For Marblehead resident Peter Bottéas, translation is more than just converting words; it’s about building cultural bridges and transporting readers into new worlds.
A native of Toronto with decades of experience as a French, Greek and English translator in Canada, Bottéas has always aimed to make literary works accessible across languages.
After years as a trauma psychotherapist, the semi-retired Bottéas returned to the art of literary translation, driven by his passion.
“I want the translation to read like an original,” he shared over coffee in his Marblehead home. “The original language shouldn’t bleed through in an evident way.”
Bottéas’ most recent work of translation is “Bathed in Moonlight,” a collection by Greek poet Vassiliki Rapti and published earlier this year. Rapti’s prose delves into surrealism, artistic whimsy and everyday wonder.
Collaborating closely with Rapti, Bottéas aims for the translations to resonate not only in meaning but also in poetic style.
“Translating poetry takes a particular level of linguistic skill,” he said. “You have to understand the rhythm and cadence of poetry in order to translate poetry.”
Highlighting the depth of translation, he cites the Greek term “epitaphios,” which in English denotes words on a tombstone. But in Greek, it can reference the Easter procession.
“It’s not just about translating the word,” Bottéas said. “It’s about translating the cultural context.”
Since moving to Marblehead in 2018, after decades living in large cities like Montreal, Bottéas has embraced the town’s creative community. He has given public readings of his translations at local venues and participated in local artist Peyton Pugmire’s staged readings at the historic Hooper Mansion.
In addition to “Bathed in Moonlight,” Bottéas has translated several other literary works over the years.
Bottéas translated essays, magazine articles, song lyrics and other texts from French into English over his decades-long translation career. He has done commercial translation work for major companies and publications in Canada.
Bottéas is collaborating with Rapti on an audiobook of her recent short stories and narrated a fundraiser video for Marblehead calligrapher Maryanne Grebenstein’s edition of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
Bottéas’ mission remains steadfast: bridging languages and cultures, aiming to introduce more world literature to English audiences.
“So many books remain unread because of the language barrier,” he lamented. “Some things feel lost in translation.”
Bottéas has helped organize literary events, translation workshops and public readings in Boston, New York and other cities. He co-hosts a podcast called “Borders Unbound” with Rapti, featuring conversations about Greek diaspora poetry and literary translation.