Ukrainian history of translation is today more than one thousand years old. It began soon after the adoption of Christianity in the tenth century (988) and continues in ever increasing measure up to the present day. The very first translations, however, are supposed to have been made several decades before that historical date, namely as early as 911, when the Kyivan Rus' Prince Oleh signed a treaty with Byzantium in two languages (Greek and the then Ukrainian). Regular and uninterrupted translation activity, which started in the late tenth - early eleventh centuries had continued almost uninterrupted for some 250 years. According to Nestor the Chronicler the Great Prince of Kyivan Rus', Yaroslav the Wise, «gathered together in 1037 in the St. Sophia Cathedral many translators(пucaрi as they were called) to translate books (from Greek) «into the (Old) Slavonic language» which was in those times the language of many ecclesiastic works and was understood in all Slavic countries. In many translations, as will be shown further, it contained local old Ukrainian lexical and grammatical elements.
Initially in the last decades of the tenth - early eleventh century, only the materials necessary for church services were translated, but soon the Bible began to appear in different cities of Kyivan Rus'. These Bibles are historically identified after the names of places where they first appeared or after the names of their owners, translators or copiers. Among the fully preserved Bibles of those times today are the Reims Bible (first half of the eleventh century), which belonged to Princess Anna, daughter of Yaroslav the Wise and later queen of France, the Ostromyr's Bible (1056 -1057), the Mstyslaw's Bible (1115 -1117), the Halych Bible (1144). In the eleventh and twelfth centuries there also appeared several Psalm books (Psalters) which were followed by the «Apostles» (1195, 1220). In those times, semi-ecclesiastic works, which were called apocrypha became well-known. These works included such titles as The Life of Mary of Egypt, The Life of Andrew the Insane (Андрій Юродивий), The Life of Eustaphius Piakyda as well as stories on the life of monks including numerous Egyptian, Syrian and Greek legends composed between the third and fifth centuries AD. Apart from these some historical works of Byzantine chroniclers G.Amartol and J.Malala were translated and read in Kyivan Rus'. It is important to note, that the Old Slavonic translations of Psalms and larger works as The Jewish Wars by Josephus Flavius (37 - after 100) contained several lexical, morphological (vocative case forms) and syntactic features of the then old Ukrainian which are used also in present-day Ukrainian. This influence of the Ukrainian language is one evident proof of it having been in common use in Kyivan Rus'. This fact completely discards the ungrounded allegations cited by official Soviet and Russian linguists who portray the Ukrainian language coming into being as a separate Slavic language only in the fourteenth or even in the fifteenth centuries, i.e., at the same time with the Russian language. As can be ascertained from some stanzas of the translated Psalms below, their Old Slav speech, as presented in present-day orthographic form, is more than similar in many places to present-day Ukrainian:
Аще бо зіло шатаются iюдеї,
I cмepтi не помнять,
Но обаче не іскушені во брані
Же суть i без чину борются.
I не наричаются вої,
Но народ суєтен.
The underlined words and word-combinations (Аще,шатаются іюдеї. смерті не помнять, не іскушені во брані, без чину борються) have each a close or practically identical orthographic form and almost the same meaning in modern Ukrainian. Thus, шатаются iюдеї means бігають, метушаться; смерті не помнять can be understood as not being afraid of or not thinking of their death, i.e., fully engaged in fighting (во брані). The latter noun (брань) is in contemporary Ukrainian poetic (and archaic) for fight or fighting. The only word in the above-cited fifth line, which is not quite clear lexically is наричаються/ не наричаються whereas вої is again poetic and archaic for воїни fighters. Neither is it difficult to comprehend this noun today. The last line Но народ суєтен is also easy to understand and means that people were agitated, uneasy.
In some other stanzas translated from Greek or Latin in the eleventh or twelfth century one may come across even more contemporary Ukrainian speech patterns as in the following lines from the hymn by Ambrose of Milan versified by an anonymous translator of the tenth or twelfth century:
Тебе, Бога, хвалим,
Тебе, Господа, ісповідуєм,
Тебе, предвічного Отца,
Вся земля величаєт...
All four lines of the stanza above are practically in contemporary Ukrainian. There is no doubt they could have been translated so not accidentally but only by a person whose mother tongue was the then Ukrainian and who spoke this language every day. The author of those translated lines naturally thought in Ukrainian as well, but perhaps owing to fatigue or inattention, he lost his concentration and used Ukrainian instead of the Old Slavonic, which was in those and succeeding days the literary official language which the translator used while accomplishing his versification. One more evidence of the Ukrainian language having been already then much like modern Ukrainian can be found in the anonymous tenth or twelfth century versification of an excerpt from St. John's the Prophet (Іоанн Златоуст) Psalm:
Із Тебе бо возсія Солнце правди,
Христос, Бог наш,
Провіщай сущія во тьмі,
Веселися i ти, старче праведний.
Thus, all translations of the tenth and twelfth centuries in Ukraine-Rus' give much evidence not only about the level of faithfulness, but also help to a great measure establish the nature of the language of translation itself.
