Lost (and Gained) in Translation: Reflections on Translation and Translators of al-Jabarti’s Chronicles of the French Occupation of Egypt
The translation from Arabic into Hebrew of Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti’s chronicles of the 1798–1801 French occupation of Egypt is at the center of the reflections on translations and translators in this article. The first part briefly describes approaches to translation and the challenges one faces when translating historical texts. It brings to the fore the role that translation and translators played in shaping the events described in al-Jabarti’s chronicles, as well as in the ways in which translation and translators shaped the documents al-Jabarti used as his sources. The second part of the article looks closely at Jean-Michel Venture de Paradis, the chief interpreter of the French army in Egypt and Bonaparte’s advisor during the first year of the occupation. Venture de Paradis was a professional dragoman in the French consulates at the ports of the Levant during the last decades of the eighteenth century, and his training, his writings, and his practices as dragoman demonstrate the continuities and changes in France’s policies toward and interests in the Ottoman Empire in the second half of the eighteenth century. This was the time during which the French political system was changing from the monarchy of the ancien régime to the republic that followed the Revolution.
Translations and translators, never neutral but often under-reported in the historical account, played an important role in shaping the events and how they were narrated and recorded at the time; they also shape the ways these are understood in the present.