An alert reader (as Dave Barry calls them) has just sent in a December article appearing in the Economist on one of the first martyrs of translation.
“AN EMERGING nation looks increasingly confident as a player on the world stage, thanks to a mixture of commercial prowess and deft diplomacy. In its capital and in coastal cities, you can feel the excitement as small manufacturers, retailers and middlemen find new partners across the sea. But the country’s masters face a dilemma: the very technology, communications and knowhow that are boosting national fortunes also threaten to undermine the old power structure.
“China in the 21st century, contemplating the pros and cons of the internet? No, Tudor England, at the time when a gifted, impulsive young man called William Tyndale arrived in London—not to make his fortune, but to transform the relationship between ordinary people and the written word.”
Tyndale believed that knowledge and truth—in his estimation, the Bible—should be available to everyone in a language they would comprehend. He was eventually burned at the stake by Henry VIII for his translation and publication via the printing press, a new and dangerous commodity. Later, as a biographer recounts, his translation was rather ironically used to create about nine-tenths of the King James New Testament, given both his penchant for linguistic and literary brilliance.