Martin Bodmer built his collection, among the world’s richest and most diverse private libraries, according to the concept of Welt-Literatur. Translation is at the core of this idea. Bodmer created his collection around five pillars which are also adventures in translation: Homer, The Bible, Dante, Shakespeare and Goethe. Translations of Homer embody all stages in the history of translation. Translations of the Bible, between Saint-Jérôme’s vulgate and Martin Luther’s Reform, were a quarrelsome topic, which shaped the languages we speak. Dante echoes Virgil, himself voicing Homer: the paths of translation are the paths of culture. Treasured papyri, manuscripts and incunables are here presented, often for the first time.
The paths of translation are also paths to power: Greek, Latin, Arabic, vernacular. A translator’s work – a craftsmanship in which one language hosts another and finds itself transformed – is deep-rooted in politics. Switzerland, and Geneva, are Babels in which several languages are spoken, unless a single, global English, prevails…
This astonishing exhibition brings forth the differences between languages in as much as there are views of the world. It stages a play with the help of Goethe and Diderot, or Tintin and Heidi, highlighting the diversity of idioms or sign language.
And what if translation was reinvention, rather than copy?