A brief overview on the history of translation in Iran

Hermeneus is an ancient Greek word, roughly equivalent to "translator". The word directly originates from "Hermes", the Olympian God in Greek religion. The verb "Hermeneuo" is defined as "interpret, translate, explain, describe, and express the foreign languages and writing about them." Other meanings of this word include "intermediary, agent, or interface", implying the existence of translators in pre-historical era, that is, the era before the writing was invented. As one of "Hermeneus" meanings is "to translate, interpret, describe and report," it can be claimed that translation has always been the medium of cultural transmission among different tribes and nations throughout the history.

The history of translation in Iran dates back to the Archaemenid era (559-321 B.C.). The vastness of Achaemenid Empire and its extended communications with foreign lands necessitated translation. Achaemenid inscriptions were typically translated into three prevalent languages in the Empire: Pahlavi, Akkadian, and Elamite.

In Iran, three eras are renowned for experiencing the translation movement:

  • The first movement occurred during the Sassanid era, particularly during the monarchy of Khosrow I (known as Anushiruwan, 531-571 A.D.). By establishing the Academy of Gondishapur, scientific works in Greek, Sanskrit, Latin and Syriac languages were translated into the Pahlavi language; however, this translation movement did not include the translation of historical books.
  • The second movement dates back the 8th and 9th centuries; this movement reached its pinnacle by the constitution of Beyt-al Hikma (in English: House of wisdom) which soon became the haunt of scholars, scientists, and translators. Many scientific works on medicine, chemistry and other Greek sciences were translated into Arabic during this era.

It should be indicated, however, that most selected works for translation were about practical sciences such as medicine, astronomy, natural sciences, theology, logic, and philosophy, and they paid little attention to fields like history. After the expansion of Iran’s relations with European countries from Safavid era, the need for translation rose again.

Translating into Persian in Islamic era commenced with translating Quran into Persian, followed by translating religious text, interpretations, and historical works of ancient era from Arabic to Persian. Translating from Arabic to Persian continued in the next stages. Following the conquest of Iran by Turks, translating from Turkish to Persian also became commonplace.

  • But it was not until the middle of Qajar era and the defeats in wars with Russia that the third movement of translation began; the presence of foreign military and scientific staff (especially from France) initiated the movement, and it went so far that Prince Abbas Mirza established a printing house in Tabriz. The constitution of "dar-ul funun" (in English: Polytechnic institute) was the summit of the third translation movement. The first translated books from European languages included books regarding military-related sciences, and then the historical texts such as the ones written by Peter the Great, Charles XII of Sweden, and Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which were primarily translated for the use of Dar-ul funun students.

The necessity of recognition of New World and its phenomena was a mind-challenging point for the Qajar scholars from the very start. Although this need for knowing and translating the works of European scholars dated back to Fath-Ali Shah’s rule, but the need was now intense, as the era of Nasser al-Din Shah witnessed a translation movement, showing an insaturable desire for recognition of Modern Times. This translation movement was mostly non-critical; however, it made a huge impact on the recognition and acceptance of New World by the scholars of that time.

Discarding of traditional views by the society in Qajar era and the emergence of modernism was the consequence of a critical self-awareness which occurred in the wake of various social and political crises. The increase of translated political, social, and economic works in Qajar era led to the development of social awareness. 

Formation of Marxist thoughts in 1940s motivated the translators to translate the works of classic Russian writers such as Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. About three decades later, the socialist realism came into existence. Many works by Chekov's as well as many other Russian authors were translated into Persian. German-language books with different viewpoints and orientations were also translated due to the four mentioned factors; however, the translated works from German do not exceed 70 books.

The activity of Americans during this era resulted in the establishment of Franklin Institute of Book Publication and Translation. Constitution of this institute by the Americans led to abundant translation of American books in Iran. The relationship with America and expansion of American culture throughout the world propelled some groups to translate the works of English classical literature.

With the establishment of Constitutional Government and transformation of Iran’s educational system which increased the literacy rate, popular translators and feuilleton writers gained widespread freedom and translating romantic and criminal novels garnered huge success. Crowning of Muhammad Reza Pahlavi which was concurrent with the formation of different political parties and public tendency to sociopolitical issues propelled the translators to work on the political books, mostly from Russian, French and English. During the 1950s and 1960s, many notable books were translated as a result of translators' acquaintance with various styles. 

About Us

Transnet is leading translation agency in Iran with more than 32.000 customers

Contact Us

Unit 8, No.130, Baradaran-e-Mozafar St, Tehran, Iran.