Archaization in Literary Translation as Nostalgic Pastiche

by Krzysztof Filip Rudolf (Author)
©2019 Monographs 278 Pages


The book focuses on the phenomenon of archaization in literary translation. It analyzes the concept of archaism, pointing to its strongly evaluative aspect and highlighting the difficulties connected with supplying its clear and acceptable definition. Archaism and archaization are strongly rooted in nostalgia, understood as the human yearning for stability and harmony. Far from being an idle embellishment or an empty postmodernist game, archaization emerges as a vehicle for powerful emotions embedded in dominant discourses fostered by educated European elites. Archaism, like nostalgia, eclectically and arbitrarily recreates the past, in accordance with dominant political and cultural agendas. Both phenomena idealize the past, forcibly purifying it from all unwanted elements.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • 1 Archaism and Archaization
  • 1.1 Preliminary Remarks
  • 1.2 The Definition of Archaism, Archaization, and Patinization
  • 2 Functions of Archaization and Patinization
  • 2.1 Emphasizing the Distance between the Text and the Readers
  • 2.2 Investing the Text with Dignity and Solemnity
  • 2.3 Perpetuating a Venerable Tradition
  • 2.4 Escaping from an Unbearable Reality
  • 2.5 Introducing an Alternate Existence
  • 2.6 Domesticating the Source Text
  • 2.7 Emphasizing the Special Status of the Text
  • 2.8 Reproducing Period Flavour
  • 3 Nostalgia
  • 3.1 Nostalgia – a History
  • 3.2 Nostalgia and the Past
  • 3.3 Archaism and Nostalgia
  • 3.4 Aspects of Nostalgia
  • 3.4.1 Aspect 1. Nostalgia Stems from the Dissatisfaction and Disappointment with the Present
  • 3.4.2 Aspect 2. Nostalgia Valorizes and Idealizes the Past, Conjuring up Images of the Time When Life was Good (or Better than Today) if not Perfect, but it does not Necessarily Recreate the Past – Instead Creating a Selective Vision that Contains the Elements of Pastness
  • 3.4.3 Aspect 3. Nostalgia Engenders Phantasies about ‘Home’, Eliminating any Space for Thoughts about the Present Moment
  • 3.4.4 Aspect 4. Nostalgia is a Rebellion against the Modern Idea of Linear Time and Progress
  • 3.4.5 Aspect 5. Nostalgia Stems from the Irretrievability of the Past
  • 4 Archaism and Stylization
  • 4.1 Authenticity of the Language Used in Archaizing Translations
  • 4.2 Archaization as Pastiche
  • Conclusions
  • Index


The topic of archaism and archaization in literary translation definitely had its heyday in previous centuries, and was hotly debated and dissected by practising translators and scholars alike. With the gradual yet relentless demise of the relevance of classics and classical education in general, coupled with various modernist and postmodernist trepidations, disputes concerning this subject have inevitably lost their native temperature. The ‘regime of fluency’ described by Lawrence Venuti in The Translator’s Invisibility, practically eradicates archaization and makes it absolutely undesirable, interfering as it does with ‘the seemingly untroubled communication of the foreign writer’s intention’1 and creating an unnecessary obstruction to understanding. While certain ideas championed by this scholar would seem to be overtly and unduly political in their overall tenor, as well as restricted mainly to the realities of the English-speaking communities, his general conclusions, though uncomfortable, nevertheless deserve scrupulous attention. The requirement of fluency, claims Venuti, has ‘affected every medium, both print and electronic, by valorizing a purely instrumental use of language and other means of representation and thus emphasizing immediate intelligibility and the appearance of factuality.’2 In such a world, archaization has no place and has to be eliminated, yielding place to linguistic manifestations devoid of all awkwardness – ‘anything that might concentrate attention on the language itself’.3 Instantaneousness has become the battle cry, in this case meaning the instantaneousness of access to translated texts, unimpaired by any kind of distracting verbal embellishments. The requirement of accessibility is unsurprising since not infrequently the so-called ‘digital natives’ of the twenty-first century no longer understand the non-contemporary language used by authors who floruit as recently as the nineteenth century (not to mention those belonging to much earlier epochs).

