Archive for April, 2007

Collaborative translation

As I’ve mentioned, I intend to run an online collaborative translation project to do Book 1 of Eusebius of Caesarea’s Chronicle. I’ve been attempting to find people in the Armenian-speaking world to help, and indeed these links give some ideas.

I’m also writing some software to run on my website to allow us to view the original and enter a translation. As before, it will be PHP scripts, but this time based around entries in a mySql database. The difference to the stuff used for Jerome is that there are several columns; original Armenian, if I can get it; Latin translation; German translation; and various other partial translations or whatever.

So far I’ve got the Latin and German in, and am now faced with trying to split both into chunks and align them. This is not trivial to do. I’ve started by splitting the texts into sentences, and loading each as a chunk. But this misaligns; sometimes the German has several sentences where the Latin has one, or vice versa. So my first exercise is to realign these.

What I’ve done is to have three tables. The main table just has a numeric key from 100-nnn00. The 100 rather than 1 allows me to enter new entries without renumbering everything. Then there is a Latin table, with its own key, a foreign key which contains the relevant main table numeral, and the text sentence. A German table is done in the same way. So to move a bit of Latin or German up or down, all I have to do is change the foreign key in its table to point to the main row above or below. Likewise to split an entry in the Latin, I just create a new entry in the Latin table after the one I’m working on, copy the bit of text in it, and renumber all the foreign keys on rows that follow.

It’s working, so far, but is slow.

Syriac texts to place online

Fr. Mathew Koshy, a gentleman in India, has just sent me a transcription of the Syriac text of the Chronicle of Joshua the Stylite, for which we agreed terms last year. This was after I scanned the English translation. This should appear online soon, as a freely available public domain text. He’s willing to do some more, and I need to think of Syriac texts which it would be useful to have online. Suggestions are welcome!

I think that the Letter of Mara Bar Serapion would be useful to have, and so I will get that done. Beyond that, I’m not sure. I have the text of the astronomical treatise of the 6th century writer Severus Sebokht on the Astrolabe, so that might be a possible also. But I wonder a bit how many people would care about it. Historical texts are always good.

I also have Syriac portions of Eusebius of Caesarea’s lost work on Biblical Questions, from the Patrologia Graeca. But perhaps the most useful would be the list of Syriac books by Ebedjesu?

PS. The Syriac text is now online here and the list of texts is here. To view it you need the Meltho fonts installed (that page is in Serto Jerusalem). The electronic text is in the public domain, so do help yourselves, do whatever you like with it, without reference to me or anyone else. It’s taken from Wright’s edition.

Any Amount of Books (but smelly ones)

I mentioned in a previous post how the copy of Porphyry’s Letter to Marcella that I obtained proved to be mouldy.  Naturally I returned it, and today got the following rather offensive email from the bookseller, Any Amount of Books.

“We will certainly refund your money. But as nobody can detect any smell from this book we ask that you do not order any other books from us on the internet, it does cost us money to send books and in future perhaps it would be better for you to buy books directly so that you can smell them before you buy.”

Postscript: I have today (2nd May) obtained a replacement copy from a US bookseller. The copy above had quite a lot of foxing down one side on every page, despite being advertised as ‘Slight foxing otherwise VG’. But this one is not only clean, but has much less foxing.  To cap it all, it is half the price (although postage takes most of that away). 

Readers may remember that I was in the market for this book because a library lent me the only copy in this country by ILL, but somehow it never reached me and indeed got lost.  It seemed worthwhile for me to replace an item that they still would have, were it not for their kindness in lending.  I would have been ashamed to present the Any Amount of Books copy.  Thankfully this one will do just fine.

Texts in Old Nubian

The interest in ethnic studies in our days is not without advantages for those interested in retrieving material extant in minor languages. It’s possible to get funding from politically correct officials for things that in a saner world would be difficult to access. At one point I was attempting to obtain some money to get some translations made, and I had it in mind to use some African literature such as Old Nubian as a stalking horse for this purpose, and asked a question in LT-ANTIQ. The fund-raising went nowhere, unfortunately, but I have now had a couple of emails from Kerstin Weber, who knows about Old Nubian!

Not everyone will know who or what Old Nubian is. The Nubian kingdom occupied the northern end of what is today the Sudan, and the blacks living there were a constant feature in the history of Ancient Egypt, even leading to two dynasties of black pharaohs, and a civilisation based at Meroe, complete with imitation pyramids. They were converted to Christianity at the end of Antiquity, and continued to be so down to the Middle Ages, and material in Old Nubian is the literature of that kingdom. The Nubian kingdom eventually broke up under incessant Moslem attacks, and had ceased to exist by the time the first European travellers reached the area. Today Christianity is only a memory in that unhappy land. Excavations at the ancient Egyptian fortress at Qasr Ibrim (now mainly submerged by the Aswan High Dam) revealed quantities of Old Nubian texts. Like most people I know little about them.

