Monday, April 16, 2007

Galileo’s Birthday

Written 15 February 2007:

That’s today, the birthday of the founder of modern science, Galileo Galilei (February 15, 1564—January 8, 1642).

As a child, many many decades ago, I subscribed to an innocuous kid’s magazine called Highlights for Children. All I really cared about in those years was science and science fiction, and spent whatever money came my way by way of gifts on science books for children. Well, some issue of this magazine had an article on Galileo, also mentioning his birthday. I never really wanted to celebrate any holiday I didn’t invent myself, and I decided at that very young age that I would make Galileo’s birthday my very own holiday. What could be more important, after all, than celebrating science, the founder of modern science, and a martyr of science as well? I had no explicit position on religion back then that I can recall, but the scientific world view (spiced up by science fiction) was my own, so instinctively my priorities were set. It just doesn’t make sense to have all these religious holidays but none for the scientific revolution, which has done so much more for the human race. And I have never forgotten Galileo’s birthday since.

When not worried over my personal safety and the social chaos of the late ‘60s, I was bored to tears in high school a good percentage of the time. One of my many eccentric indulgences to fill the void was to teach myself Esperanto, the language created by L. L. Zamenhof, who was also pretty much a secular humanist though not an outright atheist and who also invented his own universal religion, akin in many ways to Ethical Culture, which he dubbed “Homaranismo” (literally, “being-a-member-of-the-human-race-ism”, a generalization of a rationalized stripped-down Judaism he called Hillelismo named after Rabbi Hillel). Eventually I acquired and began to read literature in Esperanto (yes, there is such a thing, original as well as translated), and I was captivated by a short story written by an author noted for his work in Hungarian as well as in Esperanto, Sandor Szathmari. The story “Vincenzo” is about the lifelong relationship between Galileo (portrayed as an idealist) and his fictional brother Vincenzo, who is a pragmatic cynic and eventually a cleric. With my instinctive passion for freedom and hatred of authoritarian repression, I always loved anticlerical, especially anti-Catholic, literary efforts, another favorite being Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. So finally for a class project I translated this story into English. Thirty years later I put it on the web:

Vincent” by Sandor Szathmari

It won’t go down in the annals of literature as a specimen of brilliant translation, but hey, I did what I could at the time.

1 comment:

Valdas said...

Tio validas ankaw por Esperanto. La plenaghuloj ne volas kompreni, ke tiu infana verko estas lingvo- ludo, spontane kreita de infano, ewropa pighino uzopreta memlerne, simple fonemgramatike,tamen oni jam 120 jarojn trudas la rutinon de lingvoinstrua ceremonion kaj bakas eternajn komencantojn.