Translating symphosii scholastici aenigmata: the problems of translating an enigmatic genre

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The tendency to dismiss Symphosius as frivolous has been expressed in the translations of his work. This, of course, has the effect of reinforcing the attitude since many readers read Symphosius first in translations; even if they then read the text in the original, it is hard to shake first impressions. This attitude is a reflection of our cultural associations with riddles, which are very different from those of late antiquity. Moreover, there are a range of problems associated with translating Symphosius' 'Aenigmata', including the difficulty of establishing a source text from the range of variations found in the manuscript tradition, and the cultural and historical barriers to making the text intelligible to a modern audience. However, these difficulties arise in translating all ancient texts. The greatest difficulty in translating 'Aenigmata' is the nature of the genre itself. Riddles are designed to be enigmatic. How can a translator produce a translation which gives the reader the clues required to solve the riddles without destroying ambiguity, the central feature of the genre? This is exacerbated by the requirements of producing scholarly translations; that the translated text is culturally accurate and precisely reflects specific cultural metaphors, images, symbols, paradoxes, and associations. This study examines previous translations and considers how and to what extent it is possible to satisfy such fundamentally contradictory requirements.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-49
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of The Australian Early Medieval Association
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Symphosius
  • riddles
  • translation
  • Translation
  • Riddles


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