The Saturation of the Deer

Yo, behold this pleasant 1846 painting by Moritz von Schwind:


I admired it in person at the Hamburger Kunsthalle last weekend. It seemed darker in person — I think the digital version may have been brightened a little. Nevertheless, a nice chunk of late Romanticism, dusted with kitsch. The modeling of the buck's solid, sagging flesh and horns is nicely plastic.

Here is the translation of the picture's title:

Von Schwind

I chuckled over the translation of the German word tränken as "saturate". But then I became thoughtful, and stroked my chin. There's no easy translation for tränken. Tränken describes only how animals drink. Humans trinken, animals tränken. Same thing for eating: humans essen, while animals fressen. Add to that the fact that English has no simple transitive word for "give water to". You can "water" plants, but that always implies pouring water over or into something. You wouldn't water your dogs or your children, you would only give them something to drink.

The translators seemed to realize this, but then fatally chose "saturate" as the proper translation from the other entries on the list. But how can we blame them? The meaning comes across, sort of, and the only other alternatives would have doubled the length of the title, which doesn't seem right.

The other titles were translated quite well.

9 thoughts on “The Saturation of the Deer

  1. Well, while animals fressen their food, they trinken water. But the trough from which they drink is die Tränke. Admittedly, I wouldn’t have known how to translate that title. At least, not without thinking a good while about it.


  2. apparently, andrew, you are far too sensitive to notice more blatant inconsistency and instead devoted yourself to the human/animal dichotomy and its grammatical implications. much more of a problem is the translation “mermaids.” what would they do in a forest? (saturating a deer, would of course be your answer.) it seems that “Nixe” in this context means a water spirit (as you find them in greek mythology as naiads or nymphs) and is best translated as “neck,” “nix,” or even “nixie.”


  3. Tränken describes only how animals drink. Humans trinken, animals tränken. Same thing for eating: humans essen, while animals fressen.

    Sorry, but this is FALSE. Animals trinken as well. Tränken is exclusively used in the intransitive. If you’re looking for the animal pendant to fressen, that would be saufen.


  4. FWIW, Andrew, in my experience English-speakers do sometimes use “water” as a transitive verb with animals (e.g., to “water the horses” after a hard ride). It’s more common with livestock than with household pets, but even there I’ve heard (and said) “water the dog.”


  5. …You wouldn’t water your dogs or your children, …

    Well, not your dogs (at least not during the hugging and frolicking on the carpet, but maybe horses (the watering, that is, not the rolling on the carpet).
    Perhaps we could use “slurping” in the translation, but, then again, that could lead to misinterpretations.
    Fabulous blog!


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