It will be argued in the following considerations that archaization, far from being merely an idle ornament, serves as a powerful vehicle for frequently suppressed emotions, doubtless constituting the very core of human experiences. The yearning for stability, the innocence embodied in culturally conditioned ←7 | 8→images of the prelapsarian bliss, the simplicity of the bygone existence, and the sepia-tinged visions of Arcadian harmony – all these subtly intertwined pictures and mental constructs constitute, to a variable degree, the very core of the archaizing motion. Moreover, archaism implies stability and cohesiveness, which are seen as markedly absent from contemporary experience: ‘Hindsight makes better sense of past scenes than the incoherent present; yesterday’s comprehensible perceptions outlast today’s kaleidoscopic images’.4

Pastness also implies perfection, by virtue of its being close to the beginnings and sources; it is, ex defintione, superior to everything that follows it. Deeper philosophical issues are very much alive here, involving the purported primeval harmony, and the subsequent loss of the Eliadean Centre: ‘From a mysterious unity, human beings have fallen into disunity. Within their condition of dissatisfaction, separation, forgetfulness, ontological fissure and disaster, human beings are nostalgic for their lost paradise, a paradoxical state in which contraries exist in unity’.5

Not only are chains of past events inevitably frozen – also the linguistic past is forever fossilized and immutable. Compared with the inchoate and protean present, the linguistic past is the only form offering some kind of stability. Obsolete words and structures carry a rich crust of semantic accretions which, though at times only partially recoverable and accessible, apparently still energize connotations of compelling immediacy. Archaisms therefore, far from being a positive hindrance in the reception and enjoyment of literary translations, offer us the only means of accessing the world of the past.

Unfortunately, the admiration and imitation of past models were at some point carried out to an extreme degree, and as the balance between the past and the present became visibly disrupted, the past with its achievements turned into a constricting and conservative force. It therefore comes as no surprise that with the emulation of the ancients being vastly exaggerated, it must have, in time, engendered hostile reactions. As noted by Schlegel:

The learned, who were chiefly in possession of this knowledge, and who were incapable of distinguishing themselves by their own productions, yielded an unlimited deference to the ancients (…). They maintained, that nothing could be hoped for the human mind, but in the imitation of the ancients; and they only esteemed, in the works of the ←8 | 9→moderns, whatever resembled, or seemed to bear a resemblance, to those of antiquity. Everything else was rejected by them as barbarous and unnatural.6

Nowadays, archaization survives predominantly as the main driving force of postmodern pastiche, revived, resurrected and recreated with prestidigitatorial dexterity to serve as nothing more than sheer entertainment. It is the contention of this book, however, that archaization in the case of literary translation is a much more significant phenomenon, steeped in nostalgia and rooted in universal human desires, even to the point of betraying a conspicuous layer of crypto-religious attitudes. Linked with various political and cultural agendas, and embroiled in numerous disputes, archaizing translation will be shown to transcend its deictic and decorative functions, being in fact a powerful vehicle for reflecting back to the deepest experiences of humankind.

←9 | 10→←10 | 11→

1 Lawrence Venuti, The Translator’s Invisibility. A History of Translation. London and New York: Routledge 2008, p. 1.

2 Ibid., p. 5.

3 Bernstein, in: Venuti, op. cit., p. 5.

4 David Lowenthal, The Past is a Foreign Country. Revisited. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2015, p. 87.

5 Carl Olson, ‘Theology of Nostalgia: Reflections on the Theological Aspects of Eliade’s Work’, Numen, Vol. 36, Fasc. 1 (Jun., 1989), DOI: 10.2307/3269854, www.jstor.org/stable/3269854, Accessed 15 Sept. 2017.

6 Wilhelm August Schlegel, Lectures on Dramatic Literature. Translated by John Black, Esq. Baldwin & Co., 1815, in: The Edinburgh Review, or Critical Journal, Vol. XXVI, Edinburgh, 1816. Google Books Search. Accessed 10 Nov. 2017.

1 Archaism and Archaization

1.1 Preliminary Remarks

The word ‘archaism’ boasts roots of considerable complexity, and as a notion all but pervades the history of human thought, literature, and culture, its descriptive meaning, inextricably bound with the evaluative one, having a rich history behind it. Far from being an innocent concept, it reveals, under scrutiny, a breathtaking tapestry of connotations and emotions, the latter inseparable from human perceptions about history and the past.

