According to Miguel de Cervantes, Miguel de Cervantes is not the author of Don Quixote. Nor was the book written in Spanish. Rather, Cervantes tells us, the true author is Cid Hamete Benengeli, the book was written in Arabic, and he, Cervantes, is merely passing on the text as he found it:
One day, as I was in the Alcana of Toledo, a boy came up to sell some pamphlets and old papers to a silk mercer, and, as I am fond of reading even the very scraps of paper in the streets, led by this natural bent of mine I took up one of the pamphlets the boy had for sale, and saw that it was in characters which I recognised as Arabic, and as I was unable to read them though I could recognise them, I looked about to see if there were any Spanish-speaking Morisco at hand to read them for me; nor was there any great difficulty in finding such an interpreter, for even had I sought one for an older and better language I should have found him. In short, chance provided me with one, who when I told him what I wanted and put the book into his hands, opened it in the middle and after reading a little in it began to laugh. I asked him what he was laughing at, and he replied that it was at something the book had written in the margin by way of a note. I bade him tell it to me; and he still laughing said, “In the margin, as I told you, this is written: ‘This Dulcinea del Toboso so often mentioned in this history, had, they say, the best hand of any woman in all La Mancha for salting pigs.’”
When I heard Dulcinea del Toboso named, I was struck with surprise and amazement, for it occurred to me at once that these pamphlets contained the history of Don Quixote. With this idea I pressed him to read the beginning, and doing so, turning the Arabic offhand into Castilian, he told me it meant, “History of Don Quixote of La Mancha, written by Cid Hamete Benengeli, an Arab historian.” It required great caution to hide the joy I felt when the title of the book reached my ears, and snatching it from the silk mercer, I bought all the papers and pamphlets from the boy for half a real; and if he had had his wits about him and had known how eager I was for them, he might have safely calculated on making more than six reals by the bargain. I withdrew at once with the Morisco into the cloister of the cathedral, and begged him to turn all these pamphlets that related to Don Quixote into the Castilian tongue, without omitting or adding anything to them, offering him whatever payment he pleased. He was satisfied with two arrobas of raisins and two bushels of wheat, and promised to translate them faithfully and with all despatch; but to make the matter easier, and not to let such a precious find out of my hands, I took him to my house, where in little more than a month and a half he translated the whole just as it is set down here. (John Ormsby, trans.)
Don Quixote is thus a pseudotranslation—a work that purports to be a translation, but for which no original text actually exists. Pseudotranslations come in many varieties. Some, of course, are literary framing devices like Don Quixote, presented with an author’s winking eye—but many are frauds or hoaxes, intended to deceive the reader and the public. These might be presented for fame or gain, to shroud a religious claim in mystical ancient wisdom, or to support a political or cultural ideology by inventing a mythical history behind it.
Pseudotranslations can also allow the (actual) author a kind of freedom by absolving them of responsibility for the “original” text’s contents. Perhaps the text contains a political critique or espouses sexual freedom. The author is not the author—they’re just the messenger! Another freedom is also possible: a woman author, for example, may be taken more seriously if her work is presented as a translation of a man’s.
At the same time, when pseudotranslations ventriloquize “authors” from other cultures or other identities, they often partake in a kind of literary colonialism that betrays the sexist, racist and xenophobic attitudes of the actual creator of the work and their own society.
Here is list of pseudotranslations in rough historical order. Let me know if you have any to add. I’ve left off the quotation marks around “translated” and “authored”—and avoided repeating the phrases “claimed to be” or “purported,” leaving the representations of the texts themselves. The actual date and author do appear at the beginning of each entry. (I have not included one subcategory of pseudotranslations, those that are “translations” of fictional languages—although a few may have snuck in. J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, most famously, is presented as a translation into English of a collection of manuscripts called The Red Book of Westmarch.)
1st or 2nd century AD: Anonymous, Dictys Cretensis: Letters of the Trojan War. For centuries, this work was known only in a 3rd or 4th century translation from Greek into Latin by Lucius Septimius: Dictys Cretensis: Ephemeris Belli Troiani. The discovery of fragmentary 1st or 2nd century Greek source texts in 1900 indicated that the Latin was not in fact a pseudotranslation; an introductory letter by Septimus, however, tells us that the Greek text was originally composed in Phoenician:
Dictys, a native of Crete from the city of Cnossos…knew the Phoenician language and alphabet…. He accompanied the leaders Idomeneus and Meriones with the army that went against Troy….They chose him to write down a history of this campaign. Accordingly, writing on linden tablets and using the Phoenician alphabet, he composed nine volumes about the whole war.
Time passed. In the thirteenth year of Nero’s reign an earthquake struck at Cnossos and, in the course of its devastation, laid open the tomb of Dictys in such a way that people, as they passed, could see the little box. And so shepherds who had seen it as they passed stole it from the tomb, thinking it was treasure. But when they opened it and found the linden tablets inscribed with characters unknown to them, they took this find to their master. Their master, whose name was Eupraxides, recognized the characters, and presented the books to Rutilius Rufus, who was at that time governor of the island. Since Rufus, when the books had been presented to him, thought they contained certain mysteries, he, along with Eupraxides himself, carried them to Nero.
Nero, having received the tablets and having noticed that they were written in the Phoenician alphabet, ordered his Phoenician philologists to come and decipher whatever was written. When this had been done, since he realized that these were the records of an ancient man who had been at Troy, he had them translated into Greek; thus a more accurate text of the Trojan War was made known to all. Then he bestowed gifts and Roman citizenship upon Eupraxides, and sent him home. (R. M. Frazer, trans.)
Dictys’s eyewitness account of the Trojan War is notable in that the gods play no role; during its long history it was read simply as an historical account.
