Translated: La Casa de Asterión becomes The House of Asterion

Andrew Hurley’s translations of Borges’s work I consider quite poor. I’ve already attempted once to improve a sorry situation with my translation of Borges Y Yo, and now in a similarly hubristic manner, I issue forth my translation of La Casa de Asterión.

The House of Asterion (translated from the Spanish) by Jorge Luis Borges

And the queen gave birth to a son named Asterion.
Apollodorus, Library, III, I

I know they accuse me of arrogance, perhaps also of misanthropy, perhaps madness too. Such accusations (which I shall castigate in due course) are laughable. It is true that I do not leave my house, but it is also true that its doors (which are infinite* in number) are open day and night to man and animal alike. Anyone who wishes may enter. One will not find feminine extravagance here, nor gallant courtly ritual, just quiet and solitude. Here one will find a house like no other on the face of the Earth. (They who declare that in Egypt exists another similar are lying). Even my detractors admit that there is not a single piece of furniture in the house. Another ridiculous tale claims that I, Asterion, am a prisoner. Need I repeat that there are no closed doors? Should I add that there are no locks? Besides, I did one evening step out onto the street; if I returned home before nightfall, I did so because of the fear that the faces of the hoi polloi, faces discoloured and plain like an open hand, had induced in me. The sun had already set, but the helpless cry of a babe and the coarse supplications of the common herd signalled that I had been recognised. The people prayed, fled and fell prostrate; some climbed up to the stylobate of the temple of Axes, others gathered stones. Someone, I believe, hid himself under the sea. Not in vain was my mother a queen; I cannot mix with the common people, though my modesty does so desire it.

The fact is that I am unique. What a man can pass unto others does not interest me; like the philosopher, I think nothing is communicated by the art of writing. Annoying and trivial minutiae have no place in my spirit, a spirit which is receptive only to whatsoever is grand. Never have I retained the difference between one letter and another. A certain generous impatience has not consented that I should learn to read. Sometimes I deplore this, for the nights and days are long.

Naturally, I am not without amusement. Like a ram on the charge, I run through the galleries of stone until dizzily I tumble to the ground. I conceal myself in the shadows of a cistern or in the corner of a corridor and pretend that I am being searched for. There are rooftops from which I let myself fall until I bloody myself. At any time I can shut my eyes and pretend that I am asleep, breathing deeply. (Sometimes I really do sleep, sometimes the colour of the day has changed by the time I open my eyes). But of the games I play, the one I prefer is pretending there is another Asterion. I pretend that he has come to visit me and I show him around the house. With great reverence I tell him: Now we return to the previous intersection, or Now we head towards another courtyard, or I knew you would like this drain, or Now you will see a cistern that has filled with sand, or Now you will see how the cellar forks. Sometimes I err and we both laugh heartily.

Not only these games have I imagined; I have also meditated on the house. Each part of the house repeats many times, any particular place is another place. There is not one cistern, courtyard, drinking fountain, manger; there are fourteen (infinite) mangers, drinking fountains, courtyards, cisterns. The house is the size of the world; better said, it is the world. Nevertheless, by dint of exhausting all the dusty galleries of grey stone and the courtyards with their cisterns, I have reached the street and I have seen the temple of Axes and the sea. This I did not understand until a night vision revealed to me that there are also fourteen (infinite) seas and temples. Everything exists many times over, fourteen times, but there are two things in the world that seem to exist only once; above, the intricate Sun; below, Asterion. Perhaps I have created the stars and the Sun and the enormous house, but I do not remember anymore.

Nine men enter the house every nine years so that I may deliver them from all evil. I hear their footsteps or their voices in the depths of the galleries of stone and I run with joy in search of them. The ceremony lasts a few minutes. One after another, they fall to the ground without my having to bloody my hands. Where they fall, they remain, and the cadavers help to distinguish one gallery from another. I know not who they are, but I do know that one of them prophesied, at the moment of his death, that someday my redeemer would come. Since then, the solitude does not pain me because I know that my redeemer lives, and in the end he will rise above the dust. If I could hear all the rumblings of the world, I would detect the sound of his footsteps. Let it be that he take me to a place with fewer galleries and fewer doors.

I wonder: what will my redeemer be like? Will he be a bull or a man? Will he be perhaps a bull with the face of a man? Or will he be like me?