Since every investigation should start by establishing the meaning and implications of the basic concepts and notions employed, it should come as no surprise that we shall begin with the analysis of the terms ‘archaism’ and ‘archaic’. Most misconceptions appear to stem from the fact that the notions used in discussions are far from being strictly delineated, and successive accretions brought by centuries of disputes inevitably tend to obfuscate the overall picture. ‘If the word is to form a bridge between people, the speakers and the listeners, instead of being the stamp of their loneliness, it is imperative that it should have an element which is constant, independent of the context and the subjective tension of the utterance’ (my translation).7

First and foremost, we should analyse in some detail the origins of the words ‘archaic’ and ‘archaism’. It must be observed that the Greek word ἀρϰαῐος (archaios) contains the root ἀρϰᾑ (archē), which is clearly polysemic and extremely rich in connotations. Discussing the verb ἂρϰω Chantraine writes: ‘Le sens original, que l’incertitude de l’étymologie ne permet pas de fixer sûrement, semble être ←11 | 12→“marcher le premier, faire le premier, prendre l’initiative de, commencer” ’.8 [The original meaning, impossible to establish due to etymological uncertainties, seems to be ‘to walk first, to be the first, take the initiative, begin’]. According to the Greek-Polish Dictionary by Zygmunt Węclewski the word means ‘początek, zaczęcie (…), punkt wyjścia, przyczyna, powód, (…) pochodzenie’ [the beginning, inception (…) starting point, cause, reason, (….), origin].9 Interestingly enough, Anthony Preus substantiates this list with such meanings as ‘source’ or ‘rule’ and goes on to explain that

From the Aristotelian point of view, the early Greek philosophers were seeking the “origin” of all things, for the most part the material origin. When Aristotle distinguishes the senses of the word, he begins from immanent starting points (the heart of a living being, for example) and external origins (the parents of a child, for example). In another sense, it means the ruling authority.10

The meanings of the word, though apparently closely interrelated, in fact stress various aspects and point to its numerous ramifications as well as being susceptible of multiple interpretations. The phrase ‘ruling authority’ seems particularly worthy of notice here as it underscores one of the crucial functions of archaization, namely the reference to the age-old traditions which, if not determine the contemporary tastes, at least provide a yardstick against which modern creations are evaluated. Archaization as a phenomenon does not purely belong to the realm of the descriptive, but is indissolubly bound with that of the evaluative.

Interestingly, according to some scholars, archē is not merely a passive instrument but a power that ‘as it were, rules over all that proceeds from it’.11 The origin of every phenomenon holds sway over its potential and actual future, charting the often tortuous route of its future development.12 Therefore, every return to ←12 | 13→the origins is not merely a histrionic gesture, but rather a conscious (though sometimes subconscious) decision to look for some kind of contact with the primal shaping force.

As noticed by Bishop, Aristotle in his Metaphysics mentions six different meanings of archē, which clearly points to the complexity and semantic richness of this notion.13 This is further substantiated in the ambiguous treatment of the word arkhaios:

[…] in his Politics Aristotle uses the term in a negative sense, when he remarks that ‘old customs are exceedingly simple and barbarous’, and observes that ‘the remains of ancient laws which have come down to us are quite absurd’. In his Rhetoric, however, he notes that ‘what is long established seems akin to what exists by nature’.14

The latter statement is particularly worthy of notice, as this particular understanding of the archaic was to preponderate in the Western consciousness for many centuries, its last splinters lingering even to this day. Notions or phenomena that can boast a long history are felt to contain some immanent truthfulness and attendant venerability. Although mythical thinking has largely been superseded by a more rational approach, human beings still tend to attach importance and meaning to things primordial, invested with superhuman or transcendental authority. The word ‘nature’ as used by Artistotle, however fuzzy and nebulous, still preserves certain commanding traits and as such cannot be treated lightly.