100-300 AD: Anonymous, Corpus Hermeticum. Authored by the divine Hermes Trismegistus, a contemporary of Moses. Further texts appear in a collection compiled by John Stobaeus in the fifth century AD. Other texts appear later, including the Emerald Tablet, an early alchemical Arabic text which is a translation of a Greek original.
Early 6th century AD: Anonymous, Daretis Phrygii de excidio Trojae historia [History of the Fall of Troy]. Written by Dares Phrygius, a Trojan priest of Hephaestus mentioned by Homer in the Iliad (and thus predating Homer), the work exists in a Latin translation of the original Greek. In the Middle Ages, the Latin translation was attributed to Cornelius Nepos, a Roman biographer of the 1st century BC, and bore this explanation:
Cornelius Nepos sends greetings to his Sallustius Crispus. While I was busily engaged in study at Athens, I found the history which Dares the Phrygian wrote about the Greeks and Trojans. As its title indicates, this history was written in Dares’ own hand. I was very delighted to obtain it and immediately made an exact translation into Latin, neither adding nor omitting anything, nor giving any personal touch. Following the straightforward and simple style of the Greek original, I translated word for word.
Thus my readers can know exactly what happened according to this account and judge for themselves whether Dares the Phrygian or Homer wrote the more truthfully – Dares, who lived and fought at the time the Greeks stormed Troy, or Homer, who was born long after the War was over.
Late 8th century: Anonymous [Pseudo-Dorotheus], Περὶ τῶν ἐπισκόπων τοῦ Βυζαντίου [On the bishops of Byzantium]. The Greek work is translated from the Latin and authored by Dorotheus of Tyre, a confessor under Diocletian (who ruled from 284 to 305 AD) and a martyr under Julian.
10th century: Anonymous [Pseudo-Aristotle], Secreta Secretorum [The Secret of Secrets]. An encyclopedic letter written by Aristotle (384–322 BC) to his student Alexander the Great that covers topics such as statecraft, ethics, medicine, physiognomy, astrology, alchemy, and magic. Translated into Latin from a 9th-century Arabic text, itself a translation of a Syriac translation of the lost Greek original. Widely read in the High Middle Ages.
Walter, archdeacon of Oxford, a man of great eloquence, and learned in foreign histories, offered me a very ancient book in the British tongue, which, in a continued regular story and elegant style, related the actions of them all, from Brutus the first king of the Britons, down to Cadwallader the son of Cadwallo. At his request, therefore, though I had not made fine language my study, by collecting florid expressions from other authors, yet contented with my own homely style, I undertook the translation of that book into Latin.
1225: Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival This medieval romance in Middle High German names a certain Kyot the Provençal as the source of an original Arabic manuscript from Moorish Spain. That text, says Wolfram, was written by Flegetanis, a Muslim astronomer and descendant of Solomon.
13th Century: Ali Kufi, Chach Nama [Story of the conquest of Sindh]. Translated from an 8th-century work in Arabic into Persian.
1300: Anonymous (but probably Ferrand Martínez, a cleric of Toledo), Livro del cavallero Cifar [The Book of the Knight Zifar]. Translated from Chaldean into Spanish.
1385: Geoffrey Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde. Translated from the Latin of Publius Lollius Maximus:
Of no sentement I this endite,
But out of Latin in my tonge it write (ii, 13-14).
1490: Joanot Martorell and Martí Joan de Galba, Tirant lo Blanch [Tirant the White Knight]. Originally an English chivalric romance, translated into Portuguese by Martorell, then from Portuguese into Valencian by Martorell and de Galba.
1483 & 1495: Matteo Maria Boiardo, Orlando innamorato [Orlando in Love]. “Tradutto da la verace cronica de Turpino”—Italian translation of the Historia Caroli Magni [History of the life of Charlemagne] authored by the 8th century Turpin, Archbishop of Reims (in fact a 12th century forgery).
Giovanni Nanni [a.k.a. Annius of Viterbo], Chaldaica. Until Annius’s publication, the Chaldaica (or Babyloniaca) was a presumably lost work of the Hellenistic-era Babylonian writer Berossos, who would have written in Koine Greek. While serving in the monastery of Santa Maria del Castello, Annius had been presented with an anonymous Latin translation of the work by two visiting Armenian Dominicans.
1529: Antonio de Guevara, Libro aureo del gran emperador Marco Aurelio , con el Relox de Principes [The Golden Book of Marcus Aurelius and The Dial of Princes]. The biography of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius is translated from a manuscript discovered in the Medici library.
Before 1555: Nostradamus, Orus Apollo Fils de Osiris Roy de Aegypte Niliacque. Des Notes Hieroglyphiques [Orus Apollo, Son of Osiris, King of Egypt of The Nile]. Translation of an ancient Greek work on Egyptian hieroglyphs.
1573: George Gascoigne, A Hundredth Sundry Flowres bound up in one small Posie. Gathered partly (by translation) in the fyne outlandish Gardens of Euripides, Ovid, Petrarch, Ariosto and others; and partly by Invention out of our owne fruitfull Orchardes in Englande, Yelding Sundrie Savours of tragical, comical and moral discourse, bothe pleasaunt and profitable, to the well-smelling noses of learned readers.
1582: S.R. [Simon Robson], A nevv yeeres gift. The courte of ciuill courtesie: fitly furnished with a plesant porte of stately phrases and pithie precepts: assembled in the behalfe of all younge gentlemen, and others, that are desirous to frame their behauiour according to their estates, at all times, and in all companies: thereby to purchase worthy praise, of their inferiours: and estimation and credite amonge theyr betters. Translated from the Italian of Bengalassa del Mont. Prisacchi Retta.
