Translation and toilets

I have been working on a translation of the Sāma Jātaka, and – as is always the case with translations – it has thrown up some interesting choices. Today I have been puzzling over toilets. After Sāma’s parents have been blinded by an angry snake, he sets up ropes around their hermitage to help them get between their day and night-time huts, the walkway and their two toilets – the vaccaṭṭhāna for solid waste and passāvaṭṭhāna for liquid. This throws up the question: does the “general reader” (whoever that may be) want to know that Sāma’s hermitage has two toilets, and exactly what they are for?!

I have consulted earlier translations for inspiration: Sarah Shaw translates – ‘the areas for excretion and the areas for urinating’ – whereas Cowell & Rouse gloss over the whole issue by making vague reference to ‘all the different rooms’. I applaud Shaw’s willingness to translate literally, yet somehow I cannot bring myself to include such a literal rendering in my own translation. Excretion and urination sound so clinical, though perhaps this is appropriate in the description of the careful acts of forest-dwelling renouncers. More than that, the translation sounds un-natural, and therefore a little shocking, in the English language. While I certainly do not wish to follow the Victorian approach of pretending that nobody ever mentioned the toilets, nor do I wish to draw the reader’s attention to them.

I think I have decided to take a middle way, namely to refer to ‘the toilets’ in the main text and include an explanatory footnote for the benefit of those who are interested in the intricacies of jātaka hermitages…


About naomiappleton

I work in the Divinity School at the University of Edinburgh, where I research and teach subjects related to South and Southeast Asian religions.
This entry was posted in Buddhist texts, Translation and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Translation and toilets

  1. Pingback: More on translating scatological language… | Naomi Appleton's blog

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