The revolution devours its own children

Jana337

Senior Member
čeština
Hello! :)

I am trying to come up with the English translation of a phrase common in many languages: Staunch supporters of fundamental societal changes often find themselves at odds with what ensues, and many end up being persecuted by their comrades-in-arms.

What do you think is the best verb for the expression? To devour, to eat, to swallow, anything else?

Thanks,

Jana
 
  • Brioche

    Senior Member
    Australia English
    "La révolution dévore ses enfants"

    I've seen it translated as 'devours' and 'eats'.

    I think I'd go for eats.
     

    panjandrum

    Occasional Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I'm quibbling about the imagery - its own children?
    The changing needs of the revolution as it moves from zealous campaigning to acquiring responsibility cause the originators, in the end, to be rejected. Revolutions turn on their parents, not their children?
     

    coconutpalm

    Senior Member
    Chinese,China
    Could you please provide a context?
    Maybe as the revolution proceeds, the zealous revolutionaries abandon or forget their original purposes , like what happend in the 18th century in France?They intended to live a better life, but they just kept killing and taking revenge.
     

    virtdave

    Senior Member
    english, USA
    from bartleby.com:

    QUOTATION:Revolution is like Saturn, it devours its own children. ATTRIBUTION:Georg Büchner (1813–1837), German dramatist, revolutionary. Trans. by Gerhard P. Knapp (1995). Danton’s Death, act I (1835).
    In the original German:
    die Revolution ist wie Saturn, sie frißt ihre eignen Kinder.
    The phrase is usually translated using devour.
     

    Kelly B

    Senior Member
    USA English
    I've seen it both ways (devour/eat), and I'd probably choose based on the level of language of the rest of the text.
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    Panj is correct, logically. Revolutions, like corporations, devour their parents. However, the stock phrases are--
    Revolutions devour their young.
    A revolution eats its [own] young.
    etc.

    What you described is internecine squabbling and violence, and it's not limited to revolutions. Cast a quick glance at the academy for plentiful examples.:D
     

    Jana337

    Senior Member
    čeština
    coconutpalm said:
    Could you please provide a context?
    Maybe as the revolution proceeds, the zealous revolutionaries abandon or forget their original purposes , like what happend in the 18th century in France?They intended to live a better life, but they just kept killing and taking revenge.
    No particular context; it is a witticism that can be used ironically in a wide range of situations (as demonstrated by Cucciu - not that he couldn't have chosen a different setting, though! ;)).

    Thanks everyone for your input. I will go with "devour" because to me it sounds insipid with eat. :)

    Jana
     

    virtdave

    Senior Member
    english, USA
    Well, if you consider the original quote (mentioned above, from the 1835 play by Büchner), devour does seem a more accurate translation of fressen than the bland eat.
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    Jana337 said:
    No particular context; it is a witticism that can be used ironically in a wide range of situations (as demonstrated by Cucciu - not that he couldn't have chosen a different setting, though! ;)).

    Thanks everyone for your input. I will go with "devour" because to me it sounds insipid with eat. :)

    Jana
    The fang-bearing Professor hungrily discarded the plebian 'eat' and embraced 'devour'. Spittle oozing from his lips, he eyed the innocent students and junior faculty standing aquiver before him.

    Yes, devour has a little more zing to it.
     

    MoGrod

    New Member
    USA.....English
    As I see it, the revolution, once it has been accomplished and established, does not wish to have citizens who have revolutionary tendencies. Therefore, to maintain the new status quo, it will destroy the very people who have brought it about.
     

    bibliolept

    Senior Member
    AE, Español
    As I see it, the revolution, once it has been accomplished and established, does not wish to have citizens who have revolutionary tendencies. Therefore, to maintain the new status quo, it will destroy the very people who have brought it about.

    This is precisely what is meant by the reference to Saturn, who ate his own children in order to prevent one from killing him (as had been prophesied).
     

    domangelo

    Senior Member
    United States English
    "eats its young" is a fairly well-known expression in English. "Eats" is very graphic and direct, which are qualities that "devour" and other more refined words do not have. The older Anglo-Saxon vocabulary in English is sometimes bland and plebian, but it is also sometimes more powerful.
     

    burbanksteve

    New Member
    USA, English
    In my mind, "devour" implies a speed and destructiveness which is not quite appropriate in this context. Personally, I'd look for a word which connotes a slower act, but with the same finality.