In its most concrete meaning, however, the term archē, as used throughout the Archaic period, refers to ‘the source, origin, or root of things that exist (in the simple sense that the archē of a plant lies in the soil from which it is nourished)’.15 Roots are foundations ensuring the stability and survival of a particular entity/←13 | 14→being – this image will also be recurring in the considerations to follow. For anything to survive its archē, or root must be absolutely secure and the gods can only guarantee that security, to the ancient mind. As has been pointed out by Eliade, only by participating in the divine can anything acquire reality and hence stability:

(…) neither the objects of the external world nor human acts, properly speaking, have any autonomous intrinsic value. Objects or acts acquire a value, and in so doing become real, because they participate, after one fashion or another, in a reality that transcends them.16

Thus the physical meaning of the word becomes richly saturated with religious overtones. It follows from the above that only those objects which transcend the hic et nunc and overcome the limitations of contemporaneity can be said to possess substance and stability.

It has been noted that in Plato’s Republic ‘the notion of archē seems to acquire a special significance (…)’ and is understood ‘not only as a source, but as a principle to which nothing is prior, and hence as a metaphysical ground and logical axiom’ (emphasis added).17 Thus archē becomes an underlying principle, the fons et origo of everything which exists and has ever existed. This, in turn, clearly refers to the philosophical usage of the term and numerous theories concerning the first principle.18 As remarked by Vlastos, the notion of archē in Plato’s works is far from unambiguous: ‘Arche is a “weasel-word” in Plato. It may mean any, ←14 | 15→or all, of (i) beginning, (ii) source, (iii) cause, (iv) ruling principle, (v) ruling power’.19

The ‘origin’ of something can also be understood as a ‘beginning’ or a ‘cause’ – this holds true for the meaning attested, among others, by Testimonium A27. The sentence, coming from the Anonymus Londinensis, a medical papyrus, based in turn on Meno’s history of medicine, reads as follows: ‘He says that diseases arise through bile and blood and phlegm, and that these are the origin [archen] of diseases’.20

All in all, as remarked by Sandywell, ‘the word archē (…) evoked a rich and often contradictory spectrum of meanings, encouraging the term to be appropriated for a wide range of metaphorical uses and analogous constructions’.21

The adjective ἀρϰαῐος (arkhaios), due to its clearly multifarious nature, has a number of renderings – Węclewski’s dictionary lists the following: pierwiastkowy, pierwotny, starodawny, dawny, czcigodny starością [basic, primaeval, ancient, old, venerable on account of its age].22 The last equivalent is of paramount importance as it stresses the evaluative meaning of the term, which has become welded to the descriptive one. Abramowiczówna translates the word as follows: ‘prymitywny’, ‘pierwotny’, ‘staromodny’, ‘starodawny’; ‘dawny’, ‘klasyczny’ (o pisarzach); ‘dawniejszy’ lub ‘stary’ [primitive, primaeval, old-fashioned, old, distant, classical (about writers); older or past].23 Chantraine makes an interesting distinction between the adjective ἀρϰαῐος and παλαιός and claims that ἀρϰαῐος meaning ‘antique, qui se rapporte aux origines’, se dinstinguant ←15 | 16→ainsi de παλαιός ‘vieux, ancien’24 [antique, which is related to the origins’, being different from παλαιός ‘old, ancient’] thus contradicting Curtius who claimed that the semantic fields of παλαιός and ἀρϰαῐος are in fact identical.25 Another reading of these two terms is provided by Casevitz, who claims that ἀρϰαῐος is used ‘when the speaker wishes to suggest that the object in question still retains a certain value in the speaker’s own time’, while παλαιός is employed ‘when a discontinuity between past and present is implied’.26 This would logically mean that παλαιός refers to the phenomena whose ancient nature is merely an outward embellishment, not penetrating to their core, while ἀρϰαῐος clearly describes these of truly ancient pedigree.

