Joseph v. Hammer Purgstall’s (8) German Translation of Hafez’s Divan and Goethe’s West-östlicher Divan

by Mahsa Kalatehseifary

Mahsa Kalatehseifary

3. Joseph Freiherr von Hammer Purgstall’s Hafez translation and their Reception (Continue)

Gibb defines “Persianism [as a] culture adopted by Ottomans, and more especially, applied by them to matters connected with literature”. With regard to Ottoman poetry’s “Persianisation”, he explains: “The Turks knew but one literature, that of Persia on which they had been reared. And thus this brilliant literature became, not by selection, but by force of circumstances, the model after which the Turks should fashion [w]hat they were about to find”. Therefore, reflection on works by classical Persian poets by means of writing commentaries and imitations during the time of the Old School became the fashion among Ottomanians and other peoples under the power of the Ottoman Empire. The text from which Hammer translated Hafez’s Divan was also an Ottoman Turkish edition, commented on by the Bosnian philologist (Ahmed) Sudi Efendi (Bosniak) (d. 1595-99), which was produced during the so-called “Persianisation” of Ottoman poetry in the seventeenth century. In the foreword to his book, Hammer calls Sudi’s commentary the “most excellent” compared to the other two by Schemii and Sururi (d. 1561) he had read. Sudi translated Hafez’s verses word-for-word from Persian to Turkish and scrutinized the meaning and context of every single word thoroughly. Particularity and precision make his book the best philological and syntactical approach to Hafez’s poems even today. Yet, the implications that this mode of reading might have had on the semantics of the translation must be considered. Edward Brown, in his Literary History of Persia, underlines the semantic inadequacy of this translation by describing Sudi’s approach as one which “avoids all attempts at allegorical interpretation and the search for the ‘inner meaning’”, while “very wisely confin[ing] to the elucidation of the literal meaning”. Fathi also believes that Sudi incorporated his own interpretation during his rendition of Hafez’s works. Based on this evidence, I will examine both Hammer’s and Sudi’s translations in an effort to determine the influence of both authors’ approaches and biases.

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Using Sudi’s Turkish edition, Hammer began his translation in 1799 in Constantinople and finished during his second stay in 1806. He spent three years refining the renderings and enriching the footnotes, and the production of his ten year effort was published in two volumes after three years in 1812 and 1813 by the distinguished Cotta publishing house in Stuttgart.

ammer recounts the number and genres of the poems in Hafez’s Divan in his foreword to the translation. As reported by him, his volumes embrace “576 Ghazals, six Mesneviat, two Kaßide, 44 Mokataat, 72 Rubajat, and one Tachmis. Hammer divided the ghazals by grouping them according to the final letter of their rhyming words in order of Persian alphabet and used the transcription of the final letter as the name of the group. For instance, he categorized ninety ghazals ending in the literally-transcribed Persian letter Dal in the group Dal. He also used the transcription of the first hemistich of each poem as the poem’s title, which some scholars believe was intended to facilitate access to Persian readers for later comparisons. In the three separate forewords to his translation, Hammer identified his first goal as familiarizing his readers with the Persian poet and the nature of his poems by associating them with recognized Latin and Greek paradigms, calling Hafez a lyrical sibling of Horace. He summarized the message of Hafez’s poems and linked his genius of oriental fantasy to familiar examples. He then led his readers as a friendly outsider through the poems of the Divan via the medium of his renderings. He guided his readers with the assurance of providing them, he wrote, with the “utmost possible loyalty not only in imagery, but also in rhythm and reconstruction”. Yet, as we have seen, most critics disagreed with him on this point as time passed, and even those favorably disposed to his renditions were aware that the complexity of translating Persian poetry, as I described in the previous chapter, made precision impossible. So they have praised him in different terms, as a great contributor to world literature. This positive group also rejects an evaluation of Hammer’s translation through the contemporary perspective and believes that its just reception is possible only through the lens of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. They also point to a lack of ‘systematic translation criticism’ of Hammer’s Hafez-translation and believe the cause of the faulty judgments on Hammer’s work lie in the fact that Goethe philologists are not orientalists nor have Iranian scholars shown interest in analyzing Hammer’s work.

  Joseph v. Hammer Purgstall’s; German Translation of Hafez’s Divan and Goethe’s West-östlicher Divan

To be continued…

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