 

The morning Sun was reflected in the sword of bronze. No trace of blood remained.

“Would you believe it, Ariadne?” said Theseus. “The minotaur hardly put up a fight.”

* The original says fourteen, but there is ample reason to infer that in Asterion’s eyes, this adjectival numeral is no different to infinite.


La Casa de Asterión por Jorge Luis Borges

Y la reina dio a luz un hijo que se llamó Asterión.
Apolodoro, Biblioteca, III, I

Sé que me acusan de soberbia, y tal vez de misantropía, y tal vez de locura. Tales acusaciones (que yo castigaré a su debido tiempo) son irrisorias. Es verdad que no salgo de mi casa, pero también es verdad que sus puertas (cuyo número es infinito*) están abiertas día y noche a los hombres y también a los animales. Que entre el que quiera. No hallará pompas mujeriles aquí ni el bizarro aparato de los palacios, pero sí la quietud y la soledad. Asimismo hallará una casa como no hay otra en la faz de la tierra. (Mienten los que declaran que en Egipto hay una parecida.) Hasta mis detractores admiten que no hay un solo mueble en la casa. Otra especie ridícula es que yo, Asterión, soy un prisionero. ¿Repetiré que no hay una puerta cerrada, añadiré que ho hay una cerradura? Por lo demás, algún atardecer he pisado la calle; si antes de la noche volví, lo hice por el temor que me infundieron las caras de la plebe, caras descoloridas y aplanadas, como la mano abierta. Ya se había puesto el sol, pero el desvalido llanto de un niño y las toscas plegarias de la grey dijeron que me habían reconocido. La gente oraba, huía, se prosternaba; unos se encaramaban al estilóbato del templo de las Hachas, otros juntaban piedras. Alguno, creo, se ocultó bajo el mar. No en vano fue una reina mi madra; no puedo confundirme con el vulgo, aunque mi modestia lo quiera.

El hecho es que soy único. No me interesa lo que un hombre pueda trasmitir a otros hombres; como el filósofo, pienso que nada es comunicable por el arte de la escritura. Las enojosas y triviales minucias no tienen cabida en mi espíritu, que está capacitado para lo grande; jamás he retenido la diferencia entre una letra y otra. Cierta impaciencia generosa no ha consentido que yo aprendiera a leer. A veces lo deploro, porque las noches y los días son largos.

Claro que no me faltan distracciones. Semejante al carnero que va a embestir, corro por las galerías de piedra hasta rodar al suelo, mareado. Me agazapo a la sombra de un aljibe o a la vuelta de un corredor y juego a que me buscan. Hay azoteas desde las que me dejo caer, hasta ensangrentarme. A cualquier hora puedo jugar a estar dormido, con los ojos cerrados y la respiración poderosa. (A veces me duermo realmente, a veces ha cambiado el color del día cuando he abierto los ojos.) Pero de tantos juegos el que prefiero es el de otro Asterión. Finjo que viene a visitarme y que yo le muestro la casa. Con grandes reverencias le digo: Ahora volvemos a la encrucijada anterior o Ahora desembocamos en otro patio o Bien decía yo que te gustaría la canaleta o Ahora verás una cisterna que se llenó de arena o Ya verás cómo el sótano se bifurca. A veces me equivoco y nos reímos buenamente los dos.

No sólo he imaginado eso juegos, también he meditado sobre la casa. Todas las partes de la casa están muchas veces, cualquier lugar es otro lugar. No hay un aljibe, un patio, un abrevadero, un pesebre; son catorce [son infinitos] los pesebres, abrevaderos, patios, aljibes. La casa es del tamaño del mundo; mejor dicho, es el mundo. Sin embargo, a fuerza de fatigar patios con un aljibe y polvorientas galerías de piedra gris, he alcanzado la calle y he visto el templo de las Hachas y el mar. Eso no lo entendí hasta que una visión de la noche me reveló que también son catorce [son infinitos] los mares y los templos. Todo está muchas veces, catorce veces, pero dos cosas hay en el mundo que parecen estar una sola vez: arriba, el intrincado sol; abajo, Asterión. Quizá yo he creado las estrellas y el sol y la enorme casa, pero ya no me acuerdo.

