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Translators are the foundation of the translation and localization industry, and it’s worth remembering some of history’s best. This is far from a comprehensive list, but we hope there are a few here that perhaps you didn’t know about.

The earliest evidence of translators in history goes back to roughly 2500 BC, in the form of clay tablets with bilingual vocabularies in Sumerian and Eblaite. The most famous example of these multilingual inscriptions is the Rosetta Stone, which holds a decree issued in 196 BC in three scripts – Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic (Egyptian) script, and Ancient Greek. This brings us to the first translator of note on our list: 

  • Jean-François Champollion deciphered the Rosetta Stone’s hieroglyphics in 1822, which made it possible to begin to retrieve many kinds of information recorded by the ancient Egyptians.
  • Cicero was the Roman age’s most important translators of Greek to Latin, and also made one of the earliest references to “free” translation (as opposed to word-for-word or literal translation) when he said “I did not think I ought to count them out to the reader like coins, but to pay them by weight, as it were.” Sound advice for translators, even now!
  • We’d be remiss if we didn’t include Saint Jerome, the patron saint of translators, who is probably equally renowned for producing the standard Latin Bible (or Vulgate) and for allegedly taming a lion in the wilderness by removing a thorn from its paw. 
  • John Wycliffe translated Saint Jerome’s Latin Bible into Middle English in 1382. Like Martin Luther, he supported the idea of translating the Bible into the vernacular, and his translation was distributed widely in England in the 15th century. As a reward for his groundbreaking work, he was officially condemned by Pope Gregory XI in 1377 and later had his corpse exhumed and burned on the order of Pope Martin V.
  • A true renaissance man, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) was a genius in the fields of anatomy, botany, geology, meteorology, religion, philosophy, politics, and linguistics. But he was also a prolific translator, mainly from French, English and Greek, including works by Voltaire, Shakespeare, and Homer. 
  • Sacagawea was a Native American interpreter best known for serving as a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition into the American West (and for being the only woman on the famous trip.) 
  • Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński (1874-1941) was a Polish stage writer, poet, critic, pediatrician, and gynecologist who also somehow found time to translate over 100 French literary classics into Polish. He was murdered by the Nazis in July 1941, but his work lives on in the form of the Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński Award, which honors translators of foreign literature into Polish.
  • Probably best known as the author of Dr. Zhivago, Boris Pasternak (1890-1960) also produced acclaimed translations of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Rainer Maria Rilke, Paul Verlaine, and Taras Shevchenko. He once declared, “I am completely opposed to contemporary ideas about translation…I share the nineteenth-century view of translation as a literary exercise demanding insight of a higher kind than that provided by a merely philological approach.”

Translation at Argos

When we look for translators to work with, our goal is to find expert freelance linguists and in-country language service providers whose standards match ours. We can’t guarantee that working with us will get your name on a future edition of this list of great translators, but we can tell you that our partnership approach means that we value the people we collaborate with, and we pride ourselves on personalized communication, punctual payments, our translator appreciation program, and other initiatives that make us an ideal partner. Visit us online to find out more about what it’s like to work with us.

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