Translations that ought to exist

What untranslated ancient texts deserve to be translated?  Here is a list of texts that I have thought about translating, which I feel ought to exist in English.  Of course there are many others that probably deserve attention too — these are merely ones where I have given some serious thought to it.  It’s a wish-list, in a way.

The fragments of Philip of Side.*  He wrote a massive universal Chronicle which is now lost.  But there’s a miscellaneous manuscript in the Barocci collection in the Bodleian which has excerpts from various texts, including a biggish chunk of Philip.  It was published a century ago with German translation.  It includes an otherwise unknown chunk of Papias.  But surely we’d like to have this?  Not so expensive to do, either.  Maybe more chunks exist in other mss?

Gelasius of Cyzicus.  His history of the Council of Nicaea in three books has a critical edition in the Berlin GCS series, but no modern language translation.  It’s the only text on Nicaea written within a century not translated.

Cyril of Alexandria, Contra Julianum.  Massive 10 book refutation of Julian the Apostate.  Should be just as interesting as Origen, Contra Celsum.  Probably 100,000 words, or say $10,000 to get translated?

Cyril of Alexandria, De recta fide.  “You need to think like this” says Cyril, in three works of this title.  A German translation exists of the first.  They’re all crucial to understanding the Nestorian split.  Not that long, really.

Eusebius of Caesarea, De Pascha*; Commentary on Luke.  Two short fragmentary works.  I’ll probably try and do these.

Eusebius of Caesarea, Commentary on the Psalms.  Massive text with no proper text available.  Someone should attack this.

Chrysostom, Against the Jews*.  Wendy Pradels found part of Oration 2, which had been lost.  This has been published with German translation, but never in English.  The rest has twice been translated, but offline.  We really need a good quality, non-PC version.  He also did a sermon against Jews and Pagans, which needs doing.

Chrysostom, On the Nativity*.  Two sermons, often referred to at Christmas time.  One has been translated but is only available in a PhD thesis.  The other not.  Probably wouldn’t cost too much to do.  Only a Migne text available.

Al-Makin.  Big 13th century Arabic Christian chronicle.  We urgently need the bit about Josephus from it.  The text has never been edited or translated.

Bar Hebraeus, Chronicon Ecclesiasticum.  A massive who’s who of Syriac Christianity.  Amazing that this hasn’t been done.  Probably another $10,000 job, but… I have great difficulty getting translators from Syriac.

Syriac fragments of Eusebius from the Mingana library.  I have photos of these.  Not very long; but same problem as Bar Hebraeus.

Thomas of Edessa, On the Nativity, On Easter.  The text of the first was published in a thesis with Latin translation.  I have photographs of both from the Mingana.  Probably each is around 10,000 words, or about $1,000 for a translation.  The first is interesting for a reference to 6th century sun-worship in Syria; and if we’re going to do the first, we should do the second.  But… I can’t get translations made from Syriac.

Quite a list, isn’t it?  How to proceed…!

UPDATE: 9th February 2013.  Coming back to this, I find that we have made some progress.  I have added an asterisk to items that have been done, either by myself or Maria D. (see comments).  Which is good news, actually!

28 Responses to “Translations that ought to exist”


  1. mike

    I hereby nominate St. Cyril of Alexandria’s “On Worship in Spirit and in Truth.”

  2. James F. McGrath

    It would be great to have English translations of the key Mandaean texts, the Ginza and Book of John, not to mention many others that have either not been translated into English before, or have never been published/translated at all.

    Thanks for this list!

  3. Tom Schmidt

    Agapius evidently has a reference to Papias as well in his own Chronicle, have you run into it in your translation of it?

  4. Roger Pearse

    Cyril on “Worship in Spirit and in Truth”… hmmm, interesting. How long is it? If it is short, it should be done anyway. Is it interesting? I don’t have my Quasten here, so can’t look for it. Presumably it’s somewhere in the PG?

    Mandaean texts — I don’t know much about these, I have to say. All that I know about Mandaean is that it is the ‘other’ late dialect of Aramaic (after Syriac) which has some interesting literature in it. Erica Hunter at Cambridge University is interested in Mandaean, I know. There ought to be people out there interested in it. But… how many people know Mandaean?

    It will be interesting to see what sort of lists people come up with. Let’s hope a few bloggers think about their own lists of desiderata; with a practical turn, of “how big are they”, “what would it cost at 10c a word to commission one” and “is there anyone who actually knows the language and would do it”?

    Thinking laterally, perhaps the recession might be quite good news for such projects. Think: starving out-of-work speakers of Coptic might be glad of work. Imagine being accosted outside university buildings by people with placards, “hungry, homeless, and fluent in classical Armenian”! “Will translate Syriac for food”… :-)

    On the downside, those of us who might want to employ them will be short of cash and courage.

    I forgot to mention the letters of Isidore of Pelusium. But then, these might be a nice way to learn some Greek. All you have to do is struggle through 3-4 sentences and, voila, you’ve translated something!

  5. Roger Pearse

    Agapius does indeed quote a fragment of Papias. It’s in the second part of the Chronicle, fairly early on. Yes, it will indeed form part of my translation (which now includes all of the second part and I’m working on the first part).

  6. mike

    Cyril’s “On Worship” is in the PG. It’s on the relationship between Old Covenant worship and New Covenant worship. The selections I’ve seen indicate that it’s a work of profound eucharistic theology. It’s long. Very long. And since it’s by Cyril I’m sure it’s prolix and difficult. But he’s always worth the effort.

  7. Roger Pearse

    Aarggh. Very long works on Liturgy…. feeling brain melt. “Captain, the engines canna take the strain…” My doctor says I have a deficient liturgiology gland and am excused from reading, scanning or translating such works. Not for me, I think!

