"Traduttori, traditori" is an old Italian proverb: "translators, traitors". Are translators really traitors? Does translation undo the confusion of tongues wrought by the destruction of the Tower of Babel or only add to the confusion? What role does translation play in the dissemination of ideas and of the results of the voyages of discovery? Do translations aid or impede understanding among societies and cultures? What is the role of women in translation? The current exhibition tries to address these and other interesting and sometimes perplexing questions about the practice of translation in the eighteenth century.

The exhibition is divided into a number of sections based on the following large themes: Literature, Women as Translators, the Tools of Translation, Architecture and Art, Science and Exploration, Religion, and Politics. Within these sections, a variety of materials have been chosen to illustrate both translations of particular works or authors into different languages and the interplay among authors, translators, translations and illustrators.

The eighteenth century saw the translation and widespread distribution of works from a number of disciplines including literature, science, architecture, politics and religion. The movement of texts from one language to another frequently implied their negotiation through cultural barriers and more often than not reflected a movement of meaning (sensum de sensu) rather than a literal conversion (verbum pro verbo). Translators were often amateurs who only produced a few works, however some were employed in related professions such as teaching languages or interpreting. Translations could also be financially rewarding, especially for new versions of classical favourites. Alexander Pope received £4500 in 1726 for his English version of Homer’s Odyssey, while Elizabeth Carter earned 1000 guineas for translating Epictetus in 1758. A significant number of eighteenth-century translators were women and included several, such as Mary Wollstonecraft and Elizabeth Elstob who were also writers and scholars. Popular authors of the period such as Fanny Burney were also widely translated and by her death in 1840 her literary works could be found in English, French, German, Danish, Dutch, Swedish, and Russian. Although many of the examples shown here depict a straightforward translation from one language to another, there are also examples of bilingual or parallel editions and three examples of a rarer interlinear approach.

The exhibition is organized in conjunction with the conference "The Eighteenth Century: Influence of the Past, Presence of the Future" of the Canadian Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, 15-18 October 2008.