En pelota

Stark naked, or wearing a curious garment?

The other night reading the C18th Motteux translation of Quixote “by several hands” in a cheap American edition without date or attribution. The passage where they free and are then beaten by galley slaves has this:

They also eas’d Sancho of his upper coat, and left him in his doublet.

The translator or editor leaves a note:

En pelota, which really signifies stark-naked, as Sebrino explains it in French, tout nud. But it can hardly mean so here, as the reader will soon see, especially if, according to Stevens’s dictionary, Pelota was a sort of garment us’d in former times in Spain, not known at present.

A prim and prissy late Victorian translator, Ormsby, described Motteux’s edition as “distinctly Franco-cockney” and “worse than worthless”. I think it’s actually rather good, and, apart from reflecting current speech (see this piece by BJ Herbison on putting all one’s eggs in one basket), the English is often wildly brilliant. Motteux is often described as English, perhaps more for the manner of his death than his life.

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