Michelangelo quote translation help
September 23, 2014 7:30 AM   Subscribe

A follow up to this Michelangelo quote question - Calling Italian & Urdu speakers for some translation help!

Authenticity be damned, I’d really like to get a tattoo of that quote (but make it in the feminine). I feel like it’s fitting for me after a weight loss journey done 95% with exercise, making myself stronger and more fit, combined with some other background stuff.

The full English translation of what I’m interested in getting tattooed is:
I saw the angel in the marble
And carved until I set Her free

I’d like to get half of it In Italian, and half of it in Urdu (a nod to my Italian & Pakistani parents/background). Possibly the first half in Italian, and the second in Urdu (or maybe vice versa?). But hoping some intelligent people with a knack for the art of languages, can help me with the translation.

Or, how would you write the whole thing in Italian? Or, the whole quote in urdu?? Or, any other creative ideas and suggestions for this as a tattoo? Many thanks for any help!
posted by raztaj to Writing & Language (8 answers total)
The "Her" part may be tricky, as many languages will refer to the gender of the word rather than the gender of the person the word is describing. Pretty sure this is the case in Italian "un Angelo", don't think you would say "una Angela", and even if you did everyone would ask "who's Angela"?
That bit might be better in Urdu.
posted by guy72277 at 7:35 AM on September 23, 2014

Ho visto l'angelo nell marmo,
e ho scolpito finche l'ho liberato

First try and in the masculine form - don't get that permanently inked yet!
posted by guy72277 at 7:40 AM on September 23, 2014

The quote reads like a beautiful ghazal. It's got the two lines, and the images sound like something that could have come from Rumi, Hafez or Iqbal.

If you want to do the Urdu and do it right, it would be great have the translation done by someone with a sense of that tradition, and who can make the appropriate word choices, rhythm, and even reflections of other poems. (There are probably a dozen different Urdu and Persian words that could translate "angel" but some would be much more appropriate than others in this context.)
posted by alms at 7:46 AM on September 23, 2014

This can be a bit tricky, because "angel" is a masculine noun in Italian (there is no feminine form of the word "angel"). Also, "set free" is not idiomatic in Italian ("liberated" would be the closest). And finally, it seems doubtful that Michelangelo spoke Italian, but almost certainly spoke a variety of dialects.

For a tattoo, unless it is a well-known phrase originating in a foreign language (e.g., "lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch'entrate"), I would advise against getting a tattoo of an English-language phrase translated into a language you don't speak yourself. That said, if you really want it in Italian, guy72277's translation has it about right. Make sure you have the accent over the final letter in finché, however:

Ho visto l'angelo nel marmo
e scolpito finché l'ho liberato

If you want to make it clear that the angel is a woman, which I don't think would be done if you were speaking of an actual angel but might be done if you were using the word "angel" poetically to refer to a woman, it you could change the final "o" to an "a":

Ho visto l'angelo nel marmo
e scolpito finché l'ho liberata
posted by slkinsey at 8:37 AM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Michelangelo didn't speak Italian as much as he spoke Tuscan, which is a dialect that's almost entirely but not totally the same as Italian, but its 15th-century form probably does differ from modern-day Italian (in the same way that 15th-century English differs from modern-day English).

So you may want to think about which version of "Italian" you'd like.
posted by jaguar at 8:41 AM on September 23, 2014

Well, Michelangelo probably spoke Italian, in that he was born in Tuscany and spoke Florentine dialect which happens to be the basis for modern Italian, so don't let that hold you up.

The actual quote attributed to Michelangelo is, in Italian, "ho visto un angelo nel marmo ed ho scolpito fino a liberarlo"

The only way to make it feminine is to change liberarlo to liberarla, but it won't make a ton of sense since angelo is masculine. The only leeway you'd have would be poetic license, really, but it won't be grammatically correct.

I'm a native Italian speaker and i recommend sticking to the original. Calling a woman an angel is definitely fine and done quite often, it's just that angel the noun is and remains masculine. Sorry, blame the Romance languages for that one. :)
posted by lydhre at 8:50 AM on September 23, 2014

Since Michaelangelo was from Italy/Tuscany, you could say that the inspiration, history, and sentiment cover the Italian half of your heritage, and get the actual words all in Urdu. Just an idea.
posted by amtho at 10:27 AM on September 23, 2014

Alternative proposition - Michelangelo quote, but Angel-free and gender-neutral. See what you think.

"Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it."

Your body was the block and your mind was the sculptor, the task (losing weight) has given you a statue (your new body).

The original italian is "Ogni blocco di pietra ha una statua al suo interno, scoprirla è il compito dello scultore".
posted by guy72277 at 2:18 AM on September 24, 2014

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