Kersten very kindly gave me the following information, which I pass on as it may be useful:

‘The texts are all from the medieval-christian period (mostly 9th to 12th century). We have the “big” texts like “The Matyrdom of St. Menas” (without direct parallels in Coptic or Greek), “Griffith’s Old Nubian Lectionary” (Parts of New Testament Gospels and Letters), “The Stauros Text” (parts of it have parallels in Ancient Greek), some works by John Chrysostom or a pseudepigraph, several parts of Gospels and books of the Old Testament and the revelation of John. Original literature is very rare. There are some letters from Qasr Ibrim which are very hard to translate for we know one side of the correspondence only. Of course you find hundreds of graffito, dedications and things like this in the bigger ancient cities like Qasr Ibrim, Faras and Old Dongola. A lot of the manuscript fragments are as yet unpublished or even yet to be assigned to a particular genre. So there is a lot of work to do.

‘Frank Kammerzell from Humboldt-University in Berlin is working in this area, together with a group of students and graduates here who are continously working on the texts. There is still a large number of texts and fragments of manuscripts as yet unpublished. The longer texts have all been published by the late Gerald Browne (e.g. Literary texts in Old Nubian, in: Beiträge zur Sudanforschung, Beiheft 5, 1989). Unfortunately the smaller texts are only published within the field reports and often not sufficiently edited. There is a bibliography of the Nubian Language (Angelika Jakobi & Tanja Kümmerle, The Nubian Languages. An annoted bibliography, In: African Linguistic Bibliographies, Vol.5, 1993) which might be helpful.’

There was also interest in the late 19th and early 20th century, when the Sudan was under British rule. F. L. Griffith published all the Old Nubian texts known at the time. There is a journal devoted to Nubiology, Meroitica, (Berlin, Humboldt). Apparently there is also information on the internet, with some very good (and pretty recent) bibliographies — however, this is usually in (German-language) Egyptological contexts.

More Classical Armenian

While following up Rick Brannan’s comment on my last post, and searching for Bedrossian’s dictionary, I came across a marvellous site: the Leiden Armenian Lexical Database. This contains an electronic version of Bedrossian, as well as several other dictionaries, plus some Armenian texts which have been fully morphologised. The whole site is maintained by Jos Weitenberg, as far as I can see.

This doesn’t remove the need for some printed material, but obviously is a huge leap forward. I think that I will try to contact these people and see if there is some scope to digitise Eusebius’ Chronicle book 1 in the Armenian version! That would seem to offer possibilities of synergy to both sides, particularly if a few of us could contribute a bit of money.

Working with Classical Armenian

Book 1 of the Chronicle of Eusebius of Caesarea is only extant in an ancient Armenian translation, published by P. Aucher in Venice at the press of the Mechitarist monks in 1818. I have been looking into tools that would allow me to look at this, if only to a limited extent.

The basic grammar seems to be Robert Thomson, An Introduction to Classical Armenian. This is supposedly available through Amazon, and I ordered one two months ago. Today I heard that delivery is delayed ‘for a further two months’. It sounds as if this isn’t actually in print. Only 4 copies were available second-hand, at prices that would make most of us hesitate.

As far as I can tell, there is no modern dictionary of Classical Armenian-English. The only available texts are in German, which is not my favourite modern language. But it seems that P. Aucher (his Armenian name was Avkerian), in addition to publishing the Eusebius, also published a grammar and a dictionary of Armenian-French. Still more remarkably, he arranged for them to be translated into English! They were published as A grammar Armenian and English and A Dictionary of English and Armenian. What a man! Sadly these now also command ferocious prices.

At the Linguistics Research Centre at the University of Texas, Todd B. Krause maintains an online tutorial in Classical Armenian, which also automatically transliterates the text between Armenian and Roman characters.

So it’s not easy for the amateur to even acquire the reference materials to study the language. It would be nice if someone would reprint Aucher at a reasonable price, or at least put it online.

Alice Zimmern’s Porphyry: Letter to Marcella

£20 (i.e. $40) got me a copy of the uncommon second edition of Alice Zimmern’s translation of Porphyry’s Letter to Marcella.  It came as an early paperback, rather foxed (‘slight foxing’ in the optimistic words of the seller).  I started to scan the pages of this, using Abbyy Finereader 8.0 and an OpticBook 3600, and got very good results, without breaking the frail spine of the book. 

