Doubt Thou the Stars are Fire

“He [Alexander Gerschenkron] spent a pleasant summer with my grandmother examining one hundred translations of Hamlet’s quatrain to Ophelia, ‘Doubt thou the stars are fire,’ in languages from Catalan to Icelandic to Serbo-Croatian to Bulgarian — all as preparation for an essay in which they argued that translation invariably distorts meaning.” (Nicholas Dawidoff, The Fly Swatter)

Erica Gerschenkron and Alexander Gerschenkron (1966), The Illogical Hamlet: A Note on Translatability. Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Vol. 8, No. 3, pp. 301–336. From the Essay: “A scholar must assume that the phenomena which he studies are amenable to rational explanations. A translator must assume that the foreign text is translatable. Those assumptions — or mental predispositions — are necessary. Without them there can be neither scholarly research nor translation. But the optimism, alas, is not always justified. Mounin’s impressive translatability thesis notwithstanding. Hamlet’s quatrain in his letter to Ophelia is a curious and instructive instance. The purpose of this Note is to review one hundred attempts — in sixteen languages — to translate those four lines. We shall try to show why in most, though not all, languages the translators had to struggle with a fundamental and actually insurmountable difficulty.”

Collections of English Translations of the Odes of Horace.