Harper Lee passed away in her sleep at the age of 89 in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. She is best known for the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, which won the Pulitzer prize in 1961, and was adapted into a multi-Oscar-award-winning movie starring Gregory Peck and Brock Peters (both pictured above) in 1962. Though the book is tied directly to the American experience in the segregated South of Lee’s Alabama, the book received worldwide recognition, being translated into over forty languages and selling over forty million copies around the world.
In 2015, a second novel including the same characters was published, Go Set a Watchman. The novel was also a global success. HarperCollins had it published in an array of languages, from Spanish (both for Spain and for Latin America), French, Dutch and German. In fact, it was available in 7 languages and released in 40 countries simultaneously. (Germany got its translated copies 3 days later.) Two great challenges for translating the novel, according to Marián Belmonte, who shepherded the Latin American Spanish-language edition, Ve y pon un centinela, were to meet the aggressive deadline for release, and also getting the Southern slang just right.
Even the title itself requires consideration. The Greek translation of the book by Bell Editions, the title renders as “Βάλε ένα Φύλακα“. The term “Watchman” was translated to Greek as “Φύλακα” — “Guardian” or “Keeper.” However, it is drawn from the Bible, specifically Isiah 21:6, and nowhere in the Greek scripture will one find the word “Φύλακα.” In the English King James Bible the quote renders as follows:
For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.
In the Greek it reads:
ὅτι οὕτως εἶπε πρός με Κύριος· βαδίσας σεαυτῷ στῆσον σκοπὸν καὶ ὃ ἂν ἴδῃς ἀνάγγειλον·
The original word used was “σκοπός,” skopos. This has a multi-level meaning in the Greek: a vigilant person (a watcher or watchman), as well as a goal or mark to be aimed at (like an archery target), and metaphorically, as a goal to aim for in life.
It is doubtful Harper Lee would have known of this original Greek double entendre. It is a curious question whether Greek translator, Soti Triantafyllou, had known about it, and simply chose a more modern and unambiguous word.
One thing is for certain: all around the world millions of fans of Harper Lee’s works will be in mourning. And for many who have never discovered her writing before now, it is a belated but perfect time to order yourself one of her books and see why her fiction is beloved by so many.