Unfortunately the copy I have has that mouldy smell that one finds in books that have been exposed to unclean conditions.  Since I don’t want a smell of dirt in my house, it will have to be returned, and I will have to get another.   But I wonder what this smell is?  At all events booksellers should certainly indicate if it is present.

The introduction by Alice Zimmern is general, and of no special interest, although I will include it when I scan it.  She doesn’t indicate any revisions to the translation, and the ‘revised edition’ is only mentioned on the title page.  I have yet to compare the two, but I wonder if perhaps the ‘revision’ is an invention of the publisher?   In 1920 the first edition was out of print.  At all events a revision would allow it to appear with a different publisher, where a straight reprint would fall foul of copyright.

The Phanes Press reprint got rid of the thee’s and thou’s which disfigure the copy before me.  As such it is much more readable.  But I will leave the text as I find it.

How much can one charge for a photocopy?

We need to be grateful to Google Books for making material available gratis. Today I learned again just how much a library can charge for a photopy. When I was still looking for a copy of Hart’s 1749 translation of Herodian, I contacted several libraries who had one (located using Copac) and asked. The British Library wanted around $200. Aberdeen University have just managed to come up with a similar and slightly higher price. It makes you look differently at each PDF on Google Books, doesn’t it?

More notes from a book hunter

I was searching for a copy of Hart’s 1749 translation of Herodian to buy, rather than pay $200+ for a photocopy, when I stumbled across a modern translation by Edward Echols, published in 1961.  Something made me look at the copyright, and lo! it is out of copyright and in the public domain in the USA.  I promptly purchased a copy online, and this should be a better choice to scan than Hart.  If I had access to JSTOR, I could even read the reviews and see what people thought of it.  The Loeb translation is in copyright, and anyway I dislike scanning material from Loebs, since I think the series should be encouraged.

Ipswich Library have confirmed that the only copy in the UK in COPAC of the second edition of Alice Zimmern’s translation of Porphyry to Marcella has got lost in the ILL process.  Fortunately it should be possible to purchase one. I will consider donating it to Glasgow University Library, in recognition that they would still have the book, had they not been willing to lend it to me; and I hardly want them to lose out from their generosity.  GUL have lent me a lot of books down the years, and even photocopied some for me at a very reasonable price.  They are probably the most public spirited library in Britain, and I feel indebted to them.

Alice Zimmern herself turns out to have been an early advocate of voting rights for women, according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.  She graduated from Girton college, Cambridge. She died in 1939.  It is a pity that Phanes Press, when they reprinted her work, chose to remove all her own comments from it.

I’ve also started thinking about how to do the collaborate translation project of Eusebius’ Chronicle, book 1, and I’ve finished OCR’ing the Latin.  It consists of around 2,000 lines in the HTML file.  I shall divide the text into single-sentence sections, and each week we will work on perhaps 150 sections at a go, depending on whether they are trivial or not.  I think that I will hold these in a mySQL database, if I can get it to work.  One problem is how to enter the German translation, and whatever partial English translations exist, in parallel, without cutting and pasting 2,000 times.  The answer, I think, is to load a table with sentences, and then be able to move chunks of sections up and down, until they all match.  So I will need to write a little bit of software to allow me to do this, probably in PHP.

What I did on my Easter holidays IX

It’s the Easter Monday bank holiday here, and this somewhat self-indulgent series comes to an end. Tomorrow real life is put on hold, and I must go back to work.

I picked up the Sources Chrétiennes edition and translation of Cyril of Alexandria Against Julian the Apostate, although only books 1 and 2 were done.  The French translation is lively and easy to read, and this impelled me to translate some more of book 2.  In it Cyril makes some interesting statements about what Genesis does NOT contain, and for whom Moses was writing.  It’s an interesting work.  Sadly the translator Prof. Paul Burguière passed on in 2000, so we need expect no more.

The other thing that I did today was address the Google Books problem.  This is where out of copyright material is invisible to people in the United Kingdom, purely because Google bars access.  But the problem can be circumvented if you can anonymise your web connection.  Indeed the techniques are just the same as those for getting past web censorship.  However I have now raised the issue in a couple of fora; who, precisely, benefits from UK readers being unable to see stuff in Google Books?  Senior academics regularly dine with government ministers, so this is a problem that can be fixed.  I’ve had a bit of a go, anyway!