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Before Babel

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The biblical story of Babel has long served as a powerful image for translators in western civilization, stimulating much productive discourse about translation history, mythology, theory and practice. It is therefore interesting to note that the biblical story itself, despite its apparent antiquity and remarkable brevity, has been strongly influenced by even earlier sources stemming from societies antedating its ancient Israelite authors. This article examines some of the most interesting examples of cross-cultural and intertextual references from ancient proverbs and writings including well-known works such as the Gilgamesh epic and the Babylonian creation epic, EnĂ»ma Eliš. The delightfully subtle translingual wordplay in the name ‘Babel’ is also clarified. The biblical Tower of Babel reveals a startling complexity resulting from the wealth of intercultural and multilingual contacts that constitute the distant foundation of western tradition.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2011

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  • Revue internationale de la traduction / International Journal of Translation
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