This essay explores the often unfaithful translations of Byron’s The Giaour into Spanish, especially in light of their prosification and importation across genres. Focusing on an adaptation by the Argentine writer and politician Martín Zapata, it contextualizes this afterlife within Argentine intellectual and political tensions. Zapata was the first to provide a direct adaptation from the original text, and also the only adaptor to truly preserve the vampiric elements of the plot. When read through a postcolonial and anti-orientalist lens, The Giaour shows Zapata challenging the binary categorizations of good/evil, East/West, and modernity/backwardness in the context of nineteenth-century Argentina.
Translative Vampires: Martín Zapata and the Early Fate of The Giaour
1. Vampires arrived late to the feast of Romanticism in Latin America. As they roamed the Old World, few echoes of their presence reached the shores of the New World.  Only from the turn of the century onward, after modernismo, did vampires become known and feared guests in the pages of influential writers, such Horacio Quiroga and Rubén Darío, or even later with Julio Cortázar and Carlos Fuentes. The twentieth century saw the consecration of vampire literature in Latin America. However, this acclimatization could not have been possible without the role carried out by translators during the nineteenth century. “Translation” in the context of this discussion recovers its etymological meaning, since it not only conveys the transference between languages, but also of spatial dissemination, as an import “transferred” or “carried out” from one place to another, from Europe to the Americas. 
2. Current critical assessments have tended to overlook translations as part of the output of vampiric literature, leading to an incomplete picture of its growth in the Hispanic context. However, even in studies where translations are noted as progressive steps in its adoption by Latin American authors, the absence of Spanish translations of George Gordon, Lord Byron, is striking. Considering the central role of Byron in the vampiric craze during the Romantic era, stemming both from the association of his public persona to this mythical monster and the long-lasting misattribution of John Polidori’s canonical tale, a proper study of translations of Byron seems necessary to articulate a more comprehensive and accurate historicization of early stages of this subgenre in Latin America. This article aims at correcting this lacuna by analyzing the significance of the first available Spanish translation of The Giaour by the Argentine politician Martín Zapata Coria (1811–1861).
3. In order to fully appreciate the innovative nature of El Giaur [sic] by Zapata,  I will start by exposing the many challenges that the original source (and vampire literature in general) had to face in its transfer to a Latin American context. Subsequently, I will analyze the most significant features and stylistic choices of the translator’s rendition. Finally, I will argue why Zapata’s contribution can be interpreted as a counter-discourse to Domingo Faustino Sarmiento’s formulation of "Civilization and Barbarism." As important as his role as a translator was, no less fascinating is Zapata’s implicit position in narratives of progress and modernity that characterized the political arena of nineteenth-century Argentina. As James Cisneros hints in passing, Byron’s worldview contrasted greatly with the most dogmatic formulations of "Civilization and Barbarism" (251), which presented a black-and-white agenda for progress in Argentina. By bringing to the fore a text that strayed beyond socially-prescribed boundaries concerning morals and modernity, Zapata forced his readers to question the simple binaries so fervently sustained at the time.
I. The Giaour by Byron: A Challenging Visitor to the Americas
4. Before delving into the historical coordinates that informed Byron translations prior to Zapata’s rendition, it is worth reviewing the plot and main features of The Giaour. T.S. Eliot provides an insightful summary of the poem:
5. Among the varied facets deserving attention in this narrative poem, I would like to briefly highlight some key aspects of the original that are useful in measuring the worth of Martín Zapata’s translation. To begin, The Giaour offers an intriguing complication of the orientalist paradigm, as it casts the Christian lover through Eastern eyes. By framing the main character as a representation of the West, as a Gavur or “infidel,” the poem takes the perspective of the traditional Other. The protagonist is framed by the gaze of the East. As the text shifts the focus from comfortable exoticization of the oriental subject to a matter of perspective, it could be argued that Byron problematizes, to some extent, the “geographical binaries” that legitimized European colonialism (Rangarajan 55). In The Giaour, it is precisely the representation of the West that is continuously subjected to scrutiny and suspicion. Certainly, as postcolonial critic Padma Rangarajan has pointed out, this inversion of perspectives is limited to “an audacious moment of colonial ventriloquism,” characteristic of some forward-thinking romantics (55). Yet this textual stance must have been deemed necessarily problematic by some audiences, especially in emergent Latin American republics such as Argentina, where models of modernity led to the excision of any non-Western elements as signs of presumed backwardness. In choosing The Giaour, Martín Zapata was implicitly placing himself in a singular position among his intellectual peers.