1592: Miguel de Luna, Historia verdadera del rey Don Rodrigo [The True History of King Roderick]. Translated from the Arabic of Abulcaçin Tarif Abentariq. de Luna was the official translator to King Felipe II, and discovered the manuscript in a hidden corner of the King’s library in El Escorial. Full title: La verdadera hystoria del Rey Rodrigo, en la qual se trata la cause principal de la perdida de España y la conquista que della hizo Miramamolin Almançor Rey que fue del Africa, y de las Arabias. Compuesta por el sabio Alcayde Abulcaçin Tarif Abentarique, de la nación arabe, y natural de la Arabia Petrea.
1601: Robert Chester, Love’s Martyr: or Rosalins Complaint. Allegorically shadowing the truth of Loue, in the constant Fate of the Phoenix and Turtle. A Poeme enterlaced with much varietie and raritie; now first translated out of the venerable Italian Torquato Caeliano, by Robert Chester.
1608: Anonymous, The Book of Abramelin. The earliest manuscripts of this treatise on magic date from this time and are written in German. Narrated by one Abraham of Worms for his son Lamech, and thus translated from the Hebrew.
1669: Gabriel-Joseph de Lavergne, comte de Guilleragues: Les Lettres Portugaises [Letters of a Portuguese Nun]. Translated from Portuguese into French. (Later translated from the French into German by the poet Rilke.)
1678: Nicolas Chorier, Aloisiae Sigaeae, Toletanae, Satyra sotadica de arcanis Amoris et Veneris [Luisa Sigea of Toledo’s Sotadic Satire on the Secrets of Love and Sex]. Translated from the Spanish of Luisa Sigea de Velasco, a poet and maid of honor at the court of Lisbon, into Latin by Jean or Johannes Meursius, a humanist professor from Holland.
1684: Giovanni Paolo Marana, L’Espion Turc [The Turkish Spy] (eight volumes). Letters translated from the Turkish of Mahmut the Arabian—an Ottoman spy at the French court of Louis XIV—into French and Italian. Daniel Defoe published more letters in his Continuation of Turkish Letters Writ by a Turkish Spy in Paris (1718)
1704: Antoine Galland, Les mille et une nuits [One Thousand and One Nights]. (Although largely legitimate translations, two of the most famous tales, those of Aladdin and Ali Baba, may be pseudotranslations in fact written by Galland himself.)
1709: Delarivier Manley, Secret Memoirs and Manners of Several Persons of Quality, of both Sexes, From The New Atalantis. “Written originally in Italian,” then translated into French and subsequently into English.
1721: Montesquieu, Lettres persanes [The Persian Letters].
I took all pains to make the work correspond to our morals. I relieved the reader of the Asian language as much as I was able and saved him from innumerable rarefied expressions, which would have bored him to heaven….But that is not all I did for him. I cut back on the long compliments, which the Orientals proffer no less lavishly than us, and I passed over an infinite number of minute details. (Paul F. Bandia and Georges L. Bastin, trans.)
In France, Montesquieu’s Lettres were followed by many rewritings, sequels, and imitations throughout the eighteenth century: Lettres d’une turque à Paris ecrites a sa soeur au serrail (1731); Lettres de Nédim Coggia, Secrétaire de l’Ambassade de Mehemet Effendi, Ambassadeur de la Porte Ottomane à la Cour de France (1732); Lettres cabalistiques, ou Correspondance philosophique, historique et critique, entre deux cabalistes, deux esprits élémentaires et le seigneur Astaroth (1737); Lettres juives ou Correspondance philosophique, historique et critique entre un Juif voyageur et ses correspondans en divers endroits (1738)—as well as Lettres chinoises, Lettres siamoises, Lettres iroquoises, Lettres d’Osman, Lettres d’Amabed, etc.
The translation of Montesquieu’s Lettres into English also sparked an explosion of the genre in Great Britain: Letters from a Moor at London; Athenian Letters; Letters from an Armenian in Ireland; A Letter from Xo-ho by Horace Walpole; Chinese Letters by Oliver Goldsmith; Letters of Clement XIV; Spanish Memoirs, etc. (source)
1725: Montesquieu, Le Temple de Gnide [The Temple of Gnidus]. Published without an author’s name, translated from the Greek
1731: Jean Terrasson, Life of Sethos. Translated from a 2nd century Greek manuscript found in a library.
1731: Abbé Prévost, Le Philosophe anglais, ou Histoire de Monsieur Cleveland, fils naturel de Cromwell, écrite par lui-même, et traduite de l’anglais [The English Philosopher, or History of Mister Cleveland, natural son of Cromwell, written by himself, and translated from English].
1747: Françoise de Graffigny, Lettres d’une péruvienne [Letters of a Peruvian Woman]. Translated by the author, the Incan princess Zilia (1747). An R. Roberts followed this up with an English translation of more letters, Sequel of the Letters Written by a Peruvian Princess (1749).
1747: Voltaire, Zadig ou la Destinée [Zadig; or Destiny]. Dedicated to the Sultana Sheraa by the translator, Sadi, in “the 18th of the Month Scheval, in the Year of the Hegira, 837”:
I here present you with a Translation of the Work of an ancient Sage, who having the Happiness of living free from all Avocations, thought proper, by Way of Amusement, to write the History of Zadig; a Performance, that comprehends in it more Instruction than, ’tis possible, you may at first be aware of.
It was originally compos’d in the Chaldean Language, to which both you and my self are perfect Strangers. It was translated, however, into Arabic, for the Amusement of the celebrated Sultan Ouloug-beg. It first appear’d in Public, when the Arabian and Persian Tales of One Thousand and One Nights, and One Thousand and One Days, were most in Vogue.
1747: Charles Jacques Louis Auguste Rochette de La Morlière, Mylord Stanley ou le criminel vertueux [Milord Stanley or the Virtuous Criminal].
