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A Verne precursor: Gullivers 'travels' through the European sea

to the land of 19th century Greek translations1

Sophia Denissi, Associate Professor
Athens School of Fine Arts
That science fiction proper began in the last decades of the 19 th century with the appearance of the scientific romances of
Jules Verne and the science oriented but at the same time socially critical novels of H. G. Wells seems an unequivocal
fact. As seems the fact that a number of ancient or early modern texts that contain fantastical or science-fictional
elements, were written before the emergence of science fiction as a distinct genre. These texts, the proto-science fiction
works or precursors of science fiction proper, often include elements such as a fantastical voyage to the moon or to
strange lands followed by the use of imagined advanced technology. In the long list of such works one will definitely
meet Jonathan Swifts work Gullivers Travels (1726).
In the current paper, we shall follow the course of the Greek 19 th century translation of this important early 18th
century novel of world literature, Gullivers Travels (1726), written by the great Anglo-Irish writer the Dean of St
Patricks Cathedral, Jonathan Swift. A course that began in magazines and continued with two distinct versions in a book
form, the first of which was the mutation of the first publication in installments. Each of the separate versions,
however, aimed, as we shall see, at a completely different readership.
Before approaching the Greek translation fortunes of the book in the 19th century, I consider it necessary to examine
briefly its reception, both in Britain and in the Continent, from its publication in 1726 to the late 19th century, since such
an investigation can significantly enlighten its Greek course.
The publication of Gullivers Travels (original title Travels Into Several Remote Nations of the World and later Gulliver's
Travels) in October 1726, according to Herman J. Real, scholar of the European reception of Swifts work, caused a
sensation across Europe making the homonymous hero famous overnight. 2 In Britain the book was immediately read by
all classes and sexes and became the most talked-of literary sensation of the day. 3
Swift's book consists of four parts corresponding to the four voyages made by Lemuel Gulliver, surgeon and captain on
ships travelling to the ends of the earth between the years 1699 and 1721. 4 The aim of the book is manifold: first, it is an
amalgam of sharp political and religious satire of the early 18th century British society, mainly through the first voyage
to Lilliput, the land of dwarfs. There the writer, through the trick of the small-scale world of Lilliput, where inhabitants,
flora and fauna are one- twelfth the size or the real world, eliminates the major themes of his contemporary England,
reducing them to the dimensions of the world around him. Secondly, it is a mockery of travel literature that flourished in
the time with the expansion of colonies and the sharp increase in traveller numbers, who recorded real or imaginary

1 This paper was first presented in an abridged form at the International Congress Translation and the
Nineteenth-Century Periodical Press which was held as part of the European Thales Program
Cultural Transfer and National Character in Nineteenth Century Periodicals of the Theatre department of
Athens University, under the co-ordination of professor Anna Tabaki . I would like to thank my friend

Vassilis Angellis for his valuable assistance in the English translation. Without his help this
presentation would not have been realized.
2 Herman J. Real (edit.), Introduction The Reception of Jonathan Swift in Europe, London:
Bloomsbury, 2013 (2nd), p. 1.
3 Melanie Maria Just, "The Reception of Gulliver's Travels in Britain and Ireland, France, and
Germany", Les voyages de Gulliver, Franois Boulaire, Daniel Carey Presses universitaires de Caen,
2002, at, p. 1. (2/8/15)
4 The first travel is to Lilliput, the land of dwarfs, the second to Brobdignag, the land of giants, the
third to the flying island of Laputa, land of philosophers, and the fourth to the land of Houyhnhnms, ie.
of logical horses.

