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Tao Te Ching, Greek Translation by Nicholas C. RossisI apologize in advance to my English-speaking friends, in case this post is of limited interest to them. I promise to make it up in my next one. 

I wanted to share that I have now published my Greek translation of the Tao Te Ching.

This was an important move for me, for three reasons.

My first book

First of all, this book, finished in 2010, was my first full-length work. It took me over a year of almost daily work to complete, despite its brevity. I even taught myself a little Chinese to be sure I understood the nuances of certain parts.

For my translation, I relied on a number of diverse English translations. Each of the authors had looked at it from a different angle, and I saw it as my work to bring together these disparate strands; to combine them in one definitive work. The fact that I ended up with two translations, printed side by side, shows the limits of my success. Or, if you prefer, my failure. The Tao Te Ching is a wondrous work, profound and paradigm-shifting. I first read it when I was 19, and it has influenced my way of looking at things. How could I, then, expect to write the definitive translation?

The language itself is one major consideration. You see, Classical Chinese is a wonderfully laconic language. If translated word for word, the result can be incomprehensible. On the other hand, a loose translation will destroy its poetic nature. Consider this example: King T’ang has a bath, decorated with nine words:

“If daily renewal,

Daily daily renewal

Again daily renewal”

Although brilliant from a poetic point of view, it makes more sense if translated as follows:

“If you take a bath each day, you will feel daily renewed. Every day, you will feel like a new man.”

However, where is the beauty in that? Substituting the original scripted characters for the Latin alphabet has already destroyed the aesthetics of the inscription; dissecting it into the Western way of expression leaves but an empty shell of it.

To deal with this dilemma, I opted in the end for a “twin” translation. The one on the left-hand pages is more literal, while the one on the right more free. I hope this will allow readers to better enjoy the book.

Testing the limits

The second reason this is important to me, has to do with the fact that its publication pushes the limits of what I thought possible. Yes, Amazon supports as many languages as you wish. I converted text and cover into PDF, uploaded to CreateSpace, and the book showed up on Amazon, as expected.

Not on Kindle, though. For it turns out that Amazon only allows most non-English works on paper format only.

Still, this was a aha! moment for me, and an experiment that I enjoyed immensely.

Pushing the envelope

Finally, this is an important edition because of my love for the Tao Te Ching – a love any reader of my epic fantasy series Pearseus will recognize. Even on my sci-fi collection, The Power of Six, I make a reference to Chuang Chou, who famously said,

I dreamed I was a butterfly flying around.  I was only aware of my existence as a butterfly, with no awareness of Chou.  Then I woke up, not knowing whether I was a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming I was a man.

Readers of my work know that this line of thinking permeates my own thoughts and beliefs.

My love of the book is why, upon finishing my translation, I decided to give it away on the Internet. Little did I realize at the time that I had, in effect, just become an Indie author. I still remember my awe at my audacious action. I kept wondering if I was breaking some law or other, or if someone would shout at me that I was no author, nor translator – so how dared I publish my work online?

And yet, the book was embraced by people. Last month alone, over 550 visitors downloaded the free version (still available on my Tao Te Ching site).

Much as that gratifies me, there is one thing that saddens me: early on, I had installed a “donate now” button. Out of almost 7,000 people who have downloaded the book, only one, George Giaglis, donated. We became friends, and he’s one of my most supportive readers. As for the rest of the visitors?

I also encouraged people to send me a simple “thank you” email, acknowledging my efforts. Only 12 did, one of whom kindly offering to host the site for free.

This finally led me to change my policy, and since last week, I am using the free website to promote my hard copy, as well as allow people to download the digital one for free. The only new rule is that they need to provide me with an email address before they receive the download link. Naturally, I also state categorically that I will only use it to notify them of any changes, such as new editions etc, to the book.

The downloads have now dropped from almost twenty daily, to one.

Still, I’m not worried about that. I have decided that people who can’t be bothered to send a simple “thank you” note, will not appreciate neither the beauty, nor the fine teachings of the Tao Te Ching.

As ever, I welcome your comments! Do you think I was right to ask for an email address?  What do you think I should do?