5 Fun Facts about Saint Jerome for the Translator
If you are an experienced translator, you have probably heard about Saint Jerome. If you are not an experienced translator (yet), you may not have heard about Saint Jerome. In this blog, you will find out who he is and why you should know him. I present five fun facts that give you a good overall picture. For more information about his life and work, please click on the sources I mention. Most of the links contain extensive biographies. Who knows, maybe even the experienced translator is able to brush up on his/her Saint Jerome trivia!
1) Saint Jerome is the patron saint of translators.
As Catholic.org explains, patron saints are chosen as special protectors or guardians over areas of life, which can include occupations, illnesses, churches, countries, causes, etcetera. Recently, the popes have named patron saints but other individuals or groups can choose patrons as well.
Saint Jerome (or Eusebius Hieronymus Sophronius) is known for translating the Old Testament. Below, I will provide you with some background information for context. This information is a summary of AmericanCatholic.org’s very in-depth website, which is now transferred to this page.
In the fourth century A.D., the language spoken in the Roman Empire began to change. Greek had long been the dominant language, but gradually Latin, spoken by the Romans, began to replace Greek as the common language in the western part of the empire. This had a significant impact on the Church since its Bible was in Greek. Fewer and fewer Christians in the West could read or understand Greek, so how could the Bible remain accessible to believers?
Translations made the Bible accessible, but they were flawed on two counts. First, they were not the product of a careful study of ancient manuscripts. Second, the Latin in these early translations was not good; it was far too colloquial.
Pope Damasus wanted a good, serviceable and authorized Latin text of the Gospels for the liturgy. In 382, he commissioned a young priest named Jerome to revise the Latin versions of the Gospels that were in circulation. This was a good choice because Jerome had a flair for languages. He was “trilingual” as he could speak, write and understand Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.
Jerome fulfilled his commission by producing a revision of the Gospels. He also produced a Latin translation of the Psalms and a few Old Testament books. He then started a project that occupied him for more than 20 years and proved to be his lasting claim to fame: the translation of other parts of the Bible from the original languages into Latin. Saint Jerome died at Bethlehem from a long illness on September 30, 420. He is buried at St. Mary Major in Rome.
2) We celebrate International Translation Day on the date of Saint Jerome’s death.
Even though saints are a Catholic practice, people from all over the world celebrate International Translation Day on the day Saint Jerome died. International Translation Day is the Feast Day of the patron saint of librarians, scripture scholars, students, translators, and interpreters.
As translationmusings.com points out, Saint Jerome’s humility regarding his own work set a good example for translators who followed him. He freely admitted ignorance, even embarrassment, when warranted, and revisited some of his translations, making corrections and additions. On the other hand, he also pointed out that a translation’s accuracy depended greatly on the reliability of the source text. Copyists often inadvertently introduced errors, which would be compounded and passed down through the centuries.
His precision regarding translations makes him a perfect role model for translators.
3) Saint Jerome is a special saint.
As translationmusings.com claims, he is one of the few people awarded sainthood in recognition of services rendered to the Church rather than for eminent sanctity or miracles.
4) Saint Jerome had a sharp tongue.
Nearly every source talking about Saint Jerome lets you know this man was by no means an easy, amiable man. He had a temper! Cultural Catholic says that he “had a hot temper and was difficult to get along with.” It even uses the words “tactless, outspoken, satirical, and vindictive.”
5) Even Saint Jerome has made a big translation fail.
The importance of a good translation is most obvious when things go wrong and no matter how accurately Saint Jerome worked, he too made a mistake. According to mentalfloss.com, his mistake had a major consequence. In his Latin version of the Old Testament, the basis for hundreds of subsequent translations, the following occurred. When Moses comes down from Mount Sinai, his head has “radiance” or, in Hebrew, “karan.” However, Hebrew is written without the vowels, and Saint Jerome had read “karan” as “keren,” or “horned.” The result is centuries of paintings and sculptures of Moses with horns and the odd, offensive stereotype of the horned Jew. For instance, Michelangelo has sculpted a marble Moses in 1515, for which he relied on Jerome’s description in the Latin Vulgate translation, as translationmusings.com notes. You can see the resulting 235-cm-high horned statue in Rome (S. Pietro in Vincoli) today.
Interested in reading more translation blog posts? Here are 41 Inspiring Translation Quotes, Defending Your Quotation or Invoice as a Translator, and Why to Include Social Media Translations in Your Marketing Strategy.