experiences, following the encouragement of the Royal Society in a detailed and documented manner so as to open a
window for their readers onto their knowledge of the world and human nature. Furthermore, it is a biting satire on
mankind, through the fourth voyage, which is the sharpest and the most provocative part of the book. It is this part of the
book that triggered the fiercest reactions of criticism, contemporary and later. Finally it is a proto- science fiction work,
a precursor of a genre that was to flourish more than a century after Gullivers publication, in the last decades of the 19 th
century with writers such as Jules Verne and D. H. Wells.
Gulliver's Travels gave rise to extreme reactions in Britain as soon as it was published ranging from pure admiration in
some scholars to absolute aversion in others. 5 The negative criticism focused mainly on the authors debasement of
human nature as it was expressed in the fourth part of the book. Among the opponents were religious people, who
considered Swifts views as an insult on [Divine] Providence, by depreciating the works of the Creator, 6 but also his
political rivals, who belonged to the Whig party, and even eminent writers, like Samuel Richardson, the so-called
upholder of moral value.7
But it is John Boyles (fifth Earl of Orrery) review in 1752 that determined the reception of Swift and his work for two
centuries, not only in Britain but in the Continent, as well. While praising the first and second part of the book,
considering that they contained constructive criticism, Boyle completely dismissed the fourth, noting that its extreme
satire highlights the worst vices of human nature. Boyle attributes the black image of humankind in the fourth part of the
book to Swifts weakened mental health, which he considers responsible for the authors misanthropy. 8 This was a
worldwide perception, especially after Swifts death. During the Romantic and Victorian periods, the entertaining side of
the first two voyages was emphasized, the third was deemed boring, whereas the fourth voyage was regarded as both
appalling and fascinating.9 As a result of the displeasure which Swift had caused for more than a century, Gullivers
Travels was punished by the Victorians who took their revenge by converting the novel into a book for children. 10
Before it was completely mutated, however, into a book for children , it had enjoyed a tremendous translation success in
Europe, not only in its full but also in its abridged version. The biggest impact was in France, Germany, Italy and
Russia, where Swifts broader opus spread through translations and critical texts about it. 11
Gullivers Travels was first published in French in 1727 with two different translations; the first one was published
anonymously in The Hague just three months after the first publication of the book, while the second was undertaken a
little later in Paris by Abb Pierre-Francois Guyot Desfontaines. Although this translation distorted the book by adapting
it to the rules of the French bon got, it was met with an instant success. Desfontaines even goes as far as to admit that

5 Just, ibid.
6 Ibid., p. 2. To the critical reviewers, we can add such eminent writers as Richardson, the so-called
upholder of moral value.
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.
9 Ibid. p. 4
10 Ruth Menzies, Childrens version of Gullivers Travels and the question of horizons of
expectation: from biting satire to exciting adventure story, Horizons, C. Delmas and I. Gadoin (eds),
Representations, Universit de Grenoble 3 (Novembre 2011) . 43. Menzies refers that the book
appeared in an abridged form as early as 1727 with the last two travels often excised for the use of
11 For Swifts impact in France, Germany , Italy and Russia see the respective chapters in The
Reception of Jonathan Swift in Europe, op.cit.

