This extract from the novel 'Three Men in a Boat' refers to Job 5.7:

This world is only a probation, and man was born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.

I hoped to quote the source, expecting to find it in the Vulgate, — but it's not so simple.

  1. Vulgate (AD 382): homo ad laborem nascitur et avis ad volatum

  2. KJV (1611): Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.

  3. Luther (1545): Sondern der Mensch wird zu unglück geborn / wie die Vögel schweben empor zufliegen.

  4. Gute nachricht Bibel (2017): Aus seinem eigenen Wesen kommt das Leid, so wie der Funkenwirbel aus dem Feuer.

  5. bibleenligne.com (2017): car l'homme est né pour la misère, comme les étincelles s'élèvent pour voler. [lit. les fils de la flamme]

It isn't difficult to put into Latin (homo nascitur ad laborem sicut scintilla ad volatum), but can anyone direct me to a Latin original for the King James version, with sparks instead of the bird of Jerome et al or explain why the difference came about?

  • 2
    What do you mean by Latin original for the KJV? Though it sometimes fell back on the Vulgate, the KJV was primarily translated from the original Hebrew.
    – cmw
    Mar 22 '17 at 12:44
  • 8
    This springs from a different interpretation of the Hebrew: the relevant word (וּבְנֵי־רֶ֝֗שֶׁף) apparently has a few interpretations, on whose merits I can't comment: one interpretation is "sons of burning coals" (=sparks) and another is "sons of vultures"--which is rendered as such in the LXX (νεοσσοὶ δὲ γυπὸς) and Vulgate (simply avis). I would make this an answer, but my Hebrew is too rudimentary for me to pretend I know what I'm talking about.
    – brianpck
    Mar 22 '17 at 14:02
  • 3
    Ditto @C.M.Weimer, though: the KJV used the Hebrew original (probably compared to the LXX and Vulgate). If you want a (sometimes painfully) literal translation from the Vulgate, check out the Douay Rheims.
    – brianpck
    Mar 22 '17 at 14:05
  • 4
    This Language Hat thread has some discussion of the "sparks" phrase, its Hebrew original, and various possible interpretations.
    – TKR
    Mar 22 '17 at 16:59
  • 1
    @Rafael When I asked this, I merely wanted to put an acknowledgement of the original reference into my translation. I didn't expect any difficulty, but I've been rather taken aback by the helpful responses: I seem to have stumbled on a real curiosity. TKR's very useful Language Hat thread link is enormously entertaining, but it's persuaded me to let sleeping dogs lie.
    – Tom Cotton
    Mar 22 '17 at 20:25

This has given me a sharp admonition about the care needed in transforming idiom when translating. I'm always at pains to emphasise this when helping anyone with a rendition into Latin, and have many times discussed the degree of liberty that is allowable : for instance, is it legitimate to use ad aram ducere instead of the more authentic in matrimonium? (it is, according to an eminent English Latinist, but not everyone agrees).

I had almost forgotten that the same kind of problem awaits translators from other languages — and not only into English, but also into Latin from other languages, as the question and the subsequent comments well illustrates. This has been a useful reminder.

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