Monday, July 23, 2012

A Mistaken Translation? (Artscroll Kinos)

The Kinos read on Tisha B'Av are peppered with many astronomical allusions. Some outright such as the fifth Kinah, read at night, that goes through the mourning of the twelve zodiacal constellations and others that use terminology to emphasize a point but do not outright discuss the night sky. A basic knowledge of the celestial objects opens a new dimension to seeing some of the powerful symbolism found in these heart wrenching lamentations. Unfortunately, lack of such knowledge often leads to misinterpretation.

Last year I was using the Artscroll Kinos (copyright 1991) and I noticed what appears to me to be an example of a mistranslation of one such Kinah. Earlier this evening I was in shul davening Maariv and I noticed that they had come out with their new linear translation and I immediately opened to this Kinah to see if any changes were made. I found that changes were made, but it appears that the original intent of the author is still not being expressed by this translation.

The Kinah is number 37 (ציון קחי כל צרי גלעד) states:

"נראה בתמוז כסיל בך יעלה כי שאר כל החדשים לבד זה בחדריך"

The first translation was:

"The constellation Orion is visible everywhere [except in Israel] in the month of Tammuz, for it only ascends above you [Israel] during one of the other months [Sivan], while [in Tammuz] it remains concealed in your inner chambers."

The translator must have realized that he was butchering the original text. The actual Hebrew seems to be discussing how Orion is seen in Tammuz, presumably in Israel since that is the location of the rest of the items in the Kinah, and during the rest of the months it seems to be elsewhere. My guess is that the translator did some research and found that Orion is not visible in the Middle East during the summer month of Tammuz. Because he assumed the original text must make sense, he had to force this other interpretation into the words. Unfortunately, it does not seem to capture the true intent of the author. I am also not sure where the "everywhere" that Orion is visible in Tammuz is. The entire Middle East and a significant portion of the Northern Hemisphere, currently, do not see Orion during this month.

Since I did not purchase the new linear translation, I do not have it in front of me, but the new translation of the line went something like this:

"In Tammuz, Antares visibly rises in you for in all the other months it is in your chambers [Southern Hemisphere]."

You will notice that the new translator abandoned the conventional Orion as his translation for "כסיל" and instead picked the lesser translation, Antares. I suspect he did so partially for the reasons cited above. While the vast majority of Rishonim maintain that "כסיל" is the constellation Orion, the Ibn Ezra maintains that it is the bright red star Antares that is found in the constellation Scorpius. (Ibn Ezra Iyov 38:31) Although this is a very unconventional translation, there is reason to suspect that it is accurate as it has been suggested that the author of this Kinah may have been the Ibn Ezra himself. Kudos to the new translation, but unfortunately it still is hard to hear.

Antares is seen in Yerushalayim in Tammuz, but what does it mean that the other months Antares finds itself in the Southern Hemisphere? Antares is visible (at least at some time during the night) for eleven out of the twelve months of the year in Yerushalayim. Rashi even mentions this fact in Rosh Hashana (11b).

I would like to offer a simple and clear translation for this line. By doing so I think it also becomes apparent that the Ibn Ezra is not the author of this Kinah. Before I give the translation, let me give some background. The stars have slowly shifted from their positions that they were in at the time of Chazal and even from the time of the Rishonim (I am referring to their relative position). The phenomenon that causes this is referred to as the precession of the equinoxes. I believe the reason for the mistranslation is because the translators researched what the current sky looks like and not the ancient sky as it was in the times of the author!!!

In the time of Chazal, Orion was first visible during Tammuz. Prior to Tammuz its appearance in the sky was occurring in daytime and its stars were out shined by daylight. In the eleventh - thirteenth century, when the Kinah was written, Orion still first became visible during Tammuz albeit later in the month. Its visibility was just before sunrise and it therefore was seen at daybreak. The stars and constellations that rise with the Sun are considered to be coming to power. (Rashi Rosh Hashana 11b) Therefore, even though Orion is visible in many other months, it may be considered to be more powerful in Tammuz and in the rest of the months it may be considered to be less of a force. Nowadays, it takes until the middle of Av for it to become visible meaning that it is invisible during Tammuz. If the translator would have looked to the star visibility times as they were in the times of the original author, he could have taken a very simple translation:

"The visibility of Orion in Tammuz is seen rising in you, for in all other months other than this it is in your chambers (meaning not in a position of power)."

May Hashem cause that this Kinah will not be read and cried over this coming Tisha B'Av since hopefully we will be rejoicing after finding true salvation after close to two thousand years!


Chanoch said...

Very interesting analysis

Ari S. said...

Thank you.