Why have less than 5% of Byzantine scientific works been published?

A few days ago, I noted that only 5% of all Byzantine scientific works have managed to make it out of the medieval manuscripts and into a printed edition of some sort.  For translations the figure is worse still.  The figure is an estimate by Byzantinist Maria Mavroudi, who works with the subject and certainly would know.

But why is this?  I wrote to Dr Mavroudi and enquired as follows:

As a member of the public, I wonder if I might ask … why is this the case?  Is it simply fewness of hands, or lack of an audience?  Or lack of funding?

She very kindly replied at once, with this interesting answer:

The reasons are everything that you mention: lack of interest on the part of modern scholars, based on the conviction that there is anything worth the while there (the “good” stuff is ancient science, while its Byzantine counterpart is a pale imitation lacking in “original” contributions). Fewness of hands is also a serious problem (there are very few people able and interested in editing texts on ancient science which is admittedly more mainstream, although not exactly mainstream). Editing technical texts requires not only knowing the language and editorial techniques, but also understanding the content of what one edits. Too many skills, all time consuming to acquire, are required of one and the same person. Funding can be a problem, but it is last in the priority list, and can manifest itself in various ways (e.g. scholars on an academic salary do not need to be paid for the specific work of editing; but publishing is expensive, the editions of such technical texts will never be best sellers, and frequently publishers shy away from producing such editions because they project little or no financial reward).

I attach an encyclopedia essay that outlines some reasons for the lack of interest in Byzantine science.

The attached article was M. Mavroudi, “Science, Byzantine”, in: Roger Bagnall &c (ed), The Encyclopedia of Ancient History, Blackwell (2013), pp. 6063-6065.  The volume is not easily accessible to normal people unfortunately, although if the articles are all of this quality, then that really is a nuisance.  The article is mainly about asserting that Byzantine science is worth studying for itself, and has been distinctly undervalued:

In summary, what is currently known about Byzantine science is significantly less than what remains to be uncovered. In order to be properly appreciated, Byzantine science must be understood as a coherent system of thought taken in its own terms. Modern divisions separating scientific disciplines were not perceived by the Byzantines in the same way (Mavroudi 2006), though they have been applied to the Byzantine material in valuable scholarly surveys (e.g., mathematics and astronomy as categories distinct from astrology in Hunger 1978, 1994; “high” and “low” science in Pingree 1991).

The complex relation between tradition and innovation in the transmission and creation of new knowledge was neither experienced nor articulated by the Byzantines in our modern terms. Byzantine philosophical, cosmological, and scientific thought developed in dialogue with Christian theology and sometimes influenced the articulation of Christian doctrine (Magdalino 2006).

It is interesting to learn that funding is not the worst problem facing the discipline.  I understand that domain knowledge can be acquired by intensive short courses, e.g. in alchemy.  The cost of publishing may cease to be an issue with online publishing.  The link to patristic studies particularly catches the eye.

Perhaps some of the PhD students now frantically casting around for a teaching post should consider whether there is a career in Byzantine science?  Hardly anything has been done.  The challenge may seem daunting, but surely it is far better to use your Greek and patristics knowledge, than go and sell insurance?

I have been collecting materials, and I will write a post on the bibliography of Byzantine science next.

A portrait of Constantius II from 354, via two intermediaries

As manuscripts of the Vatican come online, it becomes possible to look at items previously known to us only from poor-quality photographs.  This is a good thing.

Years ago I made an online edition of the Chronography of 354, an illustrated luxury manuscript made for a Roman aristocrat in 354 AD, and transmitted to us by copies.  The pictures exist in various versions, mostly derived from a Carolingian copy now lost.  The best set, in monochrome, are preserved in Vatican Ms. Barberini lat.2154 B.  Sadly the full colours of the ancient original are not preserved; but the renaissance artist did his best to copy the Carolingian original.

Here’s one of the illustrations, on folio 13, depicting Constantius II, in the uncharacteristic pose of money falling from his hand.  Somehow one suspects that this charmless man did look rather like this.  (It is a pity that, as with other Italian stuff put online, the image is defaced with a watermark screaming “mine! mine! mine!!”)

Less than 5% of Byzantine scientific texts have been published?

Today I came across a statistic which really shocked me.  It seems that less than 5% of Byzantine “scientific texts” have been printed, never mind translated.

