Paradise Lost as an Islamic Epic: Muhammad ‘Anānī's translation (2002/2010)

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Abstract

The publication of the translation of Paradise Lost by Muhammad ‘Anānī in one complete volume in 2010, after nearly three decades of work, coincided with the destabilization of Egypt. As a result, this Herculean work has gone unnoted. The purpose of this paper is to introduce the translation to fellow Miltonists. The paper will be in two parts. The first part will concentrate on the translation of the verse and on ‘Anānī’s attempt to retain the Miltonic voice as well as the line and book divisions of the poem. In preparing his translation, ‘Anānī consulted a number of distinguished colleagues in Egypt, and read the “classic” scholars on Milton (Leavis, T. S. Eliot, Empson, Tillyard, Broadbent and others) and explained how he relied on their interpretations for specific word translations. The challenge he faced was in regard to the classical allusions which were part of Milton's intellectual world but are not necessarily known to Arabic readers today. How is “Pandemonium”, a word coined by Milton, to be translated? Fortunately, Milton's biblical heroes and villains are part of Qur'anic imagination—but ‘Anānī still faced challenges in turning them into epic/dramatic figures. The second part will turn to the theology. ‘Anānī sought to situate the poem within his readers’ religious and linguistic tradition, and therefore had to strike a balance between Milton's Christianity and the Arab-Muslim response/reaction to that theology. In so doing, ‘Anānī trans-theologized Paradise Lost, producing the first Islamic epic in modern Arabic literature. His masterful control of the translation showed how doctrinal differences could be elided by subtle alternative renderings. But the challenge was formidable and ‘Anānī had to move cautiously, often explaining himself in the extended endnotes. The result is an epic poem in Arabic by Muhammad ‘Anānī, for his translation is as much a work of his own as The Tempest, or the Enchanted Island is Davenant and Dryden's play and not Shakespeare's, and Davenant's “improvements” on Macbeth produced a play that Restoration theatregoers recognized as Davenant's and not the bard's.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6-20
Number of pages15
JournalEnglish Studies
Volume96
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2 2015

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