    I agree that "eat" is insipid - I'm thinking about how an amoeba surrounds and then slowly digests it's food. How about "subsume"? It's not a synonym for either eat or devour, but there's something about it that implies the "consuming" of the individual by the whole.
     

    scribework

    New Member
    USA english
    The original quote "La revolution devoure ses enfants" came out of the French Revolution era known as the terror. I do not believe it is in any way related to the German saying which is about something quite different.

    Robespierre, the man most responsible for chopping off the heads of many nobles and then those of accused counter-revolutionaries, allegedly said these words just before somebody else had him beheaded. It alludes to the fact that revolutionists usually end up victims of their own revolution. The same thing happened in Russia during and after the Communist Revolution.

    The word devour certainly seems more appropriate than eat...a monster devours, a human eats...Robespierre had no illusion that the French Revolution was anything else but a monster.
     

    Joobs

    Banned
    Glasgow, Scotland - English
    I've seen it both ways (devour/eat), and I'd probably choose based on the level of language of the rest of the text.
    I'd choose devour here since it implies a more non-specific if somewhat rabid consumption whilst eat implies a more defined physical process.
     

    Joobs

    Banned
    Glasgow, Scotland - English
    In my mind, "devour" implies a speed and destructiveness which is not quite appropriate in this context. Personally, I'd look for a word which connotes a slower act, but with the same finality.
    I'd disagree devour is probably the best equivalent in English since it truly has the same root. Remember that after the Norman invasion of England in 1066 French replaced the Germanic based Anglo-Saxon as the language of most of England and Wales. That is why English has so many French rooted words. So why reinvent the wheel just stick with the similar devour.
     

    Joobs

    Banned
    Glasgow, Scotland - English
    The older Anglo-Saxon vocabulary in English is sometimes bland and plebian, but it is also sometimes more powerful.
    I'm highly suspicious of comments like this. Just what is the Anglo-Saxon vocabulary? From a linguistic POV you must only mean those words which have a Germanic root. The Anglo-Saxon areas of England were not that great and only existed c450-1066AD, approx 600 years. During their time much of N England was Norse, with Wales and the SW still largely Gaelic. Scotland during this time was largely Norse then Gaelic and Ireland Gaelic throughout.

    English is divided into three periods, Old English (OE) 450-1100AD, Middle English (ME) 11-1500AD and Modern English (MnE) thereafter. Since the Anglo-Saxon period falls entirely within the Old English period then I hardly think their vocabulary is of any relevance to modern English. The only major manuscript from this period which remains is Beowulf. Have a look for it in its original text and you will see it is indecipherable as English. OE is a highly inflected (linguists call it synthetic) language. I suspect you really mean either ME (the language of Chaucer) or Early Modern English (eMnE) (Malory and Shakespeare).

    To demonstrate what I mean here are the first 2 lines from Beowulf transliterated into modern type (without any special characters)

    Beowulf mathelode bearn ecgtheowes
    (Beowulf spoke, son (of) Ecgtheow)
    hwaetwe the thas saelac sunu healfdenes
    (Lo, we (to) you this sea-booty, son (of) Healfdene)

    Are those truly the type of words you meant - I think not.

    After the Normans came their Norman French (a Norse/Old French mixture) was the national language of England and Wales for a couple of centuries and this was how ME arose and why it is so different from the Germanic Anglo-Saxon OE. I actually think by Anglo-Saxon you mean ME which is in fact Norman French based. The only real surviving Germanic English in Britain resides in Scots which is why it is classified as a dialect and not just an accent but even there it is only in some odd words.

    I do hope you don't mean "Ye olde gifte shoppe" language which really is neither OE or ME, just a touristy version of eMnE. :)
     

    domangelo

    Senior Member
    United States English
    I'm highly suspicious of comments like this. Just what is the Anglo-Saxon vocabulary?

    I do hope you don't mean "Ye olde gifte shoppe" language which really is neither OE or ME, just a touristy version of eMnE. :)

    May I remind you that we are talking about the difference between the words "eat" and "devour"? Not about the entire linguistic history of Britain.

    I would merely like to point out that a word like "devour" will belong to a different, more formal register in English than it does in French. It may accurately describe what a maddened, cannibalistic revolutionary might do, but it is certainly not the word that this revolutionary would use to describe his own action. The bald, primitive "eat" would almost surely be his choice, and I think it has a directness that works well in this case. As for whether this word comes from Saxon or Norse, I will leave to you, while I go shoppe in the gifte shoppe.
     