6. Adding to the complication of the orientalist paradigm, we must add the uncharacteristic portrayal of the doomed-to-be vampire protagonist. As a quintessential Byronic hero, The Giaour is a somewhat sympathetic Gothic villain doomed by fate to carry out death and destruction upon his loved ones against his will (Thorslev 150–151). Departing from the otherness inherently attached to some of the most recognizable vampires in literary tradition (such as Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla or Bram Stoker’s Dracula), Byron’s cursed Giaour evinces a complex character, neither entirely innocent nor completely guilty. Therefore, the text elicits the monster within us all, the vampire we might become when touched by ill fate and the unbridled thirst of vengeance.  Again, as we will see, the moral ambiguity of Byron’s original could hardly fit well within the clear-cut distinctions aimed by progressive intellectuals such as Domingo Faustino Sarmiento (1811–1874), the future president of Argentina.
7. Hispanic resistance towards Gothic horror and fantastic supernaturalism adds an additional key to appreciating Zapata’s initiative as a translator. According to José María Martínez, the institutional demands of the emergent Latin American republics enforced a social-political inflection to Romantic ideals that, along with the reawakening of the enlightened instrumentalization of imagination, led most writers to postpone the use of fantastic aesthetics (55–56). Until the end of the 1850s, and especially after 1860 (with the later impact of Edgar Allan Poe), is it difficult to trace a quantitative and qualitatively stronger corpus of supernatural tales in Latin America. 
II. Martín Zapata, Translator of The Giaour
8. In contrast to Sarmiento’s current relevance in Latin American studies, very little is known nowadays of lawyer and politician Martín Zapata. By the mid-nineteenth century, he was recognized as one of the leading promoters of the Constitution of 1853, which, incidentally, is still the base of the current Argentine juridical system (Lorenzo 220, 227). Through brief and scattered political notes of the period, it is possible to place Zapata among the liberal intellectuals who opposed José Manuel de Rosas, the dictator who ruled Argentina between 1835 and 1852. Within this context, Zapata’s path closely follows the steps of members of the “1837 Generation” such as Juan Bautista Alberdi, Esteban Echeverría, or Domingo Faustino Sarmiento.  Along with these notable writers, Martín Zapata would live as an exile in Chile and participate in frequent gatherings held in the capital, Santiago.
9. In the years that preceded the translation of The Giaour, Sarmiento and Zapata had a close relationship,  as evidenced by their collaboration in Crónica Contemporánea de Sud-América, a journal that led the opposition against Argentine dictator de Rosas. Despite its short run, with only four issues in 1841, Crónica played a significant role in providing cohesion to a liberal unitarian party in risk of disbandment. Later political differences seem to have broken the friendship between Sarmiento and Zapata soon after. Nevertheless, by 1849, their relation must have remained strong. That year, in an editorial headlined by Sarmiento’s confidant and son-in-law, Julio Belín, Zapata published El Giaur [sic] o el infiel: Fragmento de un cuento turco.
10. Starting with the title, El Giaur o el infiel opens with a statement of his purpose of faithfulness: “Traducción literal del orijinal [sic] inglés.”  Zapata presents his work as a literal translation from the English original, and, consequently, positions himself critically against previous undertakings of the work, elaborated solely from French sources and characterized by extreme poetic liberties. Early transmission of Byron’s works could not be understood without the role of the Parisian publisher Librería Americana-Decourchant. It was originally from France that the first major wave of his Spanish translations were made possible.  During this phase, thirteen titles were published: The Corsair (1827), The Bride of Abydos (1828), The Giaour (1828), Lara (1828), Mazeppa (1828), The Siege of Corinth (1828), Don Juan (1829), Beppo (1830), Manfred (1830), The Prisoner of Chillon (1830), Oscar de Alba (1830), Parisina (1830), and Odes to Napoleon (1830). Leaving aside the fragmentary renditions by Spanish-speaking intellectuals who lived in England during their time in exile (such as José María Heredia or Andrés Bello), early translations of Byron were made accessible through second-hand French versions, where taking extreme poetic license was a common practice. It is worth noting that The Giaour appears during this timeframe among Byron texts that traveled through Spain to some territories in Latin America. However, interest in this narrative poem would decline during the nineteenth century, as is demonstrated by the delay with which a second translation of the work would be undertaken by Zapata. Twenty years separated the first Spanish edition of The Giaour in Paris (1828) and the first Latin American one in Chile (1849). 