The phrase “scientific texts” would include technical texts which give practical instruction, but also the philosophical texts that discuss what would today be scientific theories.  It would be interesting to know how the ancients, and indeed the Byzantines, related the two.  We are often told of the gap between philosophy and technology in antiquity; yet we have writers like Hero of Alexandria doing both.

The statistic is by Maria Mavroudi, who writes:

The treatment of Byzantine science has fared equally poorly in modern scholarship… It is much more important to investigate the pertinent primary sources. In the case of Byzantium, this would require a major editorial effort because less than 5 percent of its surviving scientific and philosophical production has been published.[43]

43. There is no “official” statistic on this; 5 percent represents my estimate through acquaintance with important manuscript catalogs and published texts (surveyed in Mavroudi, “Occult Science and Society in Byzantium,” 39–46) as well as Byzantine manuscripts. It would be possible to recover Byzantine philosophy and science (as well as their Latin, Arabic, and Hebrew counterparts) by publishing not only treatises composed during the Byzantine period but also the marginal annotations made by Byzantine readers in important manuscripts of ancient philosophical and scientific texts.[1]

Obviously the figure of 5% is an estimate only.  But I’m sure Dr M. knows better than most people.

Why is the figure so low?  I would guess that there is a lack of scholars capable of doing the work – it requires getting familiar with the scientific area of knowledge, and specialist vocabulary, as well as having excellent Byzantine Greek.  But I am told that it is possible to cram in such information in a few sessions.[2]  If so, it is a pity that our universities do not encourage students to do so, rather than fruitlessly retranslating the same few Greek texts.

Regular readers will be aware that I have written a little about ancient alchemical texts, like those by Stephen of Alexandria.  Apparently Matteo Martelli, Gerasmios Marianos, Olivier Dufault, and Michèle Mertens are the scholars doing good work on Byzantine alchemy these days.  It is good that work is being done.  But limited access to primary sources must mean limited work.

All this sort of material could, in principle, give us more knowledge of antiquity – although I found that astrological texts seldom did so, when I obtained a few translations.

But … it is part of the heritage of mankind.  Our first duty to the future is to transmit what we have received.  Can’t someone find a rich Greek shipowner to fund the printing of all this stuff?  How much could it cost, to type it up and put it online?  It is, after all, Greek heritage.  Would the excellent Stavros Niarchos be interested?

  1. [1]Maria Mavroudi, “Translations from Greek into Latin and Arabic during the Middle Ages: Searching for the Classical Tradition”, Speculum 90 (2015), 38.  The whole article deserves attention.
  2. [2]I owe my knowledge of the Mavroudi paper, and indeed much else in this post, to tweets this evening by a rather unstable female PhD student studying Byzantine alchemy.  Sadly I was only able to obtain a very limited amount of information from her.  This was rather a pity, for I was very interested in this niche of academia, and how the problem of accessing technical literature might be overcome.  It is best that I do not name her, of course.  She also told me that existing editions and translations are not very good.

String ’em up! How middle managers destroy the value of institutional websites

Few things are quite as infuriating as an institutional website designed by somebody who will never ever have to use the service in question.  The designer is usually some group of bureaucrats, with a checklist of things that the service “must” contain.  Not infrequently a real user finds that the wasters have actually torpedoed any useful utility the site might have.

This reflection comes to me, courtesy of a site that shall be nameless, which has cost me the best part of two days useful work.  Around ten years ago, the institution discovered that it had access to a translation of a late Roman text in manuscript.  The translator was dead.  It decided – properly – to make this available online.

But you can see the fingers of the bureaucrats all over it.  Instead of creating a PDF with the book in it, they split it up into a PDF for every section.  It comes in 15 books.  Each book has around 60 or more sections.

This means that to consult the whole text involves opening NINE HUNDRED PDF files.  This in turn makes it impossible to use the translation, other than for odd references where you happen to know the exact reference.

No sane person would seek to make something accessible while making it inaccessible.  Only a committee could achieve this.  We can easily imagine how.

Chief Executive: “Do it!”

Sycophants: “Oh you are so forward-looking, Sir!”

(Later) Middle Manager: “Oh but what if people took copies and it appeared all over the web!!!!  Oh! Oh! Wouldn’t that be DREADFUL!!!!”

Junior sycophant: “How well you put that, ma’am!  So let’s make sure nobody can do that without spending a huge amount of effort.  We’ll divide it up into 900 pieces, accessible in a maze of menus.  That way it will inconvenience researchers, but not Chinese pirates with armies of cheap labour.”

And so it came to be, and the text remained online in theory but useless in practice.  Nobody ever cared about it much anyway; those who did were frustrated by the useless interface.

But that isn’t all.  Because a few years ago, another bureaucrat had his turn.  Someone revised the translation and produced a printed copy.

Another middle manager: “Now we’re selling a version of this, we might lose sales if we have the original online!!!  Woe!!  Woe!!”

Timid underling: “How much money are we talking about?”


Sycophant: “Clearly it must be taken offline to protect any profits.”

And it was so.

I have therefore wasted an enormous amount of time in locating an archived copy of the site, and downloading the files, with a great deal of manual intervention in order to circumvent the robots.txt file.  For I know better than to suppose that it will remain even at the archived site indefinitely.

Let’s keep our bureaucrats under control.  The best way to do so is to keep them as few as possible, and to watch the remainder like hawks.

Otherwise, one day, you too will have this experience!

Let’s not shout at the Vatican library for digitising microfilms

The Vatican library digitisation has made a bit of a left turn lately, and I’ve certainly complained about it, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this.  Instead of the high quality brand new full colour photographs, they’ve started to digitise vast numbers of rather rubbish quality microfilms.

Today a correspondent from the library gently took me to task for this, and I admit that I accept the reproof.

It’s easy for us to forget that the Vatican state has no tax base.  The whole enterprise relies upon the generosity of people who do not live there.  We are accustomed to thinking of the mighty Roman Catholic Church as a rich institution, and so it is; but mostly in things like the roof of the Sistine chapel, which are actually a responsibility and a drain on resources, rather than a source of profit.

Among this, the digitisation of the Vatican manuscripts is a mighty expense.  It has been paid for by donations, notably from the Polonsky Foundation, to whom the world now owes a huge debt.  But the digitisation can only go forward with the support of donations.

What the Vatican library has chosen to do, in the meantime, is to make as much of its manuscript collection available as possible.  They may not be able to afford to rephotograph everything just yet.  But they can afford to scan the microfilms, for which they used to charge a pretty sum – so they are being generous here – and make these available online for free to us all.

To their credit, this is what they have chosen to do.  I think we should applaud, not criticise.  Would that other libraries, like the British Library, or the Bodleian, would do the same.  It does give us some access to the manuscripts right now.

Well done, the Vatican Library.  They have lost a revenue stream, in order to benefit us all.  We should be grateful.

If you, reading this, are a wealthy man, please consider whether you could do anything so easily beneficial to scholarship as to sponsor the digitisation of the Vatican library.  If you are an ordinary mortal, like myself, please consider donating at the link here.

Viewing Cailliaud’s engravings of the pyramids of Meroe at the Biodiversity Heritage Library

The first modern visitor to the pyramids of the black pharaohs at Meroe was the 18th century Scotsman, James Bruce.  In 1821 the ruler of Egypt, Mohammed Ali, sent a huge army up the Nile and occupied the Sudan.

The next visitor, therefore, was the Frenchman Frédéric Cailliaud, who marched with the army.  Cailliaud wrote an account in 4 volumes, with a larger 2 volume Atlas of engravings. I was unable to access the latter when I wrote about him here.

But a kind correspondent has drawn my attention to the fact that the two volumes of the Atlas are indeed online at the Biodiversity Heritage Library, here and here.

I find that a PDF can be downloaded of each.  Unfortunately these are locked; but it is still vastly easier to scan through the volumes this way, than online.  JPGs of the pages are also available, but it is a 3Gb download, served at a miserable 400kbs.  My rather nice 60mbs broadband is therefore effectively throttled; and IE says it will take two and half hours to download.

However you can select pages online, and request a PDF of them be created, for you to download.  This I did, for 30-odd pages, and … the generated PDF is not locked!  That means that we can view some of them together.

The original image sizes are good, high resolution, which means that on-screen the engravings are, quite frankly, imposing.  The ones in the PDF that is generated are much lower, but still usable.

The Meroe pyramids are not listed under that name, but rather under the name of the nearby town of Assour.  They begin at plate 31, with a map of the whole area, with the pyramid fields – “Pyramides principales” at the lower right.  Plate 32 is a map of the ruined pyramids close to the Nile – these presumably are the western cemetery, and plate 33 is a depiction of the view.  Plate 34 is plans and elevations of these pyramids.

Plate 35 is a map of the main pyramid fields, north and south.  Here it is:

Plate 35: the principal pyramids of Meroe. 1821. Frederic Cailliaud.

Plate 36 is an imposing view of the north pyramids from the north-east:

Plate 36. F. Cailliaud. The North Pyramids at Meroe, from the NE

Plate 37 is the same prospect from the South East.  The pyramids at this time still had their tops, not yet blown off by gunpowder.

Plate 37. F. Caillaud. The north pyramids of Meroe, from the SE. 1821.

But there are very many further engravings, plans and elevations, as far as plate 46; and then engravings of the pyramids of Nuri, ancient Napata, where is the pyramid of the Black Pharaoh Taharqa, once ruler of Egypt and Nubia; and then more at Gebel Barkal.

I won’t reproduce them all.  But I will attach a PDF of the Meroe ones here:

I’ve rotated the pages so that you can view them easier on screen.  Well worth downloading – enjoy!

Snapshots of the secret world

They play an unacknowledged part in our universe, yet when they vanish few remember them, and there are no records of what they looked like or contain.

For the last few years, there have been a number of websites which contain large numbers of books in PDF or other format, making them available for free download.  The books are often (but not always) in copyright.

Here’s a screen shot of one of them, which I was sent.


I’m giving this, because these sites vanish quickly, and in a few years time, we may be curious to see what was available in the “Wild West” days of the internet!

Few of us could afford to purchase all the material held here, or even much of it. As library facilities collapse, as inter-library loans become prohibitively dear, such sites are invaluable to researchers who live in rural areas or do not have access to the very extensive (and expensive) collections of major research libraries.

The prices demanded for academic eBooks are very high, when you consider that they require no manufacturing process, and cost nothing to distribute.  It is not unusual to see a frivolous demand for an eBook which is the same as that for a paper copy.  Such greed naturally creates incentives for piracy.

In some countries the ruling elite behaves as if it is almost entirely uninterested in the welfare of the general public.  In Germany the elite have made that clear by importing 1 million able-bodied foreigners in one year and quartering them on the hapless German population.  That’s not going to be good for the Germans; but clearly there is profit to the elite in votes and cheap labour.

But that German elite has the same contempt when it comes to learning, for it has allowed the publishing companies to dictate some of the most oppressive “copyright” laws in the world.  One consequence of this is that there is really very little of use on the German internet.  Another consequence is that Google Books is basically useless outside the USA.

In fact there is not even much Wifi in Germany, because those same greedy publishers made “laws” such that Wifi hotspots were legally responsible for ensuring that only “legal” content could be viewed, despite the free-for-all nature of the internet.  (Although the elite have realised that this is inconvenient to themselves, so are going to rescind that particular despotic law).  To the German elite, seemingly, the German people are just cattle and sheep, to be fleeced.

But it is not just Germany, although that country is singularly unfortunate.  The same attitude may be found among the ruling elite in many countries, including the USA.

One symptom of this disconnect is the banning of pirate PDF websites, at the behest of publishers, without considering what the public welfare really is, or should be.  Education is essential.  Books are essential for education.  Yet access to books is obstructed by the greed of companies that charge impossible prices for textbooks.

I don’t know what the answer is.  But I really wish that our ruling elites would address it.

A curious bibliography: Angelo Uggeri and his “Journées pittoresques”, “Ichnografia”, “Icnografia degli Edifizj” etc

The most accessible early account, of the discovery of an ancient house in the grounds of the Villa Negroni in Rome, is by Camillo Massimo in 1836.  But for his source, Massimo refers to a mysterious volume which is online, but nearly impossible to find.

Massimo writes:

Una esatta descrizione di quattro delle suddette Camere, coi colori di tutt’ i loro ornamenti , e cen i menomi lor dettagli minutamente indicati si trova inserita nel 3. Volume dell’ Icnografia degli Edifizi di Roma antica, pag. 55. e aeg. opera dell’ Abb. Uggeri, il quale nelle Tavole XIV . XV , XVl, e XVII, diede pure le incisioni a contorno delle Pitture di quelle quattro Stanze; e nel Volume II. Tav. XXIV. fig, 1, riprodusse in piccolo la pianta dell’ intero Palazzina con le sue dimensioni, e con l‘ indice delle pitture in esso rimanenti, la descrizione delle quali si  trova anche nel citato Manifesto stampato in quell’occasione in un foglietto volante divenuto assai raro, e nella seconda Edizione della Roma antica di Ridolfino Venuti coll’ aggiunte di Stefano Piale Par. 1. cap. V, pag. 125.

Search as you will: you will not locate this volume.  You may think “icnografia” is an odd word, and make it “iconografia” but you will be no further forward.  As I remarked a couple of days ago, Lanciani quotes the title as “Iconografia degli Edifizi di Roma antica“, but this too does not help.

After a great deal of searching into the night, I have finally solved the mystery.

It seems that Angelo Uggeri was, to be frank, a complete idiot.  He self-published his works.  And he decided that giving them title pages was unnecessary.  Yes, that’s right.  You can find a volume online, and look through it, and still have no idea what the thing is titled.  Sometimes he shyly had a page which indicated his authorship – in a cursive, hard-to-read handwriting, not printed.

The volumes that I have found, all of them, belong to a series:

Journées pittoresques des édifices de Rome ancienne / Giornate pittoresche degli edifizi antiche de circondari di Roma

The text in these is in two columns, one French, one Italian.  A search for “Journées pittoresques” will return results.  But Uggeri’s maddening habit of leaving out titles means that you will not be that sure of what you have found.  A search in the French National Library site, Gallica, will return only three titles.

Curiously it was the Europeana portal that saved me.  This search gives a list of 10 volumes, all at the BNF, with no distinction of volume number or title.  They all have the same cover.  Many have the same endpapers.  You actually have to look through them to find out what’s in there.

But, blessedly, pasted onto the endpapers of one, I found this slip:


There are two series, each with volume numbers.  In fact some of the “volumes” are also divided into two, one containing the plates, and the other with the text.  I had to download almost the entire collection to find what I wanted.  For my own sanity, and yours if you pass this way, here are the volumes that you need for the Villa Negroni.  I give the link to the BNF for the volume, and attach a PDF of the relevant pages.

The scans are not very high resolution, it must be said.  The volume 2 floor plan is too small to read the scale, for instance.  Let us hope that a German library like Arachne scan some volumes.

From all this we learn that the actual title of volume 2, insofar as there was one, was “Ichnografia”! But I suggest we always refer to Journées pittoresques and specify the series, Rome.

The other two sources given by Massimo deserve a mention, while we are discussing bibliographical mazes.

The “manifesto” is actually a printed flyer, by Camillo Buti, proposing the publication of the frescoes of the house, and including a couple of samples, and a floor plan.  This is the very earliest account.  It is indeed extremely rare, and, as far as I can tell, not online.  But I learn from an article by H. Joyce[1] that “Copies of the Buti Manifesto are in the British Library, Department of Manuscripts, Add. Ms 35378, fols. 316-17, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, Department of Paintings, Tatham Album, p. D. 1479 – ’98. /2”.  Doubtless other copies are around.

The “Roma antica of Ridolfino Venuti with the additions of Stefano Piale” is another vague title.  Volume 2 of the first edition is here at Arachne.  The actual title is “Accurata, e succinta descrizione topografica delle antichità di Roma”, printed in 1763 – too early.  Volume 1 of the third edition (1824) of the Stefano Piale re-edition is at Google Books here; volume 2 here.  The text referred to is in vol.1, chapter 5, p.169 f.  But it contains nothing of special interest.  (Update: 2nd ed., 1803, vol.1, p.125 is here).

One final item is mentioned by Joyce.  It too is not online, and indeed sounds very inaccessible:

The architect Camillo Buti was quickly called in to make a plan of the house. Buti published the plan in 1778, along with a brief description of the rooms, in his Manifesto announcing the publication of the first two in a series of engravings of the house’s paintings.(5) An early annotated version of the plan drawn by someone present in the early stages of the excavation (the excavation is shown and described as incomplete) is now in the Townley collection of “Drawings from Various Antiquities” in the British Museum.(6)

6.  Although the Townley plan is incomplete, it includes information about the house’s decoration not given in any published source. I am grateful to Donald Bailey of the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities for locating this drawing and supplying me with a copy.

The invaluable Joyce article – which I obtained today – makes plain that the Townley plan is of the highest importance.  It alone tells us, for instance, that the entrance door to the villa had a window above the door.  The “blank wall” facing the door in fact had three niches for statues in it – “Ingresso principale nella casa dipinto con Architetture e nichie di relievo dipinte dentro.”  And so on.

Fortunately the Townley papers are in the British Museum, and a Google search shows that the museum has a research project to catalogue them and place them online.  Well done, the British Museum.

UPDATE: The etchings published in 1778 by Camillo Buti are actually online at Aradne here: A. Campanella, Pitture antiche della Villa Negroni, 1778.  The monochrome etchings look far more Roman than the coloured versions.

  1. [1]H. Joyce, “The Ancient Frescoes from the Villa Negroni and Their Influence in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries”, The Art Bulletin 65 (1983), 423-440. JSTOR.

Why should I ever buy another reference book? Give me a PDF!

Recently I needed to consult a translation of an ancient author.  I don’t own paper copies of very many translations, and I never knowingly buy books that I will not read and reread.  But unusually for me, I did own a copy of this volume in printed form.

However when I searched for it, it was nowhere to be found.  I had to make do with translating some French version of the original that I found online.

Where could it be?  After some searching, I discovered a faint memory of including it in a batch of academic books that I donated to someone, in order to free up some shelf-space.  I dispose of unwanted books all the time, as anyone with any sanity must; and in fairness this is only the second book whose loss I have subsequently regretted, so I shan’t change my habit.  All the same, it made me realise that I did need access to this particular volume.

Today I borrowed a library copy, and spent a couple of hours creating a PDF of the page images, with searchable text.  Abbyy Finereader 12 did its usual job of scanning the pages, and Adobe Acrobat Pro 9 created the PDF and made it searchable.

It’s expensive to borrow by interlibrary loan, mind you.  And I had to go into a library to collect them.  A recent foot injury made the walk from the car park, and then the wait in a queue for service, particularly uncomfortable.  Paper reference books are simply not what any of us need any more.

This sort of process – of conversion of books into PDF – must be repeated up and down the world. Students with no money, and academics with no shelf space, must convert the same reference volumes into PDFs again and again and again.  Surely there ought to be a mechanism whereby this could be avoided?  After all, nobody is at all likely to buy copies of this work personally, except by a fluke (as I did).

TES article calls for translation of Latin, Greek, to be valid research goals

An important article by Dr Emma Gee of St Andrews University has appeared in the Times Higher Education supplement here.

Recently, an audience of “disadvantaged” 16-year-olds listened with rapt attention when I read from my translation of Lucretius’ On the Nature of the Universe.

Written around 55BC, this is the first surviving full-scale account of a cosmology based on atoms and void, dispensing with an active role for the gods. Lucretius’ hallucinogenic poem unpacks every aspect of the world, from the physics of colour to the anatomy of love. It is not a fossil: it is startlingly modern.

Any translation of it, therefore, must be punchy and immediate. In mine, Lucretius’ Latin hexameters play out in the rhythms of rap; the Roman goddess of love morphs into Richard Dawkins’ “selfish gene”; birds rain down from the sky like satellite debris; and the catastrophic collapse of the structures of the universe leaves us stumbling around the ground zero of our exploded certainties.

At no stage did the kids listening seem patronised or alienated. Their questions showed a keen awareness that many ideas we might consider “modern” in fact have a long history.

Last year, Edith Hall, professor of Classics at King’s College London, complained in a newspaper article about the “apartheid system in British Classics”: the subject’s enduring role as an instrument of social differentiation, based on proficiency in ancient Greek and Latin. Yet translation can make powerful classical texts available to people well beyond traditional elite audiences.

You might expect, therefore, translation to enjoy high status among classicists. But you would be wrong. The Classics subpanel in the 2014 research excellence framework, for instance, offered no separate submission category for translations. They fell under the “other” category, which accounted for only 0.5 per cent of total submissions –and no stand-alone translations were submitted at all.

Furthermore, the REF guidelines were applied in a way that militated against translation. Universities played it safe, to the extent of introducing their own supplementary limiting criteria that actively discouraged translation. A former director of research for one of the UK’s larger Classics departments commented: “We worked on the assumption that translations…simply would not be deemed to constitute research.” Perhaps more surprising, translation was marginalised even under the banner of impact. Of the 65 case studies submitted, none obviously involves translation.

Nor does the problem appear to be confined to Classics. Modern languages too had no separate REF category for translations. Among the 4,943 submissions to the modern languages sub-panel, just nine were “other assessable outputs”, which may have included translations. Many colleagues around the country have told me that they either did not produce translations or did not submit them to the REF because they didn’t think they would be valued.

The unavoidable conclusion is that humanities research has become almost exclusively inward-looking in its privileging of academic discourse for academics. Of course, those of us at the coalface knew this anyway: research is a game not about truth. But it is a shame that classicists are failing to use one of the key tools for breaking down class barriers and giving people access to many of the life-changing documents that their discipline has spent millennia preserving.

This is very well said.  I hope that important ears are listening.