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Fishelov, D. Echo, Narcissus, and the Translator’s Distress. Literaturwissenschaftliches Jahrbuch, 62(1), 11-32.
Fishelov, David "Echo, Narcissus, and the Translator’s Distress" Literaturwissenschaftliches Jahrbuch 62.1, , 11-32.
Fishelov, David: Echo, Narcissus, and the Translator’s Distress, in: Literaturwissenschaftliches Jahrbuch, vol. 62, iss. 1, 11-32, [online]


Echo, Narcissus, and the Translator’s Distress

Fishelov, David

Literaturwissenschaftliches Jahrbuch, Vol. 62 (2021), Iss. 1 : pp. 11–32

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David Fishelov (Jerusalem)


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This article argues that the story of Echo and Narcissus as told in Ovid’s Meta­morphoses can serve as a fruitful, suggestive metaphor or ›myth‹ of the translator, especially of the driving passion and the unavoidable frustrations characteristic of the translation process. The connection between Echo and the translator seems obvious – they both share the principle of repetition, »echoing« a primary text – but there are also interesting differences between the two: whereas Echo’s repetition is forced, partial, and mechanic, that of the translator is a creative and holistic choice. As for Narcissus, I suggest that both Narcissus and the translator are engaged in a magic yet futile dance of intimacy, reflection, and passion with their beloved (image or text). They both try to get as close as possible to their beloved while risking its loss paradoxically from getting too close. I conclude with a table, mapping important similarities and differences between the story of Echo, Narcissus, and the »story« of the translator, emphasizing that, unlike the tragic ending of Echo and Narcissus, the activity of the translator is a vital and fertile part of literary life.

Table of Contents

Section Title Page Action Price
David Fishelov: Echo, Narcissus, and the Translator’s Distress 1
Abstract 1
I. What Mythological Character Can Represent the Translator? 1
II. The Story of Echo and Narcissus in Ovid: A Summary 4
III. Echo as a Metaphor of The Translator 5
IV. Narcissus as a Metaphor of The Translator 7
V. Narcissus as a Metaphor of The Translator: Additional Aspects 1
VI. Three Lines from The Metamorphoses, Three Translations 1
VII. Conclusion: One Table, One Optimistic Remark 1
Primary Sources 2
Secondary Sources 2