11. We must nuance Zapata’s initial stance as a faithful translator, as his praxis is still rooted in the tradition of prosification, frequently carried out in the Romantic era. It is important to remember that, in the early stages of reception, Byron’s narrative poems were predominantly rendered into prose. Not by chance, Spanish translations of the period are commonly labeled as “novelas” (“novels”) or even “cuentos poéticos” (“poetic tales”). As a result, this practice of prosification significantly altered the horizon of expectations of the initial Spanish-speaking readership (Montesinos 64; Pegenaute "La época romántica" 337, 343; Medina Calzada 148). Lord Byron’s works were mostly associated in these early stages with the productions of a novel writer or even those of a playwright. Despite the poetic recreations by José María Heredia, Henrique de Vedia, or Manuel Cañete, translations in verse were exceptions, undertaken only by a small number of daring authors during the first half of the nineteenth century.  Subsequently, versified translations of Byron would become increasingly common, especially toward the last third of the century.
12. Zapata does not diverge from the practice of literary prosification, and in this particular aspect he does not stand out as a particularly original writer. However, in contrast to previous translations of Byron,  he seems especially guided by an impulse to better convey Byron’s lexical choices and poetry. It could be argued that the malleability of prose allows him to provide more accurate correspondences to the original, avoiding customary manipulations. The translator seems aware of the sacrifices that result from his decision, and compensates for the loss of rhyme and meter through a wise implementation of rhythm, which approximates his rendition to the formal experiments of prose poetry as practiced in France. 
13. Zapata also opts to organize El Giaur in clear-cut chapters or sections. Instead of reproducing the mosaic of mingling and interrupted perspectives of the original, he made use of an explicit external structure. It is reasonable to suppose that the same aspects that would attract the attention of modernist poets such as T.S. Eliot in the twentieth century (fragmentation, elusiveness, disarticulation) must have been perceived as a source of disorientation by audiences of the time. A similar scenario must have occurred within the Spanish-speaking readership. Zapata likely feared the risk of confusing his audience with the meandering structure of the original. To guide his readership, he devoted individual chapters to specific parts of the narrative poem. The addition of subtitles is another of the strategies used by the Argentine to further his clarification of the plot. In Zapata’s rendition, the story is divided into twelve chapters.
14. Particularly relevant to our study of the vampire theme is Chapter IX, "The Curse" (20–21). There, Zapata compresses the supernatural transformation of the protagonist. This chapter could be considered in itself one of the first explorations of vampire literature in a Hispanic context. The famous passage of vampirism by Byron quoted above reads this way in Zapata’s translation:
15. Since Zapata does not count with the power of meter that emphasizes the fateful metric ostinato of the original, he has to supply other means to this end. The use of polysyndeton in relatively long sentences contribute to exacerbate the tension until its climatic resolution, with the curse of the protagonist: “I tus crujientes dientes y cárdenos labios destilarán la sangre de tus inocentes hijos, i volviéndote a tu oscuro sepulcro, rabiarás desesperado, porque hasta los mismos genios infernales huirán de ti horrorizados de un espectro más maldito que ellos” (21; emphases added). As if these formal means of expression were not sufficient, Zapata resorts to a hyperbolic use of punctuation. The translator not only multiplies the exclamation marks of the original, but also inserts two complete lines of periods or suspension points. Whether these signs are a representation of an unutterable horror or a sudden break of the narrative is open to interpretation. What remains clear is Zapata’s effective intention of producing an intense shock in his audience. Despite its brevity and translative character, this chapter of El Giaur represents one of the wildest and more explicit expressions of Gothic sensibility in nineteenth-century Latin American literature.
