We discuss the choices of Ottavio Fatica regarding the translation of Wormtongue (Rettilinguo) and Shelob (Aragne) in The two Towers: why didn't you leave Vermilinguo and Shelob?

Recently, the second volume of The Lord of the Rings in the translation of Ottavio Fatica, that is The two Towers. We have not seen the same rising of shields and the same indignation (often free and uninformed) exploded at the publication of The Fellowship of the Ring, but discontent is certainly not lacking.

I will not be here to summarize the comments made to The Fellowship of the Ring even before its release, or the legal clash between Bompiani, Ottavio Fatica and Vittoria Alliata. The discussion would be very long, so I refer you to this article, With the 'list of all our articles about Tolkien.

It is not my intention in this article to comment extensively on the translation of The two Towers, since it would be absolutely too long to be summarized in an article. It is much better, therefore, to lower the bar and talk about two specific translation choices of Ottavio Fatica, that is Wormtongue e Shelob.

Because Wormtongue has been translated as Rettilingua, where the Alliata / Principe version had Vermilingual? Because Shelob, which was left unchanged in the previous translation, has now become Aragne? Thanks also to the comments and discussions on the group Tolkienian studies, let us shed some light on these choices.

Gríma Wormtongue in the film version of The Two Towers
Gríma Wormtongue in the film version of The two Towers

Names from The two Towers: Rettilingua

In the Alliata / Principe translation, the character of Gríma Wormtongue, had been translated as Vermilingual Grima. This choice was probably due to having taken the modern meaning of the term as a reference worm, Namely supplythus giving the impression of a slimy person.

Ottavio Fatica, however, in his translation of The two Towers preferred to make the name like Gríma Rettilinguto. But what is the reason for this choice?

The root wyrm-tunge: "Snake tongue"

As often happens in Tolkien, many terms do not express the contemporary meaning of a word, but its archaic meaning. The same happens with Wormtongue, In which worm does not have the actual meaning of supply, but the archaic meaning of reptile/serpente.

Indeed, how can you learn from A Reader's Companion by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, Wormtongue is the version modernized by wyrm-tunge, which in Old English means precisely snake-tongue, "Snake tongue". wyrm (variant of Old English wurm) derives from the Proto-Germanic wurmiz and in Old English had the meaning not only of serpente, But also dragon o reptile.

The nickname Wormtongue for Gríma it is probably a reference to the poet's nickname Gunnlaug Ormstunga, as Hammond and Scull speculate. Protagonist of the Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu, Gunnlaug was so famous for his sharp tongue and for his wit that he deserved the nickname of, in fact, Ormstunga, or "snake tongue". In this sense, I remember that even the Old Norse ormr derives from the Proto-Germanic wurmiz. In the case of Gunnlaug, his nickname was de facto an honorific, whereas in Tolkien wyrm-tunge it obviously makes sense derogatory, even because wurm in Old English it was used as an insult and Tolkienian dragons are always abject beings.

The translation of wyrm-tunge ne The two Towers

According to the instructions left by Tolkien in Nomenclature of The Lord of the Rings, Wormtongue should be translated meaning.

Therefore, Fatigue is right in translating wyrm like reptile, creating precisely Rettilingua. Another correct choice could have been Serpilingua, recalling the snake instead of the reptile. However, in my humble opinion, reptile it is perhaps more appropriate, since it has a more extensive meaning and therefore can also include (obviously in the Tolkienian imaginary) the category of dragons, the evil deceivers par excellence of Middle-earth.

Wormtonguehowever, it is not an equally correct translation, if Alliata is supposed to have translated the name based on the modern meaning of worm. However, if Alliata had done a more in-depth etymological research, perhaps her choice would not even be too wrong, since the Proto-Germanic wurmiz it probably indicated not only reptiles and snakes, but also worms. Indeed, wurmiz probably derives from the proto-Indo-European wrmi, which meant precisely supply and gave rise to Latin vermis, from which we obviously have Italian supply. Therefore, the translation of Alliata / Principe of Wormtongue is not exact, but it is interesting to note how the cycle of change and specialization of the meaning from Proto-Indo-European to modern English manages to somehow make even Vermilinguo square.

The translation of wyrm-tunge in other languages

The choice of Alliata / Principe seems not to be too widespread. In fact, as a user points out in the Tolkienian Studies group, even in translations into other languages ​​the most common choice would be to translate wyrm by serpente/reptile. In Spanish, for example, we have Grima Lengua de Serpiente, while in Polish we have Grima Gadzi Język which, according to the user, literally means “Gríma Tongue of Reptile”. This user delves into the meaning of the Polish translation:

it does not properly indicate the tongue of a snake, but it still conveys the idea of ​​empty words, without a precise meaning, used mostly with the sole purpose of diverting and confusing the thoughts of the upright and the just, bringing them almost involuntarily at a crossroads between two choices: either like this or like that, or right or wrong, or the law or the arbitrariness of actions.

Also in French and Greek we have choices similar to that of Fatica: Grima Langue de Serpent, Γκρίμα ο Φιδόγλωσσος (Gríma Forked Tongue).

However, it should be noted that wyrm was made like supply also in other languages. For example, in Portuguese we have Grima Língua de Verme, while in Romanian there is Grima Limbă de Vierme.

