Translating the Devil

Michael Ostling

in Between the Devil and the Host

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199587902
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191731228 | DOI:

Series: The Past & Present Book Series

Translating the Devil

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This chapter explores the question of ‘translating the devil’ through a careful examination of the history of translation of incubus as latawiec. Biblical ‘sons of God’ and ‘goat demons’ (Genesis 6, Isaiah 13, 34), patristic sylvani, and demonologicalincubi (Augustine, Malleus Maleficarum) were translated with the Polish latawiec—a folk-demon and treasure-hauling familiar. Because all these creatures are supernatural and imaginary, each ‘translation’ constitutes a misrecognized act of ethnographic comparison, with ironic results: the devils of Polish witch-trials resemble the pugs and hobgoblins of western fairy-tales. The witch is similarly a product of translation, a creature of the intersection of local folklore, cosmopolitan literature, and Roman Law.

Keywords: translation; ethnographic comparison; incubus; latawiec; Bible; folklore; literature

Chapter.  5286 words. 

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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