The following quotation introduces the element that is crucial to our considerations:

These complexities of time and temporality, which are built right into the perception of classical objects, are to a large extent concentrated in the word archaios, which names both what is ancient, for example “the older method of writing (ἡ έρμηνεία ή πρίν), [which] resembles ancient statues (τἁ ἀρϰαῖα ἀγάλματα)”, and what is made to appear so (through archaism) (emphasis added).27

Porter stresses here the fact that something not necessarily old can be made to appear so as a result of one’s conscious efforts, being a kind of welcome delusion. Thus archaism is, to venture such a phrase, ‘othertimeness perceived’, where both constituent elements carry the same weight: the flavour of the yesteryear is not sufficient, it must also be perceived as such. Archaism, stretched between the past and the present, spread taut between two distant shores, cannot exist without these two extremes.28

←16 | 17→

It merits mentioning here that there is a number of related words whose meanings overlap with those presented above, as well as introducing new aspects decidedly worthy of attention: ἀρϰαἲκὁς – ‘qui a les façons ou les manières de penser antiques’ [marked by ancient ways of thinking], άρχαιολογέω – ‘raconter de très vieilles histoires’ [to tell very old stories], άρχαιοπρεπής – ‘aux manières antiques’, [of ancient fashion], άρχαιόπλουτος – ‘d’une antique richesse’ [of ancient grandeur].29 Abramowiczówna, in turn, mentions such forms as ἀρϰαιοπρεπής – ‘czcigodny ze względu na starożytność’, ‘staroświecki’ [venerable on account of its antiquity, old-fashioned] (again the evaluative meaning), ἀρϰαἲσμός – ‘patyna starości, archaizowanie’ [the patina of antiquity or archaisation] and also ‘używanie przestarzałych zwrotów’ or ‘starodawny obyczaj’ [the use of obsolete expressions or old-age custom], as well as the verb ἀρϰαίξω – ‘być staromodnym, naśladować starożytnych pod względem obyczajów, języka’ [to be old-fashioned, to imitate ancient customs and language].30

Another word used by the ancient Greeks with regard to things old is πίνος (pinos). Initially it referred to the ‘dirt on clothes or skin’, ‘grease on hair or wool’, and ‘rust on bronze statues’,31 subsequently undergoing a semantic shift and coming to mean the ‘patina’ of the archaic or archaizing style.32 Dionysius, writing about the style of certain authors of the past, said that its beauty could be ascribed to the patina of antiquity (τόν άρχαἵσμόν καί τόν πίνον ἓϰουσα κάλλος).33 However, the very word ‘patina’ explicitly points out to the fact that it cannot be the equivalent of ‘archaization’ (with reference to the language of ←17 | 18→a literary work), signifying as it does something more superficial, something constituting the outer layer and not touching the heart of the matter. Patina, to invoke the habitus image, can be likened to a costume, a garb adorning the text, whose aim is to create a particular impression on the reader, the image being highlighted by the expression ‘to wear a patina’.34 This patinizing effect can be obtained by using clearly anachronistic elements, thanks to which it is possible to distance the text in question from the contemporary times.35 The very term ‘patina’ can be found in works investigating the phenomenon of archaization, frequently in the phrase ‘the patina of antiquity’.36 Writing about Cary’s translation of Dante, Crisafulli highlights this aspect, stating that the translator ‘envelops the target text in an archaizing patina’ (emphasis added).37 Viewed in such a way, ‘patina’ cannot be rightfully referred to as a quality of a text, but as something which covers the text from the outside, creating the illusion of venerability and triggering a consistent set of sentiments. By adding clearly anachronistic elements one can envelop the text with a crust of patina, thanks to which – as is the case with Homer – the resulting text achieves epic distance from the contemporary times.38 Although the terms ‘ancient’ and ‘patinated’ were not ←18 | 19→infrequently perceived as overlapping, certain authors point to clear discrepancies between them:

Dionysius describes the antiquity of the austere harmonia not as arkhaios, but rather as pepinômenês and pinos (‘patinated’ and ‘patina’), terms which refer to the tarnish that develops on bronze with age, and which we have already seen Dionysius use once in close conjunction with arkhaios. Their appearance in these passages, I think, is no accident: to call a style ‘patinated’ is not just another way to describe it as ‘ancient’. Patina is not something that is originally part of a work of art; it emerges over a long period and thus only becomes visible to audiences at a much later time.39


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (March)
literary translation archaization patinization stylization ennoblement translatorial licence
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019. 275 pp.

Biographical notes

Krzysztof Filip Rudolf (Author)

Krzysztof Filip Rudolf is Assistant Professor in the Chair of Translation Studies at the University of Gdańsk. His scholarly interests include literary translation, archaization, dialects and nonstandard language in translation, lexicography.


Title: Archaization in Literary Translation as Nostalgic Pastiche
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