    Joobs

    Banned
    Glasgow, Scotland - English
    May I remind you that we are talking about the difference between the words "eat" and "devour"? Not about the entire linguistic history of Britain.
    It was you who brought up the subject of an Anglo-Saxon vocabulary, Not I. In replying I merely attempted to show why such does not exist. If that means giving a potted history of English in Britain to illustrate and prove my point then so be it.

    I did ask you to clarify what you meant. Would you now care to elucidate us on what you meant by "Anglo-Saxon vocabulary"?
     

    Kelly B

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Moderator note: a discussion of Anglo-Saxon vocabulary is outside the scope of the present thread.
     

    bibliolept

    Senior Member
    AE, Español
    In my mind, "devour" implies a speed and destructiveness which is not quite appropriate in this context. Personally, I'd look for a word which connotes a slower act, but with the same finality.

    I agree that "eat" is insipid - I'm thinking about how an amoeba surrounds and then slowly digests it's food. How about "subsume"? It's not a synonym for either eat or devour, but there's something about it that implies the "consuming" of the individual by the whole.
    Perhaps "engulf" might work, then. I happen to think that "devours" has just the right touch of pathos.
     

    menotlikeu

    New Member
    USA English
    <<--deleted by moderator->>

    It shocks me that anyone would launch a discussion about eat contra devour without first determining the source of the quote and trying to understand it. The original source seems to be from Roman mythology, where the god of agriculture (they had gods for every phenomenon, which is why Christianity pissed off a lot of good Romans, as it threatened to put them out of work, much like factory workers everywhere today detest globalization), Saturn, believed that his children would try to do him in (replace him), therefore he ate them one at a time as they were born.

    Goya did the famous painting depicting this around 1820 (see Wikipedia). If Robespierre repeated it (the Roman myth), then it must have gone through a lot of corruption (lost in translation), where Saturn the god from Roman mythology becomes a revolving planet, saturn (which devours the stardust surrounding it? but this is hardly its children, more like the placenta!), from which we get a completely different kind of revolution, i.e., a rebellion, which devours its offspring. Robespierre and the French Revolution are from 1789, preceding Goya. Oddly enough, one of the revolutionaries was a certain Danton, as in the play by Büchner mentioned by virtdave above, but I have not found a reference to the quote anywhere online connecting it either to Büchner or to his play.

    That said, yes, the meaning of the quote is accurate enough, i.e., the imagery of the parent devouring the child, also when used in the context of the French Revolution (most of the revolutionaries were around 30 years of age) as well as the Russian Revolution. This is because piss 'n vinegar younger members want to take the revolution farther, as did, for example, Trotsky, in the Russian Revolution, while some of the older ones opt for halting and consolidating. In that context, the "children" become a threat to the revolution (or rather, to the consolidating fathers), and end up perishing for their idealism.

    <<--deleted by moderator->>


    Yours,
    menotlikeu
     
    Last edited by a moderator:

    Bobbeedigi

    New Member
    English - United States
    from bartleby.com:

    QUOTATION:Revolution is like Saturn, it devours its own children. ATTRIBUTION:Georg Büchner (1813–1837), German dramatist, revolutionary. Trans. by Gerhard P. Knapp (1995). Danton’s Death, act I (1835).
    In the original German:
    die Revolution ist wie Saturn, sie frißt ihre eignen Kinder.
    The phrase is usually translated using devour.
    This refers to the French Revolution. I believe Büchner is quoting an unidentified member of the National Convention when he writes, "The Revolution is like Saturn, devouring it's own children." To which Georges Danton, the first President of the Committee of Public Safety allegedly replies, "Revolutions my friend, cannot be made with rosewater."
     
    Last edited:

    Ben Jamin

    Senior Member
    Polish
    This refers to the French Revolution. I believe Büchner is quoting an unidentified member of the National Convention when he writes, "The Revolution is like Saturn, devouring it's own children." To which Georges Danton, the first President of the Committee of Public Safety allegedly replies, "Revolutions my friend, cannot be made with rosewater."
    The author of this sentence is well known, and it's strange that nobody has mentioned him. His name was Jacques Mallet du Pan (1749 – 10 May 1800), French journalist.
    The original sentence was: "A l'exemple de Saturne, la révolution dévore ses enfants"
     
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