Translating a poem is the high art of translation, particularly when things ought to rhyme. That said, translating antiquated 19th century scholarly German to English comes in as a close second. A very close second.
Together with Wenda Brewster, I am working on a new translation of Samuel Hahnemann’s The Chronic Diseases. Wenda has already had a previous encounter with Hahnemann when she published the most readable English translation of the Organon in 1996. Wanting more, she next set her eyes on The Chronic Diseases.
Published in its present form in 1835, The Chronic Diseases were first translated to English by Charles Hempel in 1846, again in 1849 by Robert Dudgeon, and finally in 1896 by Louis Tafel. And that version, which already is more than hundred years old, is the one with which every student of homeopathy is confronted today.
Isn’t it about time to give a new translation a go?
When we started, I didn’t know Wenda personally and only learned by and by that she taught herself the language by reading all volumes of Harry Potter in German. Honed with a fine linguistic sense and a firm understanding of Hahnemann’s teachings, she wanted to team up with someone who spoke the language as a native. Enter me.
And so it came that at a time during which a pandemic was raging outside, I hardly had the mind to be bothered with thinking about Covid. Wenda and I would spend countless hours online, arguing fervently over just the right word and the perfect phrase to capture accurately Hahnemann’s meaning and style. Sometimes, we reached for the top drawer of the English language, where we found beautiful words like “obnubilate”, “assuage” or “apperceive” only to come to the conclusion that this isn’t in the best interest of the reader. Sometimes we had heated discussions about the differences between a chancre and a bubo. But most of the times we were confronted by sentences like the one below (yes, that really is one single German sentence):
Der schwierigste unter allen Fällen, der dritte Zustand, bleibt uns noch zu behandeln übrig, wo entweder schon bei der syphilitischen Ansteckung der Mensch mit einer chronischen Krankheit behaftet, folglich die Syphilis noch bei gegenwärtigem Schanker mit Psora verwickelt war, oder wo, wenn noch keine chronische Krankheit bei Ausbruch des Schankers im Körper wohnte, und nur Zeichen die innerlich schlummernde Psora zu erkennen gaben, ein allöopathischer Arzt das Lokalsymptom nicht nur mit sehr schmerzhaften äußeren Mitteln langweilig zerstört, sondern auch lange Zeit eine teils sehr schwächende, teils sehr angreifende, innere Kur mit ihm vorgenommen, auf diese Art aber seine allgemeine Gesundheit untergraben und so die in ihm bisher noch latente Psora zur Entwickelung und zum Ausbruch in chronische Übel gebracht hatte, welche sich nun unaufhaltbar mit der inneren Syphilis verbindet, deren Lokalsymptom zugleich so unverständiger Weise vernichtet worden war – denn nur die entwickelte und in offenbarer, chronischer Krankheit sich äußernde Psora kann sich mit der venerischen Krankheit komplizieren, nicht aber die noch latente und schlummernde.
We have not yet covered the most difficult of all these cases, the third state. This is a state, where:
1. the patient was already afflicted with a chronic disease at the time of infection with syphilis, so that the syphilis, with the chancre still present, gets entangled with psora, or
2. there was as yet no chronic disease in the body at the outbreak of the chancre and only signs of dormant psora were recognizable. An allopathic doctor then intervenes and not only lastingly destroys the local symptom with very painful external means, but also subjects the patient to a drawn-out internal treatment. Sometimes this treatment is very debilitating or very aggressive so that the patient’s general health is undermined. In this way, the psora, which had been latent within, starts to develop and break out into chronic maladies. This links the psora inexorably with the internal syphilis, whose local symptom had been annihilated in such an unintelligent manner. For psora can only be complicated with the venereal disease once it has developed into a manifest chronic disease, not when it is still latent and dormant.
At the end of an extremely educational and linguistically rewarding task awaits a translation of The Chronic Diseases that will be clear, easily readable, and true in meaning to what Hahnemann set forth almost 200 years ago. We still have a bit to go before it’s finished but I’ll keep you posted when it’s done.