1751: Pseudo-Jasher [Jacob Ilive], The Book of Jasher. A lost book mentioned in the Bible “translated into English by Flaccus Albinus Alcuinus, of Britain, Abbot of Canterbury, who went on a pilgrimage into the Holy Land and Persia, where he discovered this volume in the city of Gazna.”
1752: Bartholomeo da Silva, Relação que trata de como em cincoenta e oito gráos do Sul foy descuberta huma ilha por huma náo franceza, a qual obrigada de hum temporal, que lhe sobreveyo, no Cabo da Boa Esperança, foy a parar na dita Ilha. Traduzida da lingoa franceza por Bartholomeo da Silva e Lima [A narrative that tells how, at fifty-eight degrees South, an island was discovered by a French ship, which was forced by a storm and then came, near the Cape of Good Hope, to stop at said Island. Translated from the French tongue by Bartholomeo da Silva e Lima].
1753: Pietro Chiari, La filosofessa italiana, o sia Le avventure della Marchesa N.N. [The Italian Philosopher, or the Adventures of the Marquise N.N]. Translated page by page as Chiari received them hot off the press from Paris.
1756: John Shebbeare, Letters on the English Nation. Translated from the original of Batista Angeloni, a Jesuit resident in London.
1757: Marie-Jeanne Riccoboni, Lettres de Mistriss Fanni Butlerd. Translated from the English of Adelaïde de Varançai. Followed by more translations: Lettres de Juliette Catesby à Milady Henriette Campley (1759); Histoire de miss Jenny, écrite et envoyée par elle à milady, comtesse de Roscomonde, ambassadrice d’Angleterre à la cour de Danemark (1764); and Lettres de Milord Rivers à Sir Charles Cardigan (1776).
1759: Voltaire, Candide. Translated from German to French.
1762: Oliver Goldsmith, The citizen of the world; or Letters from a Chinese philosopher, residing in London, to his friends in the East. Translated from the original of Lien Chi Altangi.
1762: James McPherson, Fingal: an ancient epic poem, in six books: together with several other poems, composed by Ossian the son of Fingal. Translated from the Galic language, by James Macpherson.
It will seem strange to some, that poems admired for many centuries in one part of this kingdom should be hitherto unknown in the other; and that the British, who have carefully traced out the works of genius in other nations, should so long remain strangers to their own. This, in a great measure, is to be imputed to those who understood both languages and never attempted a translation. They, from being acquainted but with detached pieces, or from a modesty, which perhaps the present translator ought, in prudence, to have followed, despaired of making the compositions of their bards agreeable to an English reader. The manner of those compositions is so different from other poems, and the ideas so confined to the most early state of society, that it was thought they had not enough of variety to please a polished age.
This was long the opinion of the translator of the following collection; and though he admired the poems, in the original, very early, and gathered part of them from tradition for his own amusement, yet he never had the smallest hopes of seeing them in an English dress. He was sensible that the strength and manner of both languages were very different, and that it was next to impossible to translate the Galic poetry into any thing of tolerable English verse; a prose translation he could never think of, as it must necessarily fall short of the majesty of an original. It was a gentleman, who has himself made a figure in the poetical world, that gave him the first hint concerning a literal prose translation. He tried it at his desire, and the specimen was approved. Other gentlemen were earnest in exhorting him to bring more to the light, and it is to their uncommon zeal that the world owes the Galic poems, if they have any merit.
1764: Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto. In the first edition subtitled A Story. Translated by William Marshal, Gent. From the Original Italian of Onuphrio Muralto, Canon of the Church of St. Nicholas at Otranto.
The following work was found in the library of an ancient Catholic family in the north of England. It was printed at Naples, in the black letter, in the year 1529. How much sooner it was written does not appear. The principal incidents are such as were believed in the darkest ages of Christianity; but the language and conduct have nothing that savours of barbarism. The style is the purest Italian.
If the story was written near the time when it is supposed to have happened, it must have been between 1095, the era of the first Crusade, and 1243, the date of the last, or not long afterwards. There is no other circumstance in the work that can lead us to guess at the period in which the scene is laid: the names of the actors are evidently fictitious, and probably disguised on purpose: yet the Spanish names of the domestics seem to indicate that this work was not composed until the establishment of the Arragonian Kings in Naples had made Spanish appellations familiar in that country. The beauty of the diction, and the zeal of the author (moderated, however, by singular judgment) concur to make me think that the date of the composition was little antecedent to that of the impression.
Should it meet with the success I hope for, I may be encouraged to reprint the original Italian, though it will tend to depreciate my own labour. Our language falls far short of the charms of the Italian, both for variety and harmony. The latter is peculiarly excellent for simple narrative. It is difficult in English to relate without falling too low or rising too high; a fault obviously occasioned by the little care taken to speak pure language in common conversation. Every Italian or Frenchman of any rank piques himself on speaking his own tongue correctly and with choice. I cannot flatter myself with having done justice to my author in this respect: his style is as elegant as his conduct of the passions is masterly. It is a pity that he did not apply his talents to what they were evidently proper for—the theatre.
1766: Claude-Rigobert Lefebvre de Beauvray, Histoire de Miss Honora, ou le vice dupe de lui-meme. Translation of an anonymous work in English.
1767: Restif de la Bretonne, La Famille vèrtueuse. Lettres traduites de l’anglais [The Virtuous Family. Letters translated from the English].
1767: Jacques Cazotte: Le lord impromptu, nouvelle romanesque, traduite de l’anglois (par J. Cazotte). The original text is The White–Witcherast, or, the Strange Success of Richard Oberthon. When translated into Italian in 1785, the name of the original author was revealed to be Fassdown.
1769: Mme Beccari, Lettres de Milady Bedford, traduites de l’anglois [Letters of Milady Bedford, translated from the English]. Followed by Mémoires de Lucie d’Olbéry, traduits de l’anglois, by Madame de B*** G*** (1770), Milord d’Amby, Histoire angloise (1778) and Mémoires de Fanny Spingler ou Les Dangers de la calomnie, Histoire Angloise (1781).
