Collection of Letters: Detail
No one who saw the prophets described with verses would think that they were bound by metre in Hebrew, and similarly with the Psalms or works of Solomon. But they are inscribed with colons and commas/caesura, as in Demosthenes and Tully [Cicero] who certainly wrote prose and not poetry. We, for the utility of the readers, have distinguished the new translation with a new manner of writing. But first it should be known about Isaiah that his speech was fluent, indeed that he was a man of noble and urbane eloquence, with no touch of the rustic. Therefore more than with others, translation could not preserve the flower of his speech. It should also be added that he should be called not so much a prophet as an evangelist. For he pursued all the mysteries of Christ and his church so clearly that you would think he was not prophesying about the future but recounting the history of what was past. Wherefore I contend that obviously the Septuagint translators did not want at that time to put forth the sacraments of their faith to pagans, lest they give what was holy to dogs, pearls to swine. When you read this version, you will notice what was hidden by them.
I am not unaware of the labor it takes to understand the prophets, nor is it easy for anyone to judge a translation unless he has understood what he read before; we too suffer the stings of many who, pricked by envy, scorn what they can not accomplish. Knowingly therefore and prudently I put my hand in the flame and nonetheless beseech squeamish readers that just as the Greeks read Aquila and Symmachus and Theodotion after the Septuagint, either to study their doctrine or to understand the Septuagint better from their contribution, so these might deign to have at least one translator after the earlier ones. Let them read first and then scorn, lest they seem to damn what they do not know not from judgment but from the presumption of hatred.
Isaiah prophesied in Jerusalem and in Judaea and to the ten tribes in captivity and he concealed an oracle about each kingdom, sometimes combined, sometimes separate. And when he looks to present history and makes known the return of the people to Judaea after the captivity in Babylon, then his whole care is to the calling of the gentiles and the advent of Christ. Whom, the more you love him, o Paula and Eustochium, the more ask from him that he restore mercy to me in the future for the disparaging of the present by which the jealous ceaselessly tear at me. He knows that I have sweated for this in the study of a foreign language, lest the Jews insult his churches with falsifying scripture.
Nemo cum Prophetas versibus viderit esse descriptos metro eos aestimet apud Hebraeos ligari, et aliquid simile habere de Psalmis, vel operibus Salomonis; sed quod in Demosthene et Tullio solet fieri, ut per cola scribantur et commata, qui utique prosa, et non versibus conscripserunt: nos quoque utilitati legentium providentes, interpretationem novam, novo scribendi genere distinximus. Ac primum de Isaia sciendum, quod in sermone suo disertus sit: quippe ut vir nobilis et urbanae eloquentiae, nec habens quidpiam in eloquio rusticitatis admistum. Unde accidit, ut prae caeteris, florem sermonis ejus translatio non potuerit conservare. Deinde etiam hoc adjiciendum, quod non tam propheta, quam evangelista dicendus sit. Ita enim universa Christi Ecclesiaeque mysteria [Al. ministeria] ad liquidum prosecutus est, ut non eum putes de futuro vaticinari, sed de praeteritis historiam texere. Unde conjicio, noluisse tunc temporis, Septuaginta Interpretes fidei suae sacramenta perspicue ethnicis prodere, ne sanctum canibus, et margaritas porcis darent: quae [Al. qui] cum hanc ditionem legeritis, ab illis animadvertetis abscondita. Nec ignoro quanti laboris sit Prophetas intelligere, nec facile quempiam posse judicare de interpretatione, nisi intellexerit ante quae legerit: nos quoque patere morsibus plurimorum, qui stimulante invidia, quod consequi non valent, despiciunt. Sciens ergo et prudens in flammam mitto manum: et nihilominus hoc a fastidiosis lectoribus precor, ut quomodo Graeci post Septuaginta Translatores, Aquilam et Symmachum et Theodotionem legunt, vel ob studium doctrinae suae, vel ut Septuaginta magis ex collatione eorum intelligant: sic et isti saltem unum post priores habere dignentur interpretem. Legant prius, et postea despiciant: ne videantur, non ex judicio, sed ex odii praesumptione ignorata damnare. Prophetavit autem Isaias in Jerusalem, et in Judaea, necdum decem tribubus in captivitatem ductis: ac de utroque regno, nunc commistim, nunc separatim, texit oraculum. Et cum interdum ad praesentem respiciat historiam; et post Babyloniam captivitatem reditum populi significet in Judaeam: tamen omnis ei cura de vocatione gentium, et adventu Christi est. Quem quanto plus amatis, o Paula et Eustochium, tanto magis ab eo petite, ut pro obtrectatione praesenti, qua me indesinenter aemuli laniant, ipse mihi mercedem restituat in futuro: qui scit me ob hoc in peregrinae linguae eruditione sudasse, ne Judaei de falsitate Scripturarum Ecclesiis ejus diutius insultarent.
Jerome presents his translation of Isaiah to Paula and Eustochium with praise for Isaiah's prophetic powers and his eloquence as well as his customary defense of his own translation and an attack on his detractors.
Praefatio Hieronymi in Librum Isaiae, PL28 c.771-774