Cada nueve años entran en la casa nueve hombres para que yo los libere de todo mal. Oigo sus pasos o su voz en el fondo de las galerías de piedra y corro alegremente a buscarlos. La ceremonia dura pocos minutos. Uno tras otro caen sin que yo me ensangriente las manos. Donde cayeron, quedan, y los cadáveres ayudan a distinguir una galería de las otras. Ignoro quiénes son, pero sé que uno de ellos profetizó, en la hora de su muerte, que alguna vez llegaría mi redentor. Desde entonces no me duele la soledad, porque sé que vive mi redeentor y al fin se levantará sobre el polvo. Si mi oído alcanzara los rumores del mundo, yo percibiría sus pasos. Ojalá me lleve a un lugar con menos galerías y menos puertas. ¿Cómo será mi redentor?, me pregunto. ¿Será un toro o un hombre? ¿Será tal vez un toro con cara de hombre? ¿O será como yo?

 

El sol de la mañana reverberó en la espada de bronce. Ya no quedaba ni un vestigio de sangre.

– ¿Lo creerás, Ariadna? – dijo Teseo. – El minotauro apenas se defendió.

* El original dice catorce, pero sobran motives para inferir que en boca de Asterión, ese adjetivo numeral vale por infinitos.

36 thoughts on “Translated: La Casa de Asterión becomes The House of Asterion

  1. FallingStar

    I love this story! I’m from argentina and read this tale a few years ago. It’s amazing, Borges is a unique writer.

  2. Juanito

    And I am from Mexico, but here we also appreciate good authors…These is a wonderful story. Borges is the only writer with such capasity to write about metaphysical matters without sounding to academic, rather more like fantasist. By the way, I am planning on calling my Baby, Asterion. Whoever has not yet read that much of Borges, and would like a recommendation, I’d strongly recommend, -Ficciones-..Of course nothing tops the original stories, spanish.There’s another author I’d like to recommend, Jose Vasconcelos and his second book, -La Raza Cosmica from Mex….
    Adieu!

  3. Antonios Post author

    Asteri means ‘star’ in Greek, so you’re picking a good name for your son.

    I’ll definitely look into Jose Vasconcelos too.

  4. eric

    while i enjoy your take on the translation i almost prefer the aesthetic touches in the alternate – particularly “He will find here no female pomp nor gallant court formality, but he will find quiet and solitude.”

    very good effort though and I always enjoy reading basically anything I can that references a) borges and b) minotaurs

  5. julian

    i’m from argentina, and it may sound weird, but i like to read english translations of spanish-speaking writers. Yours is very good.

  6. Steve Rodak

    I had read “The House of Asterion” about 25 years ago and it haunted me ever since. Mr. Borges created his own ‘aesthetic phenomena’ which endure to this day.

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  8. Derm

    There are many typos in the Spanish version here.

    Also I think you’re being a bit harsh on Hurley – it ain’t easy translating Borges!

  9. Antonios Post author

    Oops — I’ve gone and fixed those typos; I hope there aren’t any others that I’ve missed!

    And there are quite a few people who are fond of Hurley’s translations — even prefer them to the others — but I’m not one of them.

  10. Jeff Villard

    Again, one of Borges’ greatest stories. I wish I could read it in Spanish. These passages are marvelous:

    “No sólo he imaginado eso juegos, también he meditado sobre la casa. Todas las partes de la casa están muchas veces, cualquier lugar es otro lugar. No hay un aljibe, un patio, un abrevadero, un pesebre; son catorce [son infinitos] los pesebres, abrevaderos, patios, aljibes. La casa es del tamaño del mundo; mejor dicho, es el mundo.”

    “Ignoro quiénes son, pero sé que uno de ellos profetizó, en la hora de su muerte, que alguna vez llegaría mi redentor. Desde entonces no me duele la soledad, porque sé que vive mi redeentor y al fin se levantará sobre el polvo. Si mi oído alcanzara los rumores del mundo, yo percibiría sus pasos. Ojalá me lleve a un lugar con menos galerías y menos puertas. ¿Cómo será mi redentor?, me pregunto. ¿Será un toro o un hombre? ¿Será tal vez un toro con cara de hombre? ¿O será como yo?”

    Thanks again for making this beautiful story available.