1769: William Tooke, The Loves of Othniel and Achsah. Translated from the Chaldee.
1782: Cornélie Wouters, Les Aveux d’une femme galante, ou Lettres de madame la marquise de*** à myladi Fanny Stapelton [The Confessions of a Gallant Woman, or Letters from Madame la Marquise de *** to Milady Fanny Stapelton]. a translator’s note explains that “l’éditeur de ces lettres s’est cru obligé de ne rien changer au style de celles écrites par Lady Fanny Stapleton. Le lecteur reconnaîtra facilement qu’elles sont d’une Anglaise” [“The editor of these letters believes she is obliged to change nothing about the style of those written by Lady Fanny Stapleton. The reader will easily recognize that they are those of an English woman.”] Also translated by Wouters: Le nouveau Continent, conte, par une dame angloise (1783) and La belle Indienne (1798), the latter authored by Cornélie de Vasse.
1782: Alessandro Verri, Le avventure di Saffo poetessa di Mitilene [The adventures of Sappho, poet of Mitilene]. “Traduzione dal Greco Originale, Neovamente Scoperto” [“Translated from a Newly Discovered Greek Original].
1796: Eliza Hamilton, Translation of the Letters of a Hindoo Rajah. An epistolary novel authored by Zāārmilla, the Rajah of Almora. Hamilton supplements the text with footnotes and a glossary.
1797: Giuseppe Compagnoni, Epicarmo ossia lo Spartano. Dialogo di Platone ultimamente scoperto [Epicarmo; or, the Spartan. A recenlty discovered Platonic dialog]. Translated from the Greek.
1800: Jan Potocki, Manuscrit trouvé à Saragosse [The Manuscript Found in Saragossa]. A text discovered by Walloon Guard Alphonse van Worden:
An officer in the French army, I found myself at the siege of Saragossa. A few days after its fall, I was proceeding towards a remote corner of the town when I noticed a small, well-built house which appeared to me not to have been searched as yet by any Frenchmen.
Curiosity prompted me to go in. I knocked on the door but, seeing that it was not closed, I pushed it open. I called out, and searched everywhere, but found nobody. It looked to me as though everything of value had been removed already; the objects left behind on tables and in cupboards were of little worth. But in the corner several handwritten notebooks caught my eye; I cast my eyes over the contents of the manuscript. It was in Spanish; I knew very little of that language, but I knew enough to see that the book might well be entertaining. It was all about brigands, ghosts and cabbalists; nothing could be more suitable to divert my mind from the rigours of the campaign than to read a novel full of strange adventures. As I was convinced that the book could no longer be restored to its rightful owner. I did not hesitate to possess myself of it.
Later we were forced to abandon Saragossa. I found myself by mischance separated from the main body of the army, and was taken prisoner by the enemy together with my detachment. I thought that was the end of me. Once we had reached the place where they were taking us, the Spanish began to strip us of our possessions. I pleaded to be allowed to keep only one object, which could not be of any use to them: it was the manuscript I had found. They at first raised objections, but in the end consulted their captain who, having cast his eyes over the book, came to me and thanked me for preserving intact a work to which he attached great value, as it contained the history of his ancestors. I told him how it had fallen into my hands. He then took me away with him, and during my quite lengthy stay in his house, where I was treated civilly, I asked him to translate the work for rise into French. I wrote what follows as he dictated it.
1801: Saint John de Crèvecur, Eighteenth Century Travels in Pennsylvania and New York. Translated from an early Oneida Indian manuscript. “Par un Membre adoptif de la Nation Onéida, Traduit et publié par l’auteur des Lettres d’un Cultivateur Américain.”
1803: Antoine Fabre d’Olivet: Le Troubadour, poésies occitaniques. Occitania is a region in Europe that includes Southern France, Auvergne, Limousin, and parts of Catalonia and Italy.
1805: William Henry Ireland, Effusions of Love from Chatelar to Mary, Queen of Scotland. “Translated from a Gallic manuscript” by the notable discoverer of lost Shakespeare plays.
The account of the sufferings of Chatelar are written by himself in the form of fragments, inscribed to Mary Queen of Scotland, and were, it is said, sent to her by the unfortunate youth during the short confinement which preceded his execution, as appears by one of his effusions at the end of this work.
The original manuscript and poems are written throughout in the Gallic language, which the Editor has endeavoured to put into a modern English dress, as the idiom of the French is so much altered, that a native of France, in the present day, would find it rather difficult to comprehend the meaning of many parts of the diary of Chatelar, as written by himself.
1804-1806: Vincenzo Cuoco, Platone in Italia [Plato in Italy]. Translated from the Greek, the text recounts the journey of Plato and his young disciple Cleobolo to Southern Italy before Greek colonization.
1810: Samuel Rogers, “The Voyage of Columbus.” A miniature epic poem translated from a sixteenth-century Castilian manuscript found at the Convent of la Rabida in Palos, Spain.
1812: Solomon Spaulding, “The Oberlin Manuscript.” Translated from 24 Latin parchment rolls found in a cave on the banks of Conneaut Creek. Published by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS Church) in 1885, and by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) in 1886.
1823: Georg Wilhem Heinrich Häring, Walladmor. Willibald Alexis’s German translation of a novel by Walter Scott then not yet available in English.
1827: Prosper Merimée, La Guzla. A collection selection of Illyric Poems collected in Dalmatia, Croatia and Herzegovina—including some by the bard Hyacinthe Maglanovitch. Translated from Serbian into French by an Italian traveler.
1830: Joseph Smith, The Book of Mormon. Composed of writings of ancient prophets who lived on the American continent from approximately 2200 BC to AD 421. Originally engraved on golden plates in reformed Egyptian.
Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That Joseph Smith, Jun., the translator of this work, has shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shown unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken.
1839: Stendhal, The Abbess of Castro. Translation of early sixteenth century Italian manuscripts telling the tragic story of Elena de’ Campireali and Giulio Branciforte.
1844: Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Rappaccini’s Daughter.” A translation from the French of “Beatrice; ou la Belle Empoisonneuse” by Monsieur Aubépine, originally published in La Revue Anti-Aristocratique.
We do not remember to have seen any translated specimens of the productions of M. de l’Aubépine—a fact the less to be wondered at, as his very name is unknown to many of his own countrymen as well as to the student of foreign literature. As a writer, he seems to occupy an unfortunate position between the Transcendentalists (who, under one name or another, have their share in all the current literature of the world) and the great body of pen-and-ink men who address the intellect and sympathies of the multitude. If not too refined, at all events too remote, too shadowy, and unsubstantial in his modes of development to suit the taste of the latter class, and yet too popular to satisfy the spiritual or metaphysical requisitions of the former, he must necessarily find himself without an audience, except here and there an individual or possibly an isolated clique. His writings, to do them justice, are not altogether destitute of fancy and originality; they might have won him greater reputation but for an inveterate love of allegory, which is apt to invest his plots and characters with the aspect of scenery and people in the clouds, and to steal away the human warmth out of his conceptions.
1846: James Clarence Mangan, “Literæ Orientales.” Six articles published in the Dublin University Magazine between 1837 and 1846 which include translations of Persian and Turkish poems. Related: Poems by German writers Drechsler and Selber translated in Mangan’s “Anthologia Germanica” articles.
1854: Over the course of 16 years, Denis Vrain-Lucas produced some 27,000 autographs, letters, and other documents from figures such as Mary Magdalene, Cleopatra, Judas Iscariot, Pontius Pilate, Joan of Arc, Cicero and Dante Alighieri, all in modern French
1863: Jules Verne, Cinq semaines en ballon, voyage de découvertes en afrique par trois anglais [Five Weeks in a Balloon, Or, Journeys And Discoveries In Africa By Three Englishmen]. Compiled in French by Verne “from The Original Notes Of Dr. Ferguson and done into English by William Lackland.”
1867: Judith Gautier, Le Livre de Jade [The Book of Jade]. Poems translated from the Chinese.
1862 & 1874: Iolo Morganwg, Barddas. A compilation of ancient Welsh texts on bardic and druidic tradtions.
1878: Anne Eliza Smith, Seola. Translation of an ancient scroll diary written by the wife of Japheth, one the sons of Noah.
1884: William Dennes Mahan (Rev.), The Archko Volume. In 1879, Mahan published a 32-page pamphlet entitled “A Correct Transcript of Pilate’s Court,” an official report of the trial and death of Jesus made directly to the Roman Emperor Tiberius by Pontius Pilate. Mahan had been made aware of the text by a German scholar, Henry C. Whydaman, who explained that Father Peter Freelinhusen, “the chief guardian of the Vatican,” had sent the Latin text to Whydaman’s brother-in-law, C.C. Vantberger of New York, to be translated into English. (The text of the pamphlet is identical to an 1837 short story by Joseph Méry, “Ponce Pilate à Vienne,” itself drawn from an old Latin manuscript.)
Mahan followed the pamphlet in 1884 with the first version of the Archko Volume, entitled The Archaeological Writings of the Sanhedrin and Talmuds of the Jews, Taken from the Ancient Parchments and Scrolls at Constantinople and the Vatican at Rome, Being the Record Made by the Enemies of Jesus of Nazareth in His Day: The Most Interesting History Ever Read by Man. The texts were translated with the help of Dr. M. McIntosh of Scotland and Dr. Twyman of England, and include an interview with Joseph and Mary, as well as Herod’s defense before the Roman Senate for the Massacre of the Innocents.
1880: Amy Dillwyn, The Rebecca Rioter: A Story of Killay Life. Based on the historical Welsh Rebecca Riots of 1839-1843 in which men dressed as women smashed toll-gates to protest unfair taxation. Translated from the Welsh. The editor of the volume has revised the text in places to make the “Welshy, and sometimes uncouth, language…intelligible to the general reader.”
1880: Richard Francis Burton , The Kasîdah of Hâjî Abdû El-Yezdî [The Lay of the Higher Law]. A long poem written by Hâjî Abdû El-Yezdî, translated and annotated by Burton’s “friend And pupil, F.B.” The manuscript was secured from Haji Abdu, a native of Darabghird in the Yezd Province of Persia.
1888: Anonymous, California Three Hundred and Fifty Years Ago: Manuelo’s Narrative Translated from the Portuguese By a Pioneer. A manuscript discovered in a monastery in Evora.
1889: Arno Holz and Johannes Schlaf, “Papa Hamlet,” “Der erste Schultag” [First Day at School], and “Ein Tor [A Death]. Written by Peter Holmsen, a young Norwegian.
1894: Pierre Louÿs, Les Chansons de Bilitis [The Songs of Bilitis]. Translated from ancient Greek into French.
1896: Samuel Clemens [Mark Twain], Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc. Written by Sieur Louis de Conte, Joan of Arc’s page, and translated into English by Jean François Alden.
1896: Andrew Lang, A Monk of Fife: Being the Chronicle written by Norman Leslie of Pitcullo, concerning marvellous deeds that befell in the realm of France, in the years of our redemption, MCCCCXXIX-XXXI. Now first done into English out of the French by Andrew Lang.
1898: S J Du Toit, Di Koningin fan Skeba [The Queen of Sheba]. Translation into Afrikaans of parchment scrolls discovered under the tower of the Zimbabwe ruins and beneath Mount Afoer. Written in Classical Hebrew by Elihoref, Solomon’s scribe and consort of the Queen of Sheba.
