Mach es wenigen recht; vielen gefallen ist schlimm.

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Relentless Flashbackin'

New Member
Italian
Hi!
I've a problem with a Schiller quote.
"Kannst du nicht allen gefallen durch deine Tat und dein Kunstwerk, Mach es wenigen recht; vielen gefallen ist schlimm"

On the web you can find this translation
"If you cannot please everyone with your actions and your art, you should satisfy a few. To please many is dangerous."

But as far as I am concerned it's flawed.
There's no "wenn", so why they are translatin' with "if you cannot", it should be "you can't".
Then there's "schlimm" that means terrible or bad, so why it's translated with "dangerous"?
And finally the major problem
"Mach es wenigen recht"
I think that it's not "you should", I think that "mach" is a command verb but I don't know how to translate "mach es wenigen recht" in a correct english.
And what about the rest?
"You can't please everyone with your actions and your art, mach es wenigen recht. To please many is wrong"
Is it right?

Can you help me? Thank you!
 
  • manfy

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    Regarding the second part:
    mach es wenigen recht -> you should satisfy a few

    Yes, the German version is imperative but considering the tone of the aphorism, a well-meaning recommendation ("you should satisfy") is fine and actually more appropriate. But if you must, imperative can work as well.
    The general idea behind it (for me at least) is something like:
    If you can't please all, please only a select few; pleasing many is schlimm.

    Now, translating 'schlimm' is tough. It can have a broad range of meanings depending on context and depending on intended nuance.
    Personally I don't like 'dangerous'; 'bad' is a word that has an equally broad range of meanings - for this aphorism maybe too broad. I'll leave it to somebody else to find a fitting English word.
     

    manfy

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    :thumbsup:
    True! It's called "inversion"; but in English it now only works with subjunctive mood, in German we can do it with indicative too.
    If you can't please all, ... = Should you not be able to please all, ...

    Looking at the original again, I'd say the core meaning (for me (!) ) is best expressed with:
    If you can't please all, please a select few; trying to please many is no good.
     

    Hutschi

    Senior Member
    "Kannst du nicht allen gefallen durch deine Tat und dein Kunstwerk, Mach es wenigen recht;
    The "if" in the translation is correct. "Kannst du nicht allen gefallen ..." is an unintroduced conditional clause. There's no equivalent of this construction in English.
    I will apply the transformation, just as example:
    "Wenn du nicht allen durch deine Tat und dein Kunstwerk gefallen kannst, (dann) mache es wenigen recht;

    The unintroduced form often has an elevated style. The "wenn" form sounds more default.
     

    manfy

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    What about wicked?
    ... trying to please many is a wicked thing to do
    For me, that's too strong and it has too narrow a meaning. "Schlimm" has a broad meaning with countless connotations and that's what makes this aphorism work well in many different contexts.

    The problem with aphorisms is that they do not have any explicit context. They are designed to be figuratively applicable to many different situations. In a very specific situation, 'wicked', dubious, suspect, and probably many other synonyms may work well, but as a general, context-free "wisdom", you need a generic word with many different connotations such as "schlimm".
    Perfect translations probably don't exist in most languages. You just have to try and find the closest match.
     

    anahiseri

    Senior Member
    Spanish (Spain) and German (Germany)
    schlimm is really difficult to express in English in one word, and it' s NOT wicked.
    It means "bad" in the sense of harmful, inadequate, unpleasant, and I'm afraid there is no other adjective that renders the meaning more clearly
    Agree with Kajjo
     

    Hutschi

    Senior Member
    I like "bad" the most, because it has an equally broad range as "schlimm" and also the style is the same: Not elevated, but part of very basic vocabulary.
    "Bad" has the advantage that you can apply it also to yourself. The same with "schlimm".

    It is not only bad to/for the others but also to/for the one we speak about.
     

    anahiseri

    Senior Member
    Spanish (Spain) and German (Germany)
    if you compare grim with this definition of schlimm it's not so far off
    very serious or gloomy.
    stern, forbidding, uninviting, unapproachable, aloof, distant
    especially of a place) unattractive or forbidding.
    "rows of grim, dark housing developments"
    bleak, dreary, dismal, dingy, wretched, miserable, disheartening, depressing, cheerless, comfortless, joyless, gloomy, sombre, uninviting, drab
    schlimm
    schwerwiegend und üble Folgen nach sich ziehend
    in hohem Maße unangenehm, unerfreulich; negativ (2a); übel, arg
     

    elroy

    Imperfect mod
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    If you can’t make everyone happy with your actions and your artwork, do right by a select few. Being on everyone’s good side is bad news.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    :thumbsup: That renders the German expression just perfectly.
    I completely disagree. To do right by someone means to act and/or talk in a way that is fair and just to a person. Es jemanden recht machen means to please someone, to act and/or talk in a way that accommodates the persons wishes and/or preferences. In particular, the German expression does not mean that the person deserves this accommodating treatment; I should even say that it is mainly used in a negative sense where being forthcoming towards a person's wishes is inappropriate or cowardly. I see only very little overlap between these expressions.
     
