Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Many Translations of José Rizal's Noli me tángere

Last on my blog series on the title Noli me tángere

“Dicit ei Iesus noli me tangere nondum enim ascendi ad patrem meum.”
Jesus saith unto her, touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father.”

Rizal took the title of his first novel from the Gospel of St. John, Chapter 20, line 17 (King James Version. London: Robert Barker, 1611). It was most likely that he was led to this particular quote because on one of his visits to the El Prado Museum in Madrid, he chanced upon the impressionable Correggio mannerist style painting named Noli me tángere, (see my blogs, August 26, 27, 28).

Leon Maria Guerrero writes in his translated volume of Noli me tángere: “The words are taken from John XX, 17, and are spoken by the risen Christ to Mary Magdalen, but the subject would seem to have no connection with the Rizal story,” (1961, xv). I tend to agree with Guerrero. As far as the story’s plot and characterization, it is not a description of the novel. However, as a metaphor and an allegory for a society’s social conditions, it makes sense. Rizal has a tendency to use metaphors and allegories in his writings.

The late monsignor Knox, in his translation of the Bible into modern English, renders Touch me not as Do not cling to me thus. He is right. Chapter 20 from my bible copy (The New American Bible. St. Joseph edition. 1970: 137-138) says: Do not cling to me. However, on the commentary below the page, it says. Don’t touch me is the literal translation. However, there is a profoundly spiritual aspect to this literal statement.

Let me explain. Mark, Chapter 28: 9 refers to the women who visited the empty tomb. When they see him risen from the dead they approached and were about to take hold and cling to his garments in order to anoint his feet and body, as was the Jewish custom in those days. Jesus addresses them saying: I have not yet ascended. In Mark, he doesn’t say, Don’t touch me. It’s implied. Like “Wait, I’m going first to my Father and when I come back imbued with His Spirit, then you can touch me with your traditional anointing rituals.

For John and many of the New Testament evangelists, the ascension to heaven is understood in the purely theological terms. Resurrection means going forth to the Father to be glorified. The interaction with Mary Magdalene in the John scriptures dramatizes such an understanding. Rizal, who is so metaphysical in his letters and his description of his life in Madrid, understood what it meant to be imbued with the Spirit of reform before he can preach to his countrymen.

Noli me tángere is not Spanish nor Italian, but Latin. At that time, Latin was the language of the enlightened. In fact the Italian dialect of Florence used by Dante and Boccaccio was considered “vulgar.”

On the several title forms
The Noli has been translated many times into many languages almost from the date of its publication. However, since I began my search on where the idea of the book’s title must first have originated, I end with how the book’s title was finally translated.

In the Filipino language translation by Bartolome del Valle, Benigno Zamora and Salud Enriques, (Philippine Book Co. 1993 edition), the title is not translated into Filipino. The original Noli title is retained.

Charles Derbyshire’s translation in 1912 was entitled The Social Cancer.

In Leon Maria Guerrero’s original translation, (1961) his title was The Lost Eden. In Guerrero’s later edition, 1995, the title is Noli Me Tangere: He writes: "I did not find it wise to translate the title, "(p xv.)

The translation by Maria Soledad Lacson-Locsin edited by Raul L Locsin (1996) used the facsimile of the original cover.

The translation of Harold Augenbraum (Penguin Classics, 2006) shows the Rizal original cover. It also had a subtitle Noli Me Tangere, and in parenthesis Touch Me Not was inserted below the first line title.

Of course here in my blog I use the Spanish style consistently for the title: only the first word is capitalized, and there is an accent on the ain the word tángere.

In closing, I would like to confess to a trivia observation that escaped me at that time. As a Rizaliana student in college very few of us, especially myself, never picked up this hidden and transparent fact. I must have been dozing during that lecture. In 1889, Rizal submitted a satirical article published in Barcelona as a pamphlet. He used a pseudonym: Dimasalang (Masalang, touch. Di is a contraction of the word hindî, the imperative of don’t).

In the end, Rizal himself had advanced the Tagalog translation of Touch me not. It was Dimasalang, also his symbolic Masonic name.

Stay with me on my next blog: José Rizal and Juan Luna at the El Prado Museum, Madrid.

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