he removed things which translated literally into French would have appeared indecent, paltry, impertinent, would have
disgusted the good taste which reigns in France, [] and would certainly have drawn just reproaches on [his] head if
[he] had been so weak and imprudent as to expose them to the eyes of the public. 12 So he proudly admits that in his
translation he omitted impenetrable allegories, insipid allusions, puerile details, low thoughts, boring repetitions, and
coarse jokes, pointless pleasantries.13
In the 18th century, the book was translated, in chronological order of appearance of translation, in Germany and Italy in
1727 following the French translation of The Hague, in Sweden from 1744 to 1745 again from the French translation, in
Denmark in 1768, only the first voyage directly from English, in Russia in 1772-1773, using both French translations, in
Poland in 1784 following Desfontaines version, while the same translation was used in Spain and Portugal in 1793. In
the 19th century, the book was translated in Romania (1848) and in Hungary and the Czech Republic, which follow
respective paths publishing the first two voyages as children's adaptations (1865 and 1875 respectively). Latest in the
20th century came Bulgaria in 1912 to 1914, while the first two parts were translated for the first time in Slovene in
1932, with a delay of more than two hundred years since it was first published.14
Studying Gullivers translation history in Europe, one can see that during the 18th century the book was translated
mainly from French and often through the altered version by Desfontaines. Initially, the book was translated as a whole
while it gradually started to be translated in parts, a practice that seems to have prevailed in the 19th century. 15
Furthermore one can notice that in the 18th century Gulliver was translated into the dominant European languages
mostly through French but also German intermediaries, while in the 19th century more peripheral languages followed.
At the same period the novel was re-translated into the dominant languages, free from the influence of
Desfontaines, from the original text. In addition, it is worth noting that although the book was adapted for children as
early as the 18th century, it is in the 19th century that it enters the field of children's literature, maintaining in some
countries some charm in its adult readership.16
But whether it targeted adults or children, Gullivers Travels was subject to multiple changes: the offensive bits, those
that referred to bodily functions (urination, defecation) or sexuality, were removed. Even the meticulous descriptions of
places and habits that aimed at mocking the travel writings that flourished in the 18th century were excised. According
to Ruth Menzies, in the abridged childrens editions, we should add, to all the above, the removal of satirical events that
demanded a historical knowledge, the deletion of descriptions of 18th century British and European society and of all
scenes that degraded the human race in any way. With all these changes, the book was converted from a satire of human
weaknesses, of travelling literature and of 18th century Britain, to a first-person travel account presenting a hero the
readers are encouraged to identify with and whose exploits are primarily intended to divert and amuse, i.e. in complete
contrast to the authors original purpose. 17
Having briefly followed the European translation history of the book, which I think will greatly help us in understanding
its Greek course, we will move on to its Greek adventures. The first translation attempt of Gullivers Travels was in
Efterpi magazine in 1850 by the famous scholar and politician Nicolaos Dragoumis. 18 Dragoumis appeared as a
translator and collaborator of the magazine in just the previous year, translating two works by Eugne Scribe, a very

12 Wilhelm Graeber, Swifts First Voyage to Europe: His Impact on Eighteenth-Century France in
The Reception of Jonathan Swift in Europe, p.11.
13 Ibid.
14 For all these first editions, see Timeline: European Reception of Jonathan Swift, The Reception of
Jonathan Swift in Europe, pp. xix-xxxiii.
15 Nils Hartmann, Swiftian Presence in Scandinavia: Denmark, Norway, Sweden, The Reception of
Jonathan Swift in Europe, p. 142.
17 Menzies, ibid. p. 50

popular French author, which were printed in the magazines appendix. 19 Swifts book was selected to be published in
installments on the magazine's prestigious front page in the first publication. The extract of the first part more or less
corresponds to the first chapter of the voyage to Lilliput, the land of dwarfs. The title of the book and the authors name
become the title of the work as Of The Famous Travels of Gulliver, Written by Dr. Swift, The Weirdest Ones, while the
name of the translator or the language it was translated from are not mentioned. 20 But on the colored covers of the
magazine showing the contents, the translation is signed by X. M., who is none other than Dragoumis himself.
In this edition, the original part of the book, where there is extensive biographical information about the narrator
captain/physician, is omitted most likely for practical reasons so that the extract would not exceed the six columns that
seem to have been allocated in the magazine. 21 So in this first version, the story begins from the point where castaway
Gulliver comes ashore to Lilliput. Dragoumis follows the original text to a great extent, with minor omissions of those
details he considered unnecessary, with minor adjustments to the Greek reality and with very few misreading . For
example, the brandy Gulliver had drunk becomes the local popular drink raki for the Greek reader, while Gullivers
attempt to get up when he wakes up in the unknown country (I attempted to rise but was not able to stir), becomes I
attempted to think but I couldnt.22 However, Dragoumis makes some additions that render the Greek version more
playful, for example, when translating the word creatures as those anthropomorphic insects or the people as the
little people.23 The second and final part of this first translation attempt is to come after two issues, which may attest to
the negative reception of the novel from the adult reading public it addressed, which resulted in its transfer from the first
to the tenth page of the magazine. The prestigious first page was now occupied by a translation under the solemn title
The monasteries of Mt. Athos.24
The second installment included the second chapter of the first voyage and a small part of the third chapter, which
harshly criticizes the British politicians by demeaning them. Dragoumis translation starts by censoring the beginning of
the second chapter, as it removed the offending scene of chained Gulliver defecating in an effort not to offend the
morality of the reading public, following the European practice. All in all, however, Dragoumis followed, in the second
chapter, the original text with minor cuts or additions. But it is in the third chapter where he dynamically intervened, as
he removed the five opening pages that humiliated the politicians who took part in ridiculous games at the Court of
Lilliput with public offices as prizes.
Being a politician himself, Dragoumis could not keep these pages in his translation, like other European translators did
to a great extent. The translation was discontinued after this second sequel, despite the indication To be continued. It is

