Updated: Apr 7
Good evening friends,
For your Cyrano Sunday this week we’ll be continuing the wonderful speech in the first act of Cyrano de Bergerac where Cyrano proceeds to insult his own nose in order to upstage the Vicount de Valvert who has dared to offer him an utterly pedestrian insult. We covered about the first quarter of the speech in our last encounter, so we’ll be moving on from where we left off at:
Antagonistic: “You can’t smoke that here, Or someone will cry ‘Fire!’ in the theater!”
Once again we will go insult by insult and I’ll show you how I worked through from the original French text to my current solution.
Prévenant: "Gardez-vous, votre tête entraînée Considerate: Mind yourself, your head bending down
Par ce poids, de tomber en avant sur le sol !" By the weight, to fall forward on the ground.
This insult is pretty funny already, but I tried to simplify and smooth it out a bit, and make it more fluid in delivery. Since it is supposed to be ‘Considerate,’ I varied the words and the tone to play up that aspect. I also changed ‘Considerate’ to ‘Accommodating’ because I needed another syllable for the scansion. I ended up with a much shorter line, which almost never happens because English is a much wordier language compared to French.
Accommodating: “Please don’t bow, Monsieur. You might fall over!”
So I moved quickly on to the 'Tender' insult, which is just adorable:
Tendre: "Faites-lui faire un petit parasol Tender: It makes to make a little parasol
De peur que sa couleur au soleil ne se fane!" From fear that the color by the sun will not be faded.
This is a little obscure to the modern audience. To clarify the meaning, What he is saying is that his nose is so big that it acts like a Parasol to shade his body and prevent the sun from fading his garments. Since most our clothing nowadays is dyed using aniline dyes instead of natural dyes, we, as modern people, don’t really have to worry that we look like we are poor because the sun has faded the colors of our clothing; however, the conceit of his nose as a parasol is just delightful. If I leave off the explanations and just use that image, I come up with:
Tender: “Oh, it’s like A little parasol that shades your feet.”
Moving on to the next insult:
Pédant: "L'animal seul, monsieur, qu'Aristophane Pendantic: The only animal, Monsiuer, that Aristophanes
Appelle Hippocampelephantocamélos Called the Hippocamelelephantcamelythingie.
Dut avoir sous le front tant de chair sur tant d'os!" You have to have under the front so much flesh as on the back.
This insult is all about the ridiculous last word. It’s the same kind of humor that gives us Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. I ended up making it sound almost like a professor giving a tour through the Natural history museum. It would have been even more pedantic if I could have gotten the Aristophanes allusion in there, but alas, scansion prevented me. The third line of the insult is once again an explanation that you have to have an equal amount of flesh in the trunk as in the hump of this imaginary animal, but it’s not really very funny so I let it go. Sometimes the best thing you can do as a translator is ruthlessly cut things out. Here is my version:
Pedantic: “Here we have the animal Known as the Hippocamelelephant!
Add a few gestures to show the swinging trunk and you are guaranteed to get a laugh. Moving on to the next insult:
Cavalier: 'Quoi, l'ami, ce croc est à la mode ? Nonchalant: What, friend, this hook is in fashion
Pour pendre son chapeau, c'est vraiment très commode!' To hang your hat, it’s truly very convenient.
Nonchalant? Really. Who insults someone nonchalantly? I decided to change it up a bit. The meaning of this insult is wonderful. I mostly just simplified it, and tried to intensify the tone.
Appreciative: “Oh, what a handy place To hang your hat!”
If you have ever seen Buckaroo Banzai, that is a direct quote because I am a Nerd with a capital N. Please recite in your best John Lithgow voice. Next we have 'Emphatic’:
Emphatique: "Aucun vent ne peut, nez magistral, Empahtic: Not one wind is able, This nose masterful
T'enrhumer tout entier, excepté le mistral !" To make sick all of the whole, except the Mistral
Remember when I said the best thing you can do is a translator is to ruthlessly cut things out? Now would be a good time. Cut it. It isn’t funny and we don’t call the winds by name anymore so nobody will understand it. Buh-bye! Moving right along to Dramatic:
Dramatique: "C'est la Mer Rouge quand il saigne !" Dramatic: It’s the Red Sea when it bleeds.
Even though I referenced the Brian Hooker and Anthony Burgess translations during my translation process, I tried very hard not to blindly follow their lead or take too much from them. In this particular instance, however, I must admit that I loved the Hooker translation so much that I incorporated a version of it.
Brian Hooker, translated this insult as follows, adding a bit that slightly references the previous allusion to the winds and makes the whole thing more dramatic:
Eloquent: When it blows, the typhoon howls, and the clouds darken. Daramatic: When it bleeds— The Red Sea!
My version adapts his idea, but changes it somewhat:
Dramatic: “When it blows, The hurricanes howl and the oceans rage! And when it bleeds, the Red Sea floods its banks.
After working through all of these insults, my version reads as follows:
Accommodating: “Please don’t bow, Monsieur. You might fall over!” Tender: “Oh, it’s like A little parasol that shades your feet.” Pedantic: “Here we have the animal Known as Hippocamelelephant! Appreciative: “Oh, what a handy place To hang your hat!” Dramatic: “When it blows, The hurricanes howl and the oceans rage! And when it bleeds, the Red Sea floods its banks.
Thanks friends, and I’ll look forward to seeing you next week for