Editorial n. 5 (2012)

   When we, as members of the Western societies, speak of "translation", we rely on a particular mental image: "carrying over" or "transferring" a certain utterance, or collection of utterances, from one language to another. The terms we use in defining "translation" are in fact all based on a metaphor of this kind: thus Italian tradurre, French traduire, Portugheuse traducir (from Latin trans-ducere "lead across"), German übersetzen (literally, "set across") and English translate (from Latin trans-latum "carried across"). In contrast, in Igbo, a language spoken in Nigeria, the words used to signify the act of translation are tapia and kowa. Both words are made up of an element that means "narrate", "tell" and another that means "break, decompose". In native conception, translation thus consists in a practice that "breaks" a certain series of utterances and then "re-tells" them – as happens, for instance, with the local version of the story of Adam and Eve, at the end of which Adam becomes a great agriculturalist. Therefore, if we set about studying these Nigerian cultural practices applying our (etic) category of "translating" or "transferring", we would run the risk of an immediate misunderstanding. By the same token, when we give to the Latin verb vertere – "transform", "change radically" the nature of something, to the point of bringing about its metamorphosis – the banal sense of "translate", are we not perhaps making a similar stretch? If Plautus says Plautus vortit barbare about a Greek comedy, he does not mean that he has "translated" it: as scholars have long recognized, Roman "translations" of Greek comedies hardly correspond at all to their originals (at least when we are able to compare them). Rather, the poet is describing a very different kind of procedure, which in our capacity as modern interpreters of Roman culture we must describe in the most complete and detailed way possible, without forcing it into our own pre-made categories.
   These two examples alone probably suffice for understanding how complex and delicate the problem of translation is. It consists not only in finding, in a different language, words that are equivalent to those contained in the original text, but in "transferring" cultural models and behaviors – or at least trying to do so.
   We are happy, then, to have in this edition of QRO the proceedings of a conference focused precisely on the theme of translation of classical texts, especially medical and philosophical texts, organized by Professor Daniela Fausti under the auspices of the section «Anthropology of the Ancient World» of the multidisciplinary program «Translation» established by the University of Siena's Scuola Superiore Santa Chiara. Indeed, we are certain that the presence of essays, centering on a problem that is both so relevant and so specific, can only further persuade us of the fact that any form of study or reflection on a culture different from our own constitutes above all an act of cultural translation – a fact that fits the intellectual project of this journal and inspires the rest of the papers appearing in this volume.
                                                                                     Maurizio Bettini