The Subjective Nature of Imagery
In response to my recent post about idioms, and, in particular, the translation “lifted up his eyes,” Bob MacDonald suggests that “Eyes lifted up or eyes downcast are both indicative of the mood of the subject. They seem to me to be inherently material and literal in a good way.”
Whether or not that makes “lifted up his eyes” a good translation, his comment highlights another important issue for translation: Imagery is subjective.
For me, “downcast eyes” are a sign of sorrow. In parts of South America, “downcast eyes” are a sign of respect.
I’m pretty sure it would be a mistake to impose our modern cultural notions on the Bible, so we shouldn’t assume that its authors used imagery exactly the same way we do. But what is a translator to do when the most natural translation of the imagery gives the wrong impression?