Amethe von Zeppelin

I’ve had Carnap’s The Logical Syntax of Language on my shelves for over forty years. I can’t say it was ever much consulted; but I’ve been reading large chunks of it today, in connection with Gödel. Carnap’s book is often credited with the first statement of the general Diagonalization Lemma, and I wanted to double check this. (The credit seems to be somewhat misplaced in fact, but that’s for my next post!)

Reading the early pages of the book, I’ve been struck by how good the 1937 translation seems. Well, I can’t vouch for its accuracy — for I don’t have the German to check — but it’s very readable, and seems entirely sure-footed with the logical ideas (though that of course could be because of careful oversight by Carnap). The translation is by Amethe Smeaton, who is warmly thanked in the Preface to the English Edition. But who was she?

A Countess von Zeppelin, no less. (But no, not the Countess who later threatened to sue Led Zeppelin for illegal use of her family name.) Which makes me wonder: what led the Countess to becoming a translator, and why did she become involved in this project. What was her background that made her an apt choice for translating this book of all books?

She’d translated before, a history book by Paul Frischauer, Prince Eugene: A Man and a Hundred Years of History, first published in German in 1933, translated in 1934, and still in print. Later she translated Schlick’s Philosophy of Nature (1949), Walter Schubart’s Russia and Western Man (1950), Bruno Freytag’s Philosophical Problems of Mathematics (1951), and a book by Karl Kobald Springs of Immortal Sound (1950), on places in Austria associated with composers. She also co-translated Werner Heisenberg’s Nuclear Physics (1953). That’s a rather remarkable catalogue! And she wasn’t “just” a translator: she was competent enough to be asked to review a group of logic and philosophy of science books for Nature in 1938 (she writes the composite review in a way that indicates she was very much up with developments).

But that is all I’ve been able to discover. Amethe von Zeppelin (that seems the name she most used) was, at least for a period, seemingly very knowledgeable about the then contemporary developments in logic and the philosophy of science, and it seems she had very wide intellectual interests (if we can assume a Countess von Zeppelin could at least choose which translations she wanted to take on). I’d like to know more. But, as Mrs Logic Matters opined, it seems she is another woman whose history has been written in water. Or is there someone out there who can help fill in her picture a little?

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One Response to Amethe von Zeppelin

  1. David Auerbach says:

    Okay, so this caused me to drag down my copy. It still has the slipcover intact (it’s the 1967, 7th impression) with an admiring blurb on the front from Nature. (“An excellent translation of a most difficult and intricate text. This translation has been the occasion of improving many points of the original German work. The publishers also have spared no efforts and ingenuity in presenting such a book with its host of complicated symbols in a clear and attractive way.”) Which all makes me wonder about Nature, back whenever. The diagonal lemma is sketched in §35 and depends upon his earlier definitions, particularly, of course, subst. I gather you’re saying not that it’s gappy but that someone (Tarski?) deserves priority?

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