18 N. Dragoumis, Of The Famous Travels of Gulliver, written by Dr. Swift, The Weirdest Ones
Efterpi 3.57 (1 Jan. 1850) pp. 769-771; 3.59 (1 Feb. 1850) pp. 826-829.
19 This is the short story The King of Diamonds and the book Pikouillos Alliagas or the Blacks in
Philip IIIs times.
20 We know that Dragoumis translated from English as well. I assume that he translated the book
from the original language.
21 He may as well have followed the European practice, in which all these meticulous records that
create a sense of travel evidence are omitted with the passage of time.
22 All my references to the English text come from the following edition: Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's
Travels, London: Penguin, 1977. This quote is from p. 55. Similarly, the Greek passage is from the
magazine Efterpi 3.57 (January 1, 1850) p. 769.
23 Ibid., p. 770
24 Efterpi (Euterpe ) 3.59 (1 February 1850) pp. 817-826.

obvious that the book did not meet with the reception expected by the magazine's editor and for this reason the latter
ceased its publication. Perhaps, the eccentricity of the text or the delay in its translation at a time when the Greek market
was inundated with French adventurous novels and contemporary names on the literary scene made Swift seem outdated
to the Greek bourgeois adult readership of the mid 19th century.
Nevertheless, Dragoumis loved the book and did not abandon it. This is also attested by its adaptation as an illustrated
reader for children and for a naive readership, which was published in a book form in 1859. The title of this second
translation attempt became Gullivers Travels or The Weirdest of his Adventures.25 On the title page, there is no reference
to the author's or translators names or the language from which it was translated, but there is a With Illustrations sign
and a picture of the hero amid dwarfs. The author and the translator are both acknowledged, however, in the highly
informative preface, in which Dragoumis mainly addresses the issue of shortage of books in Greece with an interesting,
educative, pleasant and moral content, suitable for young people, which would initiate young readers into the pleasure of
He regarded the illustrations as extremely helpful for a better understanding of the text not only for children but also for
men and women who either live far from schools or do not have resources to attend them. 26 Dragoumis also stressed
the value of the particular book, which had been translated into almost all European languages and had had multiple
reprints, since his author stood out for the grace of his writing style and the salty wit, which made this allegory be
avidly read across Europe.27 Finally, he explained that because the extensive nature of the book does not serve the
translator's purpose, he decided to select the most important events and to address it to a simple-minded readership as
long as he himself placed great emphasis on educating young people and women for a better society, according to
Platos dictates.28
The 1859 adaptation, in line with the European tradition, included the first two voyages, the one to Lilliput and that to
Brobdingnag. The translator followed the narrative, omitting what he considered unnecessary for the readership he was
addressing while using a simpler language than that of the 1850 version. It is of great interest, I think, to see what was
omitted: the descriptions that relate to the heros bodily functions (scenes of defecation and the famous scene where
Gulliver extinguished the fire in the capital of Lilliput by urinating), the narrative for Lilliputs (=Britain) internal
affairs, which commented on the differences between the two dominant political parties (high-heeled/Tories vs lowheeled/Whigs) and religious conflicts (Big-Endians/Catholics vs Little-Endians/Protestants) while keeping a brief
reference to the dispute with the hostile nation of Blefuscu, in other words France. He even omitted all references to the
laws, education and the internal structure of the semi-Utopian society of Lilliput, and the corresponding chapters of the
voyage to Brobdingnag, a model of moral society.29 As expected, there are no references to erotic stories or scenes, like
the famous scene of the repulsion felt by dwarf Gulliver facing the huge nipple of the palace nursemaid in the land of
giants. He even removed the detailed records of the voyage that allude to captain logs and give a plausibility of travel
literature to the book. All these omissions follow, in a striking way, the pertinent European translation practice of the
But apart from the above mentioned omissions, we can talk about certain additions as well, albeit comparatively much
more limited. In these additions, we can include information given in relation to Gullivers family, which the translator
considered necessary so that the text could adjust to the Greek morality. For example, in the opening chapter of the
second voyage, where Swift speaks in an aloof manner about one more departure of his hero from his native country, the
righteous family man Dragoumis adds that he departs after staying for two months with his wife and children. Then he

