Tuesday, July 23, 2013

You Only Think You Dislike That Translation

Various remarks in Cultural Amnesia about bad translations of Scripture brought to mind something I had read of 30 years ago in a book since lost, the Athens Gospel Riots of 1901.  I find that I must have thoroughly forgotten what I read, for it was my impression that they arose when a translation from Koine into Demotic was imposed on unwilling congregations. According to a most interesting article by Philip Carabott, this is not so.

In fact

  • The translation at issue was not used in liturgies. It was a translation of St. Matthew's Gospel, serialized in the newspaper Akropolis that provided the excuse for the demonstrations.
  • The anxieties about translations had been stimulated by another that had appeared shortly before, one sponsored by Queen Olga.
  • Two Patriarchal Encyclicals of the 1830s, responding to concerns about Demotic translations provided by Protestant missionary organizations had  in fact condemned the use of any translations, even those previously undertaken by the Orthodox church.
  • The dispute was part of the quarrel between the Purists, adherents of the "katharevousa" or literary Greek, and the Demoticists.
  • That anxieties about the encroachments of Pan-Slavism, not only because of Queen Olga's Russian origin, played a part.

The upshot, though, was certainly riotous. Akropolis had its windows broken on November 5, 1901. On November 7, "half a dozen" mounted police were wounded, and some number of demonstrators, three seriously. On Thursday, November 8, between 25 and 30 thousand demonstrators turned out. The demonstration was peaceful until late afternoon, when some number tried to break through the police cordon. Apparently shots were fired from the crowd: the police and military opened fire, killing eight and wounding about 60. The prime minister, Theotokis, resigned, though his government had survived a vote of confidence.

In the aftermath, the ban on translations was reaffirmed, and read from pulpits. When Parliament reconvened in January 1902, opposition deputies challenged the oaths of two new members as being taken on a translated Gospel. The book turned out to be foreign, but not a translation. The 1911 Constitution included a ban on such translations without the Patriarchate's sanction; this was modified in 1975.

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