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Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > 1803 to 1806 > Translations

It may be added that the toilsome practice of writing out translations from one language into another which these letters disclose, was continued by Mezzofanti through his entire career of study, although in his latter years he pursued it more as an amusement than as a serious task.

It is hard, in ordinary cases, to infer from such performances the exact degree of proficiency in the language which they should be presumed to indicate. Some translations are only the fruit of long and careful study. Note 1 On the contrary, there are instances on record in. which excellent translations have been produced by persons possessing a very slight knowledge of the original. Thus Monte, the author of the best Italian translation of Homer, was utterly unacquainted with Greek ; Note 2 Halley, without knowing a word of Arabic, was able to guess his way, (partly by mathematical reasoning, partly by the aid of a Latin version, which, however, only contained about one-tenth of the entire work,) through an Arabic translation of Apollonius De Sectione Rationis; Note 3 and M. Arnaud, the first French translator of Lalla Rookh, did not know a word of the English language. Note 4

But on all these points Mezzofanti's fame is beyond suspicion. His translations, at least in his later life, were at once produced with the utmost freedom and rapidity, and are universally acknowledged to have been models of verbal correctness ; and in most instances where the same passage is translated into many languages, the versions display a remarkable mastery over the peculiar forms and idioms of each.

This wonderful success must be ascribed, no doubt, to his early and systematic exercise in translation, of which the specimen submitted to De Rossi is but one example.

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Note 1
M. Patruspent three years in translating Cicero's" Pro Archia ;"' and in the end, had not satisfied himself as to the rendering of the very first sentence.

Note 2
Moore's Diary, III., 183.

Note 3
D' Israeli's Curiosities of Literature, p. 524.

Note 4
Moore's Diary, III., 183.

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