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The Elegance of Precision

The Elegance of Precision

On Pines’s Translation of the Literary Parts of the Guide

(p.225) 7 The Elegance of Precision
Maimonides' "Guide of the Perplexed" in Translation
Sarah Stroumsa
University of Chicago Press

This chapter analyzes and evaluates Shlomo Pines’s 1963 English translation of the Guide of the Perplexed published by the University of Chicago Press. Pines’ seminal translation was a watershed in introducing Maimonides to the world of Medieval Islamic philosophy. In his translation, Pines aimed to achieve a uniform, consistent, and precise translation, translating as much as possible each technical Arabic term by the same English term and preserving its sometimes anacoluthic syntax. According to his critics, this method resulted in a rigid and inelegant translation, which is now outdated. The present paper seeks to assess the validity of this criticism by examining the way Pines translated the changing voices and literary genres within the Guide itself. A second criticism is that Pines allowed his own interpretation and esotericist ideology to overly influence his translation. This chapter defends the translation by showing how it allows Maimonides’ voice to speak for itself. Finally, the author discusses Pines’ translation in the context of his controversial view toward the end of his life that Maimonides does not believe in the possibility of human knowledge of metaphysics.

Keywords:   Shlomo Pines, English translation, esotericism, consistency, metaphysics

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