Mutations :: J. L. Borges

I saw in a hall an arrow pointing the way and I thought that this inoffensive symbol had once been a thing of iron, an inescapable and fatal projectile that pierced the flesh of men and of lions and clouded the sun at Thermopolae and gave Harald Sigurdarson six feet of English earth forever.

Some days later someone showed me a photograph of a Magyar horseman. A coiled lasso circled the breast of his mount. I learned that the lasso, which once whipped through the air and brought down the bulls of the prairie, was now nothing more than a haughty trapping of Sunday harness.

In the west cemetery I saw a runic cross, chiseled in red marble. The arms curved as they widened out, and a circle encompassed them. That limited, circumscribed cross represented the other one, the free-armed cross, which in its turn represents the gallows where a god suffered, the “vile machine” railed at by Lucian of Samosata.

Cross, lasso, and arrow–former tools of man, debased or exalted now to the status of symbols. Why should I marvel at them, when there is not a single thing on earth that oblivion does not erase or memory change, and when no one knows into what images he himself will be transmuted by the future.

[From Dreamtigers, by Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Mildred Boyer]

4 thoughts on “Mutations :: J. L. Borges

  1. Nw Translation by Andrew hurley is better. This story features in The Maker, not dreamtigers.

    Hurleys translation ends,

    “Cross, rope and arrow: ancient implements of mankind, today reduced or elevated to symbols. I do not know why I marvel at them so, when there is nothing on earth that forgetfulness does not fade, memory alter, and when no one knows what sort of image the future may translate it into”.

  2. The transcription of Boyer’s translation of this story/essay is critically missing one word in the last sentence.

    The line should read: “…and when no one knows INTO what images he himself will be transmuted by the future.”

    This one mistake of transcription aside, I’m not sure which is the better translation, Boyer’s or Hurley’s. Both appear to be necessary.

    • Thanks Petra, I made the correction.

      Sadly, I don’t know Spanish, but in terms of which translation makes for more enjoyable reading, I prefer Hurley’s — except for that last sentence, coincidentally, where I prefer Boyer’s.

      Oddly enough, the two translations seem to interpret the last sentence quite differently. As Alan pointed out in the above comment, the last sentence of the Hurley translation reads:

      “I do not know why I marvel at them so, when there is nothing on earth that forgetfulness does not fade, memory alter, and when no one knows what sort of image the future may translate it into.”

      Hurley’s sentence omits precisely what I like so much in Boyer’s translation — the “he himself”! If only I could read the original Spanish and know Borges’ actual intention. Or perhaps the Spanish is ambiguous enough to allow both interpretations?

      Perhaps at some point I will transcribe Hurley’s translations of all “The Maker” stories to put along side Boyer’s.

      • Yes, I would say that the Spanish original is ambiguous, a matter of a pronoun.

        So, Boyer made her choice, and Hurley made a macaroni salad!

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