April 14, 2013

Trees, Horses, and Crayons

One of the curious things about praying the Scriptures in a new language is that you are constantly reminded of questions of translation. Today there were two big ones.

First, this morning I started my week as lector for Mass. Practicing and then proclaiming the first reading for today (Acts 5:27-32, 40B-41) I was a little thrown each time by the Italian of verse 30, which translates xulon as croce, 'cross.' I'm much more accustomed to the word 'tree' here, as it is in the RSV or as it is heard in the American lectionary today:

The God of our ancestors raised Jesus, though you had him killed by hanging him on a tree.

It makes a difference whether you say 'tree' or 'cross' there, doesn't it?

Second, something else reminded me a fun story.

Today in the Office of Readings we have, in the book of Revelation, the opening of the first six seals. I took a course in Revelation back at the former Weston Jesuit School of Theology, one of a handful from which I emerged feeling like it had helped me understand Christianity better at a basic level. As we progressed through the book, for a little fun, but also, I think, to help us keep in mind the visual nature of the narrative (it is, precisely, a vision after all) the professor would hand out photocopies of pictures of Albrecht Dürer's famous woodcuts of the various scenes. One of the students began to return to the following class, having colored in the Dürer with her crayons. It was very amusing to me to see her trying to show her coloring to the professor. It seemed to me like the good Jesuit, a distinguished scholar of the New Testament, didn't know whether to be charmed or appalled. Or maybe that was me projecting.

In the course of the coloring project, a problem eventually arose when we came to the opening of the fourth seal and the appearance of the fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse. The first three Horsemen had been easy enough to color: white, red, black. But the fourth, the chlóros horse, had presented a difficulty. In English, it's often rendered as 'pale,' but chlóros might also suggest something like green. Not knowing what to do, the poor student had left the horse empty of color, but had brought her box of crayons along to class hoping that the professor might, in his expert opinion, choose for her the one that most approximated chlóros. I don't remember if a decision was made.

Perhaps the old pale/green/pale-green question of the fourth horse is further complicated by the fact that nowadays we associate the color green with life and flourishing, not with the identity of the fourth Horseman, Death. If we didn't keep our dead in refrigerators or put makeup on them, maybe it would make more sense to us.

I was reminded of all this during the Office of Readings because in Italian the fourth Horseman is said to be verdastro, a word I'm sure I didn't know before this morning. My most valued dictionary says it means, 'greenish, greeny.' I didn't know that 'greeny' was a word, so I guess I've made progress in two languages today.


Caelius said...

I hadn't ever thought about "hung on [blank]" question. I wonder if "wood" is the sense that was intended but just sounded too funny in both Italian and English.

Louis M said...

Ganggreen ;)

Anonymous said...

"Now is the month of Maying
When merry lads are playing
Each with his bonny lass
Upon the greeny grass..."

Thomas Morley?

Brother Charles said...


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