St. Jerome on Sg 1:5

Song of Songs 1:5 has been translated in one of two ways:

  1. “I am black but beautiful…”
  2. “I am black and beautiful…”

Needless to say, the first of these can be taken to suggest that dark skin is not beautiful. According to Jaroslav Pelikan, the other is definitely the correct translation of the Hebrew, and it is also the translation found in the Septuagint. But the Vulgate does translate it in the first way: nigra sum sed formonsa (v. 4 in the Vulgate). However, it is interesting to note that this is in fact not how St. Jerome chose to translate this verse. He uses it in his famous letter to Eustochium (Letter 22.1), rendering it as Nigra sum et speciosa, that is, in accordance with translation #2 above. For some reason, the translation of this letter found at NewAdvent gives: “I am black but comely” – the opposite way of how Jerome translated it. Perhaps the Vulgate’s translation had something to do with it.

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