16. In the context of Argentine political discussions, the timing of Zapata’s translation makes his production particularly intriguing. By the 1830s, Byron was certainly deemed by the Argentine intellectual establishment (Esteban Echeverría, José Mármol, and Juan Bautista Alberdi) a cornerstone of the Romantic pantheon of foreign authors. However, by the 1840s, these sentiments were starting to recede, and discussions about the pertinence of Romanticism would be abundant. It is therefore surprising to note how Zapata’s publication straddles the fence of the first two extremely influential editions of Sarmiento’s Facundo: Civilization y Barbarie (1845, 1851).
17. In its most basic tenets, Facundo aims at fostering a model of Western progress though critical representations of backwardness, embodied in the portrayal of gaucho leader Juan Facundo Quiroga. Along the way, Sarmiento delineates a clear-cut opposition between two antithetical cultural realities: the presumed signifiers of barbarism (indigenous peoples, gauchos or mixed-race cowboys, and Spaniards); and those of Western Modernity (associated with the US, UK and France). Furthermore, he does not hesitate to equate the gauchos’ uncivilized character with nomadic subjects of the Middle East. His “otherizing” exoticism is unabashedly grounded in racist prejudice:
III. After Martín Zapata
18. The consecration of The Giaour in the Spanish-speaking world as a major text in the Byronic canon would take time. Byron’s first Oriental poem was not translated again into Spanish until 1864, after almost another twenty years. Continuing the interest awakened by Zapata’s translation, Argentine poet Pedro Espinosa, known as “Espinillo,” took the responsibility of being the first to provide a versified rendition of The Giaour. Unfortunately, the little booklet did not achieve much attention and currently sits in the National Library of Buenos Aires, a testimony to the ephemeral attraction that this poem had in Argentina during the nineteenth century. From this point forward, interest in The Giaour would spark in other geographies. After a second translation in verse by José Núñez de Prado y Fernández (1824–1894) included in Lord Byron: tres poemas puestos en verso castellano (Spain, 1885), the tragic parable of the Greek Christian lover transformed into a vampire would resume his journey to Perú and Cuba. Almost concomitantly, two notable translators, José Arnaldo Márquez (Peru, 1832–1903) and Francisco Sellén (Cuba,1836–1907) issued the most notable renditions in verse to date of The Giaour. The individual efforts of Núñez, Márquez, and Sellén draw a new afterlife of the Byronic text, one in which translations from the original English source are conveyed through classical diction and meter (such as combinations of seven- and eleven-syllable lines), but with an unmistakable Gothic flair.
19. As Vicente Quirarte beautifully reminds us, “The Vampire cannot enter / unless we open the window” ("Elogio del vampiro", lines 4–5; my translation). In the discontinuous life of The Giaour in the Spanish language, Martín Zapata signaled a moment of openness that not only spread a more comprehensive understanding of Lord Byron’s works, but also led to the acclimatization of the vampire and prose poetry in Latin America. Before the powerful vampiric stories by Horacio Quiroga, Rubén Darío, Julio Cortázar, and Carlos Fuentes, there was once El Giaur o el infiel, fathered by an almost forgotten Argentine writer. With the broad historical perspective that we hold today, we can see how Zapata’s rendition put in motion the interest in The Giaour and planted the seeds for the current cultivation of the vampire theme in contemporary Spanish and Latin American fiction. This article aimed at doing justice to his contribution, while underlining the subversiveness implicit in the timing of his publication. Within the stark coordinates of Argentine debates of the period, where little tolerance was given to ambiguity, Zapata’s choice carries a strong political stance. Today, as we read El Giaur, the same delightful chill that readers felt at the time comes back to us, to excite our fear and confront us with our prejudices once again.
