Translating Gjergj Fishta's epic masterpiece, Lahuta e Malcis, into English as The Highland Lute


  • Janice Mathie-Heck



Translation, Albania, Poetry, Gjergj Fishta


The Highland Lute, the Albanian national epic poem, contains 15,613 lines. It mirrors Albania’s difficult struggle for freedom and independence which was finally achieved in 1912. It was important for Robert Elsie and I to achieve an atmosphere similar to that of other important European epics such as Beowulf (England), The Kalevala (Finland), and the grand medieval poems of the eleventh and twelfth centuries such as The Song of Roland (France), Nibelungenlied (Germany), and Poem of the Cid (Spain). Rhythmically, The Highland Lute is very much like the American writer Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's epic poem, Hiawatha, parts of which I loved to recite as a young girl. Our task with translating The Highland Lute into English has been to make the language relevant and understandable for the modern reader while still retaining its colloquial, archaic, majestic, and heroic feel which gives a strong sense of the past. Quite a challenge! We translated many expressions unique to Gheg, and did our best to describe symbols of Albanian mythology and legend such as oras (female spirits), zanas (protective mountain spirits), draguas (semi-human figures with supernatural powers), shtrigas (witches), lugats (vampires), and kulshedras (seven-headed dragon-like creatures). We kept the octosyllabic rhythm consistent throughout, and we captured the qualities common to all epics: alliteration, assonance, repetition, hyperbole, metaphor, archaic figures of speech, concrete descriptions, colour, drama, passion, a range of emotions, intensity, sensuality, lots of action, rhyme where possible, and an exalted, dignified tone.


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Author Biography

Janice Mathie-Heck

Janice Mathie-Heck was born in Jasper, Alberta, Canada, in 1950, and now resides in Calgary. She is a teacher of English as a Second Language to adult immigrants, and is a poet, translator, editor, and literary critic. Her articles and poems have appeared in The Gauntlet, Freefall, Le Chinook, filling Station, Jeta e re, Illyria, Phoenix, Tempulli, and on the Frontenac House website. Two of her forthcoming articles will appear in Transcript and Translation Review. She collaborates with Robert Elsie in introducing, translating, and editing many works of Albanian history and literature