The Misadventures of Kazantzakis’ Kapetan Michalis in Translation
IT HAS long been known that Jonathan Griffin’s English translation of Kapetan Michalis (published as Freedom and Death) is plagued by omissions and inaccuracies. Previous investigations accounted for these in terms of an attempt to remove blatantly anti-Turkish sentiment (Vamvaka 1998) or to reduce the author’s tendency to digress (Beaton 2006), without investigating the possibility that Griffin was not translating from the original Greek text. Drawing on unpublished correspondence between translators, publishers and Eleni and Nikos Kazantzakis, this paper reveals that Griffin based his rendition on Helmut von Steinen’s German text, which was substantially altered by Walter Kahnert of Herbig Verlag before appearing in print. Moreover, it emerges that the English text is just one in a series of translations commissioned by Max Tau, the German-Jewish publisher who made use of an extensive network of contacts to promote Kazantzakis’ work on the international market, with scant regard for the accuracy of foreign language editions. Based on this finding, the paper moves to a comparison of translations published in six Germanic languages (German, English, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Dutch) to propose a ‘stemma’ for Northern European versions of Kapetan Michalis.
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