1899: C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne, The Lost Continent: The Story of Atlantis. Written by Deucalion, a warrior-priest of ancient Atlantis. The original text was inadvertently damaged and thus the story is incomplete.
1901: Gideon Jasper Richard Ouseley (Rev.), The Gospel of the Holy Twelve. A text from the early Christian era that presents vegetarian versions of events and teachings of the New Testament.
1908: Valery Bryusov, Огненный ангел [The Fiery Angel]. Full title: The Fiery Angel; or, a True Story in which is related of the Devil, not once but often appearing in the Image of a Spirit of Light to a Maiden and seducing her to Various and Many Sinful Deeds, of Ungodly Practices of Magic, Alchymy, Astrology, the Cabalistical Sciences and Necromancy, of the Trial of the Said Maiden under the Presidency of His Eminence the Archbishop of Trier, as well as of Encounters and Discourses with the Knight and thrice Doctor Agrippa of Nettesheim, and with Doctor Faustus, composed by an Eyewitness. Translation of a 16th-century manuscript.
1913: James Branch Cabell, Domnei: A Comedy of Woman-Worship. Translation of the fragmentary Roman de Lusignan; “this book makes no pretensions to be more than a rendering into English of this manuscript, with slight additions from the earliest known printed version of 1546.” Set in the French province of Poictesme during the second half of the 13th century, this is the fifth volume of Cabell’s voluminous Biography of the Life of Manuel.
1919: William George Jordan, et al., Feodor Vladimir Larrovitch: An Appreciation of His Life and Works. Includes “Some Translations from Larrovitch” by Richardson Wright, “Three Incidental Poems by Larrovitch” by George S. Hellman, A. B. and “Five Larrovitch Letters” by Thomas Walsh, PH. D., LITT. D.
1934 & 1935: Robert Graves, I, Claudius and Claudius the God. “Claudius is writing in Greek, the scholarly language of his day, which accounts for his careful explanation of Latin jokes and for his translation of a passage from Ennius quoted by him in the original.”
1935: Hanna Hindbeck, Vinden vänder vid Bosporen: En Enkel Turks Dagbok. A Swedish translation of the diary of an Ottoman/Turkish policeman.
1936: Edmond Bordeaux Szekely, The Essene Gospel of Peace. Translation of an Aramaic text first discovered in the Vatican in 1923—which was itself a translation of an original Hebrew text ultimately discovered in the scriptorium of the Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino. The work was published in four parts over several decades; the 1974 edition includes the original Hebrew text for the first part. Proves the Essenes were vegetarians and that vegetarianism was prescribed by Jesus.
1944: Karen Blixen, The Angelic Avengers. Danish translation of the original French novel by Pierre Andrezel.
1946: Boris Vian, J’irai Cracher Sur Vos Tombes [I Spit On Your Graves]. French translation of a novel by African-American writer Vernon Sullivan.
1947: Jorge Luis Borges Borges, “The Immortal.”
In London, in early June of the year 1929, the rare book dealer Joseph Cartaphilus, of Smyrna, offered the princess de Lucinge the six quarto minor volumes (1715-1720) of Pope’s Iliad. The princess purchased them; when she took possession of them, she exchanged a few words with the dealer. He was, she says, an emaciated, grimy man with gray eyes and gray beard and singularly vague features. He expressed himself with untutored and uncorrected fluency in several languages; within scant minutes he shifted from French to English and from English to an enigmatic cross between the Spanish of Salonika and the Portuguese of Macao. In October, the princess heard from a passenger on the Zeus that Cartaphilus had died at sea while returning to Smyrna, and that he had been buried on the island of Cos. In the last volume of the Iliad she found this manuscript. It is written in an English that teems with Latinisms; this is a verbatim transcription of the document.
1947: Raymond Queneau, On est toujours trop bon avec les femmes [We always treat women too well]. Translation by Michel Presle from the Irish of author Sally Mara, followed by Journal intime (1950) and her Œuvres complètes (1962).
1951: David George Plotkin [?], My Sister and I. This previously unknown work by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, translated and introduced by Dr. Oscar Levy, was written in 1889 or early 1890 during Nietzsche’s stay in a mental asylum in the Thuringian city of Jena. Sadly, the original manuscript was destroyed in an American warehouse.
1953: Camilo José Cela, Mrs. Caldwell habla con su hijo [Mrs. Caldwell Speaks to her Son]. Translation of the journal of a Mrs Caldwell, originally in English.
1954: Peter Russell, The Elegies Of Quintilius. Translations from the 5th century nomadic Latin poet, followed by From The Apocalypse Of Quintilius (1997) (and a revised edition of the Elegies in 1996).
1963: Leonardo Sciascia, The Council of Egypt. Not a pseudotranslation, but the story of a pseudotranslation. In 18th century Palermo, an Arabic manuscript is discovered in a monastery. It is in fact a life of the prophet Mohammed, but when prelate Monsignor Airoldi asks monk Giuseppe Vella to translate it, Vella presents him with a history of the Arab conquest of Sicily. He later produces another text called “The Council of Egypt,” an Arab history of the Norman invasion of Sicily.
1965: David Solway, White Poems. English translation from the Greek of Andreas Karavis—followed by Dream Masters (1989).
1969: John Glassco, The Temple of Pederasty. A Japanese work by Ihara Saikaku translated by Hideki Okada.
1970: Jorge Luis Borges: “Doctor Brodie’s Report.”