Shelob painted by John Howe
Shelob painted by John Howe

Names from The two Towers: Aragne

In the Alliata / Principe translation the monstrous Shelob had not seen her name translated and therefore Shelob also remained in the film version of The Lord of the Rings, pronounced "Scèlob". Therefore, this name may also sound orcish, and therefore without any relation to our natural languages.

So why Ottavio Fatica it The two Towers results Shelob by Aragne?

The meaning of She-lob: "Female spider"

How many and many will have already guessed, actually Shelob it is not an Orcish word, but a compound of two English words made by Tolkien.

As we read in Nomenclature of The Lord of the Rings and in Tolkien Gateway, the name of the giant spider is formed by the personal feminine pronoun nominative she and lob, and therefore literally means "female spider". Lob is defined by Tolkien as an English dialectal variant of spider, Namely spider. Lob it is also generally referred to dangling objects and Lobbe in Old English it meant precisely spider.

The translation of She-lob ne The two Towers

In its translation de The two Towers, Ottavio Fatica has translated Shelob by Aragne. But what does this word mean and what does it have to do with "female spider"?

Well, aragne is an obsolete Italian word which means spider and, by extension, Spider web, and is a variant of aragna, which has the same meaning. The Bran attests also the male variant Aragno. The Dictionary of the Italian language by Tommaseo, from 1865, indicates aragne as a male name, but currently all Italian dictionaries define it as a name female (see Thu, Thu e Thu). Arachne / a derives from the Latin female name Aranea, which in turn means spider; the male name spider, instead, derives from the Latin masculine name araneus.

Let me now make a small digression on the etymology of Aranea/araneusplease, because it is interesting. Be Aranea, both araneus are akin to Greek ἀράχνη (Arachne), which always means spider. THE'Etymological Dictionary of Latin and other Italic Languages he hypothesizes that Araneae araneus derive from ἀράχνη, with the sound -khn- greek changed to -gn-, to whom the veil would then fall g. But this is not the only possible hypothesis. In fact, both this dictionary and theEtymological Dictionary of Greek, believe that ἀράχνη e araneus/Aranea could both derive from * araksn-/* araksna-, which however would not seem to be an Indo-European word.

Therefore, Fatigue tried to replicate Tolkien's operation, but turning it into Italian. Therefore, he took up an outdated term for "spider" and made sure it had an obvious feminine meaning. Hence, Fatigue chose the female version of aragna/Aragno, however, leaning towards the alternative aragne. I can't say why Fatica chose aragne su aragna, However.

Aragne, being an Italian word derived from Latin, it should not be pronounced with the g lasts for, for example, Wagner o Ragnarok, ie as [ar'agne]. In reverse, aragne it should be pronounced in Italian, that is with the gn di dumpling e spider: [ar'aɲe].

Why not choose Aracne? And how has Shelob been translated into other languages?

It is quite evident that, following Tolkien's linguistic path, Fatica could never have translated Shelob by Arachne. In fact, Arachne is a Greek term which in Italian only came with the proper name of the mythological character Arachne. Therefore, Arachne it is a name too Greek and too tied to an alien mythology compared to the Tolkienian one to translate Shelob, which has no reference to Greek mythology.

Also in the translation of The two Towers in other languages ​​the same reasoning of Fatigue was probably made. In fact, for example, in Spanish we have Ella-Laraña, in Brazilian Portuguese we have larachne, while in the second French translation we have araigné, which is an ancient French female name meaning spider and it derives, hear hear, from the Latin Aranea.

Very few languages ​​seem to have left the original Shelob unaltered, without even a phonetic adaptation, in addition to the Alliata / Principe translation: the only one I can find is that Portuguese. Similar to the English original, but with an adaptation, are the Lithuanian and Bosnian versions (Šeloba) and the Croatian ones (Sheloba). The reference to the mythological Arachne seems to have been present only from the first French translation, which it therefore proposes Arachne.

Ottavio Fatica, translator of The Lord of the Rings
Ottavio Fatica, translator of The Lord of the Rings

Some conclusive words

I hope this article has been interesting and informative for anyone wishing to understand the likely reasons behind some translation choices of Ottavio Fatica. I obviously don't have the presumption to speak on his behalf and I still strongly recommend that you wait for his essay on Tolkien's translation to come out to get a full perspective on his work.

However, the explanations I propose for the translation of Wormtongue and Shelob tend to be in line with Fatica's working style and with the etymology given by Tolkien. And with this article I would like to emphasize how hard Fatigue works. We may like or dislike names translated by him, sound good or bad in our ears, and this is fine. However, we must always remember that the musicality and beauty of a word are matters of personal taste, not objective aspects; in reverse, etymology is an objective aspect and should be respected as such.

Therefore, as readers and fans we can certainly not appreciate Rettilingua or Aragne, even for personal reasons such as "it sounds bad" or "I don't like it." However, personal taste should not be confused with objective data. In this sense, the translation of Fatigue of Aragne and Rettilingua may not be liked, but it cannot be said to be incorrect. Our personal taste can coexist with respect for the work of a professional.

In fact, I go even further. In my opinion, without the translation of Fatigue many and many of us would never have learned the etymology of Wormtongue and Shelob. For many and many, in fact, It was the subversion of the Alliata / Principe canon that made us question the profound meaning of the Tolkienian names. And for this reason alone, in my opinion, the Italian community has become more cultured and richer, in its part that has been willing to question the historical names of its favorite book.