All in all, the period of the eleventh-thirteenth centuries as presented in the history of Ukraine, demonstrated a regular upheaval in translation with many ecclesiastic and secular works of different kind turned generally in Old Slavic as well as in Old Ukrainian. The ecclesiastic works included not only sermon books, Psalms and Bibles (as the Buchach 13th century Bible) but also some theoretical works by prominent Byzantine church fathers (G.Naziazinus, I.Sirin and others). Examples from secular literature include works of Byzantine, Roman and other poets and philosophers, the most noticeable among them being didactic precepts, «Addresses», wise expressions and aphorisms selected from the works of Plutarch, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and other prominent ancient figures. Apart from these, some larger epic works were translated in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries as well. Very popular among them were the novel Alexandria (about the life and heroic exploits of Alexander the Great of Greece), a narrative about the life and many exploits of Didenis Akrit «Подвиги Діденіса Акріта», the work Akir the Wise «Aкip Мудрий», a collection of Byzantine fables and fairy tales entitled Stephanit and Ihnilat «Стефаніт та Ігнілат», another narrative called The Proud King Adarianes «Гордовитий цар Адаріан» and a collection of narratives on nature (The Physiologist) «Фiзiолог», in which both real and fantastic beings and minerals were described. These and other works were translated mostly from old Greek, while some originated also from Latin and Hebrew languages.
The Tartar and Mongol invasion in 1240, the downfall of Ukraine-Rus' and the seizure of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453, which completed the collapse of Byzantium, considerably slowed the progress of translation in Ukraine-Rus', which despite these tragic events, did not die out completely. Thus, the first to appear in the 14th century (1307) was the Bible of Polycarp. Apart from this there were some versified translations of ecclesiastic works as the Treatise on Sacred Theology by D.Areopagitis, D.Zograf's translation of God's Six Days Creation by G.Pisida, Kiprian's translation of Ph. Kokkin's Canon of Public Prayer to Our Lord Jesus Christ, excerpts of Ph. Monotrop's Dioptra, the Cronicle of C.Manassia, the anonymous translation of the Tormenting Voyage of the Godmother and others. The attention of Ukrainian translators during the 14th and 15th centuries now turned to numerous apocrypha, aesthetic, philosophic and semi-philosophic works of Byzantine authors E.Sirin, D.Areopagitis, Maxim the Confessor, G.Sinaitis, G.Palama and P.Monotropos (known best for his work Dioptra). All of these works were much read then. Several historical works are also known to have been translated in those times, the most outstanding of all being K.Manassia's Chronicle and The Trojan History. From the literary works which were translated in the fifteenth century are known the narratives: A Story of the Indian Kingdom, A Story of Towdal the Knight and The Passions of Christ. New translations of ecclesiastic works included The Four Bibles, The Psalm-Book, The Apostle and some sermon books. Apart from these there were translated or retold during the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries the «ecclesiastic narratives» the Kings Magians, written by the Carmelite J.Hiludesheim (- circ. 1375), the legend about Saint George, the treatise Aristotle's Gate and the treatise on logic by the Spanish rabbi Mosses ben Maimonides (1135- 1204).
It must be pointed out that it was the fifteenth century which marked a noticeable change in the orientation of Ukrainian society, culture and translation towards Christian Western Europe. The first Ukrainians went to study in the universities of Krakow, Paris, Florence and Bologna, from which the Ukrainian scientist Yuriy Drohobych (Kotermak) had graduated. He was also elected rector of the latter university in 1481-1482. Among the first translations of the fifteenth century was the King's Bible of 1401 (Transcarpathian Ukraine) and the Kamianka-Strumyliv Bible which appeared in 1411, followed by the Book of Psalms (translated by F.Zhydovyn) and some collections of stories about the lives of saints. The main of them was the Monthly Readings /Chetii Minaii aimed at honouring each month the name of a saint. Unfortunately the fifteenth century translations of secular works are represented today only by two anonymous versifications from Polish of the well-known in Western Europe work The Struggle between Life and Death and A Story about Death of a Great Mistr or Philosopher. Both these translations testified to the growth of the syllabic-accentual versification, which separated itself from the pre-Mongolian accentual prosody. The latter, however, continued to be practised during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which were dominated in Ukraine's history by a constant struggle of our people and culture against the Tartars and Turks in the South and South-West, and against the Poles, who occupied Ukrainian lands from the right bank of the Dnieper river to the West of it. But despite the constant uprisings and wartime danger, many Ukrainian young men went to study in European universities. Thus, in early seventeenth century two Kyivans named Hnyverba and Ivan Uzhevych studied in Sorbonne University, the latter having been the author of the first ever Ukrainian grammar written in Latin (1634).
Translations of belles-lettres during the sixteenth century were probably not numerous either. They include a well-known in Western Europe work The Meeting of Magister Polycarp with the Death which had already been translated once at the end of the fifteenth century, the Solomon's Song, Alexandria, Guido de Columna's History of the Trojan War, History of Attila, King of Hungary, a narrative on the Re-volt of Lucifer and the Angels, a Story about the Fierce Death which Nobody Can Escape and others.
As in Germany, France and England during the first half of the sixteenth century, Ukrainian translators were engaged in bringing mostly ecclesiastical works into our language. Thus, in 1522 the readers received the small Traveller's Booklet; The Apostle and in 1556-1561 - the famous Peresopnyts'ka Bible which was translated with many Ukrainian elements by Mykhailo Vasyl'evych. In 1570 one more translation of the Bible was completed by VasyI' Tiapyns'kyi which was followed by the Books of the New Testament in 1580. The year 1581 saw two new Bibles - the first was translated by the Volyn' nobleman Nehalevskyi and the second - the famous Ostroh Bible published by Ivan Fedorov, whose first book The Apostle had come off the press in 1574. The Ostroh Bible was the first ever complete translation of the Holy Book in Slavic countries. It ushered in a new era not only in Ukraine's book publishing tradition but in translation as well. One of the first belles-lettres translations into Ukrainian was an excerpt from F.Petrarca's Letters without Address turned into our language by a pen-named translator Kliryk Ostrozkyi.
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