  11. Exuvia

    So Theseus came, in the shape of death, to redeem him.

    He had to die to live in a simpler world which was not the complexity of his own creation.

    So human it gives me the shivers; ye gods!

  12. Marina

    I’m an Argentine and I had love Borges since the first time I read it (the house of Asterion) when I was thirteen years old. Even though I like the Spanish version better the English one is very good as well. I never get enough of this story and how great is written. Only Borges could make a beast like the minotaur such an tender character.

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  14. Antonios Post author

    I think the 14 is a comment on Asterion’s limited mental capabilities.

    Humans might say “millions” or “gazillions” to mean something practically limitless and so large we find it difficult to comprehend. For the minotaur, though, 14 is as high a number needs to go before it becomes incomprehensible and takes on the feel of being limitless.

    Why 14 and not another number — 15, 11, 19, 27 say — I have no idea, although I wouldn’t be surprised if Borges has hidden a literary reference in his choice of the number 14, which is something he was certainly fond of doing.

  15. Meli

    I’m studying to become a Translator, and I enjoyed your translation!
    Sometimes, published renderings are not as good as the original works deserve, but we can’t help it!

    Bye the way, I’m Argentinian.. and I love Borges!

  16. Antonios Post author

    I’m glad to hear even Argentineans like the translation I made.

    I’m actually going to Argentina and Uruguay next week and I’m hoping to pick up some of stories of his that I don’t have already in Spanish.

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  18. Antonios Post author

    The Donald Yates translation is pretty good, certainly a lot better than Hurley’s.

  19. David T. Marchand

    Argentinian here too, and loving this translation! I wanted to ask: a) if there’s a particular reason why you replaced the original square brackets for parentheses; b) if your without my having to bloody my hands it’s correct instead of without me having to bloody my hands; and c) if there’s a reason why you didn’t put more line breaks after Asterión’s speech comes to an end. Anyway, good job here man!

  20. Antonios Post author

    Hey David,

    Glad you enjoyed the translation.

    As to your questions:

    a.) I just checked a published version of the original in Spanish and it has only parentheses. Maybe it’s just an editorial choice rather than one Borges made?

    b.) There’s no difference in meaning between “without my having” and “without me having”, but in English there has been a slow shift from the personal pronoun, in this case my, to the object pronoun, in this case me, in these constructions.

    But there is a difference in tone. The personal pronoun now seems more formal compared to the more humdrum object pronoun, and I wanted Asterion to sound more like a snob that he seems to be by using the personal pronoun my instead of me.

    c.) I’ll fix that up right now. That was just something I missed.

    Cheers,

    AS

  21. David T. Marchand

    OK, and as your answers:

    a) Could be just an editorial choice. I always thought it was meant to be square brackets ’cause they’re clarifications from the footnote’s author (who’s not Asterion), witch I thought helped differentiate them from Asterion’s parentheses. Anyway, better not to give it too much tough since then we’ll start asking difficult questions like how comes there’s an “original” if Asterion couldn’t write anything.

    b) Glad to have just learned a new thing.

    c) Nice to know I helped a bit.

  22. pat

    Thanks for this translation!

    On the number fourteen: I wonder whether it is an allusion to the Greek version of the myth in which the number of victims (young men and young women from Athens) is seven + seven = fourteen (Apollodorus, Library 3.15.8).

  23. Locoluis

    My theory about the number 14 comes from the way numbers are spelled in Greek.

    The basic Greek words for numbers between 1 and 12 are fairly easy to say. But 13 is a bit more complicated and 14 is much more complicated.

    Relatively, yes, but given the beast’s limited intelligence, I guess he has a hard time dealing with numbers so large and complicated to remember.

  24. Antonios Post author

    Is 13 and 14 really more complicated to say in Modern or Ancient Greek?

    In Modern Greek, both 13 and 14 are very easy to say, the equivalent of saying 10 and 3 and 10 and 4 (δεκατρία and δεκατέσσερα).

    In Ancient Greek, they’re much the same.

  25. Cory

    Hey! Well done on this translation. I’m studying Spanish, and as this is one of my favorite stories, I figured I’d try to translate it, and I found myself looking back at your translation and thinking “Oh, that’s a much better way to say this” every few sentences.

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