    Last edited:

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    I understood elroy's expression according to the following meaning:

    (English definitions: right)<--
    If you can't …. then do (it at least) right ...
    To do right by someone is an idiom in its own right. But also your understanding has the same deficiency: it implies appropriateness. As I said, the German expression has no such connotation. Rather the opposite, it often describes inappropriate forthcomingness.
     

    elroy

    Imperfect mod
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    It seems I misunderstood the German expression. Here’s an update based on the feedback:

    If you can’t make everyone happy with your actions and your artwork, humor only a few. Being on everyone’s good side is bad news.
     

    manfy

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    If you can’t make everyone happy with your actions and your artwork, humor only a few. Being on everyone’s good side is bad news.
    Yes, that may work well as an aphorism for somebody who's trying too hard to please everybody around them, but the style would be too casual, for instance, for Klimt's painting "Nuda Veritas".

    Klimt used Schiller's line in that piece and the article explains:
    [...]
    The mirror in her hand expresses and emphasizes the painting’s meaning: artistic truthfulness without compromises as demanded by the artists of the Secession who elected Klimt as their first president. This is also the message of the lines from Friedrich Schiller’s “Xenien”: “KANNST DU NICHT ALLEN GEFALLEN DUCH DEINE THAT UND DEIN KUNSTWERK – MACH ES WENIGEN RECHT: VIELEN GEFALLEN IST SCHLIMM“ (if you cannot please everyone with your actions and your artwork – please only a few: to please many is bad“). [...]
    Since Klimt is fairly well known internationally, this might actually be the formal translation within the art world - but it could also be just a quite literal translation by the author of the article.

    Klimt's intention and interpretation seems clear:
    If an artist is trying to please many then their art gets compromised, they become commercial artists and they become mediocre. It's better to stay true to yourself and true to the arts by pleasing only a select few. They will become a loyal following and they might grow over time and the artist's work remains uncorrupted.
    If you compromise to please many, nobody will truly be pleased in the end by that mediocre art, neither the audience nor the artist nor the arts as such -- and that is schlimm! :).
     

    Relentless Flashbackin'

    New Member
    Italian
    Thank you again to all the suggestions.
    I finally opted for a paraphrase.

    You can't please everyone with your actions and your art so satisfy only a few because pleasing everyone isn't wise.
    (paraphrase of a quote by Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller)

    But I'd like to know if the German paraphrase is correct because my German is really bad.

    Man kann nicht allen gefallen durch deine Tat und dein Kunstwerk, also befriedige Sie nur wenigen weil allen gefallen ist nicht klug.
    (umschreibung eines Zitats von Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller)

    Thank you.
     
    Last edited:

    Kajjo

    Senior Member
    Man kann nicht allen gefallen durch deine Tat und dein Kunstwerk
    Man/deine does not fit together. Either use "Man kann... durch seine" or use more closely to the original "Du kannst... deine".

    also befriedige Sie nur wenigen
    That part doesn't work at all. Why suddenly "Sie"? And wrong declination of "wenigen":

    also befriedigen Sie nur wenige <polite form, not fitting here, but at least correctly declined>
    also befriedige nur wenige <personal form correctly declined>

    Also note that "befriedigen" has a sexual connotation and is does bot fit here anyway. "gefallen wollen" or "recht machen" is "to want to please" not "to want to satisfy"!

    ...nur wenige, weil allen gefallen ist nicht klug.
    Note the comma because "weil".

    Also note that "klug" is not a good paraphrase for "schlimm" (bad, disadvantageous). It's adds an interpretation that is possible but not expressed in the original.
     

    Relentless Flashbackin'

    New Member
    Italian
    Thank you so much, my German is really "schlimm", ah! ah! ah!
    That's why there are a lot of wrong declinations!

    Also note that "befriedigen" has a sexual connotation and is does bot fit here anyway. "gefallen wollen" or "recht machen" is "to want to please" not "to want to satisfy"!
    Oops! Wrong turn, wrong turn!

    Here's the new version followin' your suggestion.
    "du kannst nicht allen gefallen durch deine Tat und dein Kunstwerk, also gefalle nur wenige, weil allen gefallen ist schlimm."
    I used gefalle because this have to be an imperative.

    And what about this part in brackets?
    Is it correct?
    (umschreibung eines Zitats von Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller)

    Thank you.
     

    JClaudeK

    Senior Member
    Français France, Deutsch (SW-Dtl.)
    "Du kannst nicht allen gefallen durch deine Tat und dein Kunstwerk, also gefalle nur wenigen, weil allen gefallen schlimm ist." :tick:
    I used gefalle because this has to be an imperative.

    And what about this part in brackets?
    (Umschreibung eines Zitats von Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller) :tick:
     

    manfy

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    "Du kannst nicht allen gefallen durch deine Tat und dein Kunstwerk, also gefalle nur wenigen, weil allen gefallen schlimm ist."
    Sorry, that doesn't work for me semantically.
    I think you must keep the pitch 'allen -> wenigen -> vielen'. With your current version you're saying: You can't please all, so only please a few because pleasing all is bad. o_O

    So at the very least you should change it to:
    "Du kannst nicht allen gefallen durch deine Tat und dein Kunstwerk, also gefalle nur wenigen, weil vielen zu gefallen schlimm ist."

    But beyond that, as soon as you add the remark "Umschreibung eines Zitats..." you can actually use any form, because the reader will know that this is just some interpretation or your own interpretation of the Schiller line.
     
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