Among the pages of one of the volumes of Lane’s Arabian Nights’ Entertainments (London, 1839), a set of which my dear friend Paul Keins turned up for me, we made the discovery of the manuscript I am about to transcribe be- low. The neat handwriting—an art which type- writers are now helping us to forget—suggests that it was composed some time around that same date….I have been unable to uncover any information [about the author] except that he was a Scottish missionary, born in Aberdeen, who preached the Christian faith first in the heart of Africa and later on in certain backlying regions of Brazil, a land he was probably led to by his knowledge of Portuguese. I am unaware of the place and date of his death. The manuscript, as far as I know, was never given to the press. What follows is a faithful transcription of his report, composed in a rather colorless English, with no other omissions than two or three Bible verses jotted in the margins and a curious passage concerning the sexual practices of the Yahoos, which our good Presbyterian discreetly committed to Latin. The first page is missing.
1980: Robin Chapman, The Duchess’s Diary. Autobiographical account of Maria Isabel, Duchess of Caparroso, who falls in love with Miguel de Cervantes. She believes she has been unfairly portrayed in Don Quixote.
1980: Umberto Eco, Name of the Rose. Italian translation of a Latin original by Adso of Melk, a medieval monk.
Having reached the end of my poor sinner’s life, my hair now white, I grow old as the world does…confined now with my heavy, ailing body in this cell in the dear monastery of Melk, I prepare to leave on this parchment my testimony as to the wondrous and terrible events that I happened to observe in my youth, now repeating all that I saw and heard, without venturing to seek a design, as if to leave to those who will come after (if the Antichrist has not come first) signs of signs, so that the prayer of deciphering may be exercised on them. (William Weaver, trans.)
1989: Andrei Bitov, The Symmetry Teacher. Bitov explains that many years ago, he took a copy of this obscure English novel on a geological expedition with friends. When they ran out of things to read, they asked him to translate it for them. He did his best, but, as his English was not good, he extemporized much of it. Now, years later, he cannot find the original, but writes down what he remembers of the translation. Original author: A. Tired-Boffin.
1990: András Gáspár and Csanád Novák, A Halál Havában[lit. In the Month of Death]. Hungarian translation of Blood Season by Wayne Mark Chapman. First book in series about Ynev, a continent on the planet Satralis.
1990: Andreï Makine, La Fille d’un héros de l’Union soviétique [Daughter of a Hero of the Soviet Union]. Written by Makine, a Russian political refugee in France and translated by Françoise Bour. Makine’s second two novels, Confession d’un porte-drapeau déchu (1992) and Au temps du fleuve Amour (1994) were also translations.
1996: Kent Johnson [?],”Doubled Flowering: From the Notebooks of Araki Yasusada.” Translations from the Japanese poet by Tosa Motokiyu, Okura Kyojin, and Ojiu Norinaga. Yasusada, a survivor of Hiroshima, died in 1972 and his notebooks were discovered several years later by his son in 1980.
1996: Stephen J. Rivelle, A Booke of Days. A Journal of the Crusade by Roger, Duke of Lunel.
1996: James Cowan, A Mapmaker’s Dream: The Meditations of Fra Mauro, Cartographer to the Court of Venice.
1997: Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha. Translated from the Japanese. (The Japanese translator Motoyuki Shibata has said that Takayoshi Ogawa’s Japanese translation of Golden’s novel is more authentic than the original since it uses the actual vocabulary of geishas.)
1999: Lee Siegel, Love in a Dead Language.
2003: Anonymous, 执行力: 没有执行力・就没有竞争力[Google translation: Execution: Without execution, there is no competitiveness]. First [?] in the five-volume Executive Ability management series by eminent Harvard business professor Paul Thomas. The other title I’ve found is 执行力: 完全行动手册 II [Execution: Complete Action Manual II] (2004). Includes a blurb from The Wall Street Journal: “The most practical and advanced management thought of our time.”
2006: Thom Ryng, The King in Yellow. Translation of a French play referenced in the stories of Robert W. Chambers (1865-1933). The anonymous play, which dates from the late 1800s, drives its audience insane.
2007: Zachary Mason, The Lost Books of the Odyssey. Translation of a pre-Homeric papyri containing “44 concise variations on Odysseus’ story that omit stock epic formulae in favor of honing a single trope or image down to an extreme of clarity.”
2009: George Economou, Ananios of Kleitor. Translation of the works of Ananios and his ancient commentators. Includes scholarly apparatus and letters of those involved in Ananios’ 20th-century revival. Of the original Greek texts of Ananios (b. 399 BC), only forty papyrus fragments survive.
2009: Jonathan Tel, The Beijing of Possibilities. Translated from the Chinese of poet Helan Xiao.
2012: Saud Al-Sanousi, Saq al-Bambu [The Bamboo Stalk]. Ibrahim Salam’s Arabic translation of a novel written in Tagalog by José Mendoza.
2013: Shalva Bakuradze, Hymns of the Sacred Resurrection. Contains the poem “The Decrees of all Flesh,” a translation of five Sumerian tablets found in 2005. Scholarly afterword by Sumerologist Zurab Kiknadze.
2014: Graeme Macrae Burnet, The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau. Translation of a lost French work from 1982.
2014: Xiaolu Guo, I Am China. Iona Kirkpatrick’s translations of letters between Chinese lovers Mu and Jian.
2015: Bavo Dhooge, Samen zullen we slapen voor het sterven [We Sleep Before Death]. Dutch translation of a 1950’s crime novel by French author Jean Sagan.
2017: Jacob Eisenmann, P. Mil. Translation of a papyrus excavated in 1995 containing epigrams by Posidippus, a witer of the Ptolemaic period. The papyrus is now held by the University of Milan, where it is assigned the designation P. Mil. Vogl. VIII 309.
2019: Adam Ehrlich Sachs, The Organs of Sense. Translation from the Latin memoir of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, recounting his encounter with a blind astronomer in 1666.
Salvador Dalí: Illustration for Don Quixote (1946)