  8. mike

    I don’t get the impression that it’s about liturgy per se, but about sacrifice — Israel’s, Christ’s, and our participation in the latter.

  9. stephan huller

    I have my own wish list.

    Origen Commentary on Matthew (in Latin) after Book XIV
    Origen Homily on Luke
    Marqe the great Samaritan interpreter of the Torah both the Memar Marqe (Five Books of obscure Samaritan Aramaic and Arabic) as well as the Defter Hymns
    Josippon from Hebrew (I have been in correspondence with Steve Bowman but never seen it published)
    Abarbanel’s commentary on Daniel (which is cited by Luther and Calvin)

  10. stephan huller

    the Memar Marqe is six books long not five. Don’t know where my head was at.

  11. Maureen

    Isn’t this the kind of thing that you could persuade grad students (being persuadable and needing study topics) to do?

  12. Roger Pearse

    It ought to be possible, didn’t it? Not sure how to go about it, tho. How does one connect to them?

  13. Jerry Clontz

    How much funding would be required to translate the papias fragments of Philip of Side that are in the Barocci collection?

  14. Jerry Clontz

    Supposedly copies of Papias five books existed in a few libraries in eastern europe in the 16th and 17 centuries. I keep wondering if they could still be there.

  15. Roger Pearse

    I’m not sure quite how big the Barroci Philip is, but it’s only a few pages. I need to take the time and assemble before me all the remains of Philip, and see what they add up to.

    I was interested in your comment about Papias in the 16th-17th century. Any idea what the source is?

  16. Ben Stubblefield

    I’m a grad student in seminary and would love to tackle one of these works. I stumbled on your website after a long day in the library looking through Cahill’s work on Expositio Evangelii Secundum Marcum. I’m not too familiar with the “wish-list” but I would very much like to talk over some of these untranslated works.

    Thanks,
    Ben

  17. Maria D

    Are any of these texts in Greek? Or do you know of some ancient Greek texts that have not yet been translated?

  18. Roger Pearse

    Nearly all of these texts are in Greek. Most ancient Greek texts have not been translated, you know — think of the 160 volumes of the Patrologia Graeca,for starters, and then all the technical and astrological and medical works.

    This is a list of things that I think should be done. The fragments of Philip is in progress.

  19. Maria D

    How easy is it to find access to these works? Especially for college students who don’t have a ton of funding or time.

  20. Roger Pearse

    It’s not too bad, now that the Patrologia Graeca is now mostly online in PDF. But of course there are later versions of some. Not sure how to answer that question without giving a bibliography for each!

    Which text had you in mind?

    Note that I did do the Eusebius De pascha, and the extra bit of Chrysostom adversus Judaeos, and these are freely available in English on the web.

  21. Maria D

    Nothing in particular in mind, but I would be really interested in finding something fairly short and that would be worth spending several months of time on. I’m an intermediate/advanced Greek student and I’m thinking about doing a translation for my thesis next year.
    I’ll look at the Patrologia Graeca volumes also, thanks.

  22. Roger Pearse

    Good for you! That’s a good idea. But what you choose depends on where you want to take your career.

    Most of what is now left in that list — aside from sermons — is fairly lengthy. Perhaps a sermon is the right answer. There’s quite a few of Chrysostom’s sermons have not been translated; for instance the second Christmas sermon.

    The obvious candidate is Cyril of Alexandria, most of whose works have not been translated. But I think his style is dull, and a lot of people don’t much like him. Also you’d really have to understand the Nestorian controversies in a lot of detail and master the historical context. It is entirely allowable not to want to do that — everyone has wimped out on that for at least two centuries.

  23. Lee

    Just a question on the economics of these translations. For example, let’s suppose there is a Syriac expert to translate the work by Bar Hebraeus. How would he get paid? I suppose by selling the translation. How many copies would be sold? I am assuming of course that there would be no “release to the public domain” nonsense. But to expect this work to get done as some kind of unpaid labor is unreasonable. I hope no one falls for that kind of thing. Don’t release anything you work on to the public domain, because that totally devalues your work.

  24. Maria D

    Well, I did get a rough, but fairly accurate translation of several of Chrysostom’s Christmas sermons (About 18 pages, 5 short sermons). Other than turning that in for a grade at my school, I haven’t done anything with it. Does anyone know how or where I should be making it available?

  25. Roger Pearse

    @Lee: I’m not sure that the world works the way you (very reasonably) believe. I agree entirely about people deserving to be paid for their labour. When I commission translations, I always do. But most translators are scholars, and they need tenure, and can keep tenure by letting academic publishers sell their book. They don’t actually get any real money back as royalties, in fact.

    I’m not sure why you dismiss “release to the public domain” as nonsense. I do it all the time. Why does it devalue your work? Commercially Syriac translations probably don’t have any. They ought to! Really they did! But do they?

    That said, anyone who would like to earn money translating from Syriac is very welcome to contact me. I’m always commissioning translations, and I pay reasonable money. The translations can be released anonymously if necessary – I am sensitive to the politics of academia.

  26. Roger Pearse

    @Maria: a great idea. I’ve written to you offline. These items should be available, I agree.

  27. Maria D

    Alright. Now available at http://archive.org/details/ChrysostomsChristmasSermonsTranslatedAndExamined are the translations of 5 of Chrysostom’s sermons on Christmas (In Christi Natalem Diem, In Christi Natalem, In Natalem Christi Diem, In Natale Domini Nostri Jesu Christi, and In Natale Domini et in Sanctam Mariam Genitricem), and a 20 page essay on the important status that Chrysostom gives to Christmas.

  28. Roger Pearse

    Oh wow! Thank you! I’m offline for a few days – this from my phone! – but I will blog about this at the weekend. This is great – this so needed doing!



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