25 Gulliver's Travels or The weirdest of his adventures, with illustrations. (

, ) Athens, Laz. D. Vilara ed. (815 Vyssa Street) 1859.

26 Ibid.
27 Ibid. In the text salty-wit is referred to as Attic salt
28 Ibid.
29 Here, Dragoumis merges three chapters of the original (V, VI and VII) in order to avoid many
political references and analyses which he thinks not relevant for his readership.

gets him to address the reader by saying I bought a nice house where I put them and I left forty-five thousand drachmas
to make the always-absent-from-the-family wandering Gulliver more likeable to his Greek readers. 30 Finally, we shall
include some necessary interventions so that the text is logically consistent at points where the translator altered the
original text, like the end of the second voyage, which had to be modified in order to constitute the end of the book.
If the abridged edition of the first and second voyage simplified this complex book and brought it closer to a naive
readership, the subsequent translation of the fourth voyage, faithfully following the most provocative section of the
book, had the opposite target; it aimed at the most progressive and liberal group of its adult readers. Swifts second
translator Sakellarios G. Sakellariou, a scholar of the Maraslis cycle in the Greek community of Odessa, is known today
for his work Filiki Etairia (Society of Friends, 1909).31 In the short preface of his translation with the ingenious title
Tour of the Englishman Swift into the land of Houyhnhnms, Sakellariou explains that he does not care if he irritates the
pseudo-righteous and pseudo-moralists by the outspokenness with which the author strikes peoples viciousness,
since he follows Aristophanes and Lucians practice. 32 To diffuse any reactions to the provocative content of the book,
which he translated, he concludes with an extract from the Gospel, in which those who insist on the norm rather than
essence are denounced.33
Despite the fact that there is no indication for the language the book was translated from, one can assume it was from
Russian since his other two translations are from Russian as well. 34 Furthermore we are led to the assumption that
Russian must have been the language of translation by the translation history of Swifts book in Russia. According to
Michael Dring, from as early as the 1880s until the turn of the century, Swifts work was met with a second blossoming
through V. V. Chuykos translations.35 The Russian translator chose to introduce, for the first time, the readers to Swifts
unknown satirical writings, among which is Gullivers fourth voyage. The Russian translator entitled the work Travel to
the land of Houyhnhnms in a volume of collected works bearing the characteristic title Svift, i.e. Swift. The combination
of the title of the specific travel together with the title the Russian translator gave to his collection of Swifts works
obviously alludes to the Greek title chosen by Sakellariou. This view is also supported by yet another translation of
Swifts minor satirical essay A Serious and Useful Scheme, to Make an Hospital for Incurables, in the same year by the
same translator with the indication from the Russian, which must have been included in the Chuykos volume of
collected works.36
I believe that Swifts book with its salty-wit was actually introduced to its Greek readers for the first time through the
translation of the fourth travel by Sakellariou. The translator's commitment to the original text, the bold use of language,
which in some places exceeds the pseudoscientific language used in the original given the fact that Gulliver is a

30 He does something similar in chapter VIII of the second travel when he translates I remembered my wife
and children, the English text goes I could never forget those domestic pledges I had left behind me, pp. 80 and
180 respectively in the Greek and English version.

31 Sakellarios G. Sakellariou, Filiki Etairia (Society of Friends), Odessa, E. Chrysogelos ed., 1909.
Gregory Maraslis (1831-1907) was mayor of Odessa for fifteen years and national benefactor.
32 (Tour of the Englishman Swift in the land
of Houyhnhnms), by S. G. Sakellariou (translation) To the Readers, Odessa, Tipografia Odesskago
Vestnika, 1888, 3.
33 Ibid.
34 See Philippos Iliou-Popi Polemi, Greek bibliography 1864-1900, vol. 2, Athens 2006, entries no. 1885.329
and 1888.885, and vol. 3, entry no. 1900. 296.

35 Michael Dring, From Russian Sviftovedenie to the Soviet School of Swift Criticism: The
Deans Fate in Russia, The Reception of Jonathan Swift in Europe, p. 201.
36 See note 36, entry 1888.885.

physician and a mathematician by training, as well as the lack of censorship or beautification of the harshest scenes, are
pioneering, considering the time it was translated in. The book is rife with scatological expressions, disgusting
descriptions, biting commentary on human nature, which Sakellariou translates with incredible brutality sometimes
reaching vulgarity. Below, I quote some characteristic excerpts from the translation, the provocation of which I think
would have been unthinkable a few decades earlier, or possibly if the work had been printed in the Greek kingdom.
The first excerpt refers to a drug description, which is made by doctors for the treatment of diseases:
[...] we manufacture a beverage disgusting to the smell and taste, which is called emetic; from other poisons, we
manufacture another medicine called purge or castor oil or clyster. In our opinion, nature made the upper hole so
that it could receive victuals, whereas the bottom one to dispose of them; but because the standard order changes in
times of sickness, therefore it is necessary, so as to restore ones health, to change the purpose of the holes and solid
and liquid materials are to enter in the a[ss] and to be ejected through the mouth [...]. 37
In the corresponding excerpt, Swift, since his hero is a physician, uses a highly scientific terminology, which produces
a neutral, detached effect: instead of the word hole, he uses the word orifice, which can be translated as opening;
he even speaks of superior anterior orifice, an upper outer opening, i.e. mouth, and inferior posterior, lower
bottom, i.e. the anus, to which the following text refers with the scientific term. 38 And he continues:
there are more imaginary [diseases] ... and, to that end, we invent also imaginary cures; females, our wives, are more
prone to these diseases, in whom once it enters, it does not want to come out.39
A passage in which one realizes when compared to the original text that the last provocative sentence is an addition.
Was it added by the Russian or the Greek translator? It remains to be investigated.
The other two excerpts refer to Gullivers reluctance to leave the land of noble horses and return to Europe of Yahoos,
people in a brutal condition where as he confides in his reader: Id rather fall into the hands of barbarians than see once
again the disgusting race of European Yahoos. 40 We notice that the translator has once more altered the text by adding
the word disgusting thus rendering it more provocative than the original. 41 So does when he goes back home and
confesses that when my wife took me in her arms and kissed me, I was left breathless for almost an hour after touching
this disgusting animal.42 In Swifts text the word used is odious and not disgusting. Unable to tolerate the human
smell after his long stay in the land of horses, he confides I purchased a pair of horses and the smell from the stable

37 [] , ,


[], Tour of the
Englishman Swift in the land of Houyhnhnms., p. 28.
38 Ibid. Gullivers Travels, p. 301
39 [. . . ] []
, ,
, , .
40 Tour of the Englishman Swift in the land of Houyhnhnms, 49.
41 We can compare it with the original I set out in the morning, choosing rather to trust myself
among these barbarians, than live with European Yahoos.
42 Ibid., 52.

revives me; my horses know no work whatsoever, I converse with them at least four hours every day and we live in
Here end Gullivers travels in the Greek land of 19th century translations, which started in the 1850s in the periodical
press wishing to conquer the adult reading public; they did not make it, though, as they followed the European fashion
of converting the first two voyages of the book to children's reading or reading for a nave public and ended up
through the Russian course as a daring and most provocative book for a mature and open-minded readership. Did they
make it? The only clue that I have, as far as the readers are concerned, is the response of the owner of the unique copy of
the translated fourth voyage that survives; he had noted in beautiful calligraphic characters on the title page: Question:
the beginning of madness? Answer: the publication of such books.

43 Ibid., p. 52.