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The overall consensus on this point is exemplified by Sardiñas, Glantz, Gordillo, and Martínez Díaz. We can deem José María Heredia’s translation of "The Bride of Corinth" (1797) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, published in 1829, as the first example of vampire literature in Latin America. BACK
It must be noted that in this article, I deal with Romantic representations of vampires in the Modern era. I do not take into consideration pre-Colombian motifs such as tlahuelpuchi or the teyollohcuani, which, only in hindsight, have been linked to the vampire tradition (Maberry 277, Kallen 23–24, Doan, 138–139; Martín del Campo, 108–109). BACK
As Derek Flitter points out, the Romantic fervor about Byron’s works was initially linked to his image as a leading cultivator of the sublime (135). Interestingly, the association between the English lord and vampire literature takes root very quickly in the Spanish language and constitutes a crucial factor of this early reception of Byron in the Hispanic world. In 1824, an editorial from Barcelona attributes the first Peninsular translation of Polidori’s The Vampire to Lord Byron. Within the Parisian editorial house of Librería Americana, this misattribution reoccurs in 1829, consolidating the vampiric mark as one of the main features of Byron’s writing during the first process of reception of his works. BACK
It must be noted that The Giaour’s vampiric transformation is merely shown though a prophecy and not in action. Its vagueness forces the audience to determine, by the end of the story, whether Hassan’s curse is or is not to blame for the unnamed sins admitted in confession later on by the protagonist. BACK
Following in the steps of Óscar Hahn, scholars of the fantastic considered "Gaspar Blondín" (1858) by Juan Montalvo the first original supernatural tale in Latin America. Although this position has been increasingly revised (Sandoval 13; López, XI–XXXIX, 3–30; Morales, XXI; Martínez 55, n.41, 56–57; Abraham 35–37, 55–59, 60–106), the overall consensus is that the consolidation of the genre occurred in the last third of the nineteenth century. This context would place Zapata’s translation over a decade ahead of the peak of the fantastic trend. BACK
It is worth noting the different approach to the fantastic by both Echeverría ("Elvira y la novia del Plata," 1832; Mefistófeles, 1833), and Sarmiento ("La pirámide," 1839 and Argirópolis, 1850) and by Zapata, via Byron. For Echeverría and Sarmiento, the fantastic appears through visions and it is used either as a moral or political allegory (Abraham 91–99, 135–142). BACK
Zapata in his translation follows the new phonetic orthography proposed by Sarmiento. Among its features, i is written instead of y, j instead of g, the silent h is eliminated, and new rules of accentuation are applied. BACK
Here I provide a careful record of the actual census of Byron’s translations into Spanish. As Daniel G. Samuel pointed out, the first complete and contradictory bibliographical records by scholars Ernest Coleridge and Richard Churchman led to a long-lasting confusion about what titles were actually translated into Spanish and which ones were merely advertised, but never published. Fortunately, proper systemization of records and recent digitalization of texts provide me with enough direct access and cross-references to establish a more accurate evaluation of the processes of reception and translation of Byron’s works. BACK
Between the editions of Paris and Santiago de Chile, there were no translations of The Giaour. Byron’s poem was rendered in neither the Spanish Romantic journal El Europeo nor the historical novel Los bandos de Castilla (The Bans of Castille) by Ramón López Soler, as was once stated. Instead of proper translations, during this period we witness bastardized versions of the characters and main plot of The Giaour in Spain. The historical novel Kar-Osman, Memorias de la Casa de Silva (Kar-Osman, Memories of the House of Silva) by Ramón López Soler from 1832 (Picoche 91), and the poetic diptych "El infiel" by Juan Arolas from 1849 are examples of symbolic vampirization of the original source. Remarkably, both writers obliterate any reference to the preternatural curse and vampiric transformation of the protagonist. It is within this context that Martín Zapata’s first Latin American rendition of The Giaour in 1849 becomes a relevant tour de force, since it unapologetically brings back the vampiric element of the original story. BACK
This article makes use of the catalogue of Byron’s translations into Spanish in the nineteenth century that I am currently developing. For this project, I consult editions available in the National Library of Spain, Paris, Mexico and Buenos Aires, as well as the World Cat database. As part of a work in-progress, evaluation of the references stated herein are subject to revision. BACK
In the Hispanic Americas, the path to Romantic Byronism was led by Cuban poet José María Heredia during his years of residence in Mexico. His impulse would soon be followed by Basque diplomat Henrique de Vedia (“Parisina”) in the Argentine journal La Moda, and later by Andrés Bello and Antonio María Vizcayno. Still, by the mid century, translations of Byron in Latin America were significantly scarce. BACK
To contextualize, Gaspar de la nuit by Aloysius Bertrand, a milestone in the introduction of prose poetry in France, was posthumously published in 1842, only seven years before Zapata’s translation of Byron (Friebert and Young, 17–21). BACK