon because of their guest-host relationship, so he sent
  • Bellerophon on one-way missions
    • to kill the Chimaera
    • qto fight the Solymoi
    • to battle the Amazons
  • He set an ambush for him, but Bellerophon defeated the best men
  • Iobates had him marry his daughter and rule with him in Lykia
  • According to Homer, Bellerophon fell out of favor with the gods for no specified reason

Eventually, Bellerophon tries to ride the Pegasus up to Mt. Olympus to become a god, but this is reaching to far so the Pegasus betrays him and Zeus strikes him down with a lightning bolt.

I enjoy the tale of Bellerophon for many reasons, but primarily because of the two questions I feel it raises most clearly:

1. What does it mean to “reach too far”?

2. What happens to the hero after the fight is over?

As for the first, in class my Professor stated something along the lines of: “What is the line between telling people that they can ‘be whatever they want to be’ (which is a lie) and ‘stay in your lane’?” This is a super interesting question for me, because there is undoubtedly a line there, and one that is particularly precarious, especially when raising children.~

It brings me back to Harry Potter, among other things. Take Voldemort for example. He was so obsessed with becoming immortal that he dies at the mere age of 71, where if he had simply lived the long life that wizards tend to get then he would have made it into his hundreds.

To stop and think through our actions and their affects can be difficult for people, and thinking that we can help ourselves and others to rise up in the world can sometimes be our downfall. It’s an important lesson, and one that I value. It is also a lesson that I learned from Bellerophon, when reading the myths as a kid. So this story is important to me in that way, and also in the sense of the second question I have.

Stories tend to end right after the battle ends, after the lovers admit their true love to one another, as a family is miraculously reunited and so forth. But what happens to the heroes after the battles are over, they attain their desired lover, etc.? They get their happily ever after, but what does that mean? If you have read/seen Harry Potter and the Cursed Child you know that according to the play, Harry settles into middle age and not super successfully raising his kids. And with Bellerophon we see that he gets bored and causes trouble, leading to his death.

My Professor brought up the stereotypical rules that many (myself included) are told to play: Primary School, Secondary School, then the optional sets of College, Grad School, Employment, Marriage, Kids, Retirement – then what? What is there to do once you have crossed the benchmarks of life?

Now these things are by no means necessary. Many people that I know have either rejected this path, or done it out of order, or intend not to follow it at all. But in the end, whatever benchmarks we set for ourselves, there is an after.° And I think that the prospect of this is terrifying, because although the sense of relaxation can be good, there is that saying that ‘Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.’ When it is all said and done, I don’t know why Bellerophon wanted to be immortal, because honestly an eternity of boredom is what I would expect. Then again, I’m a bit of a pessimist.



*Apologizes to the Disney fans but that movie was so inaccurate that a drinking game could give you alcohol poisoning.

~Which I’m not, but I have lots of younger cousins.

°Unless we die, but I’m trying to stay positive here.