Agapius translation – great minds think alike

The Arabic history of Agapius was published with a  very simple French translation in the Patrologia Orientalis.  Since there is no English translation of this interesting work, I’ve been working on making one from the French.  The PO version was made by a Russian, so is not complex French and machine translators can make quite a good attempt at it.

I heard today from another online chap, who has been doing the same!  He’s suggesting we look at collaboration, or at least avoiding doing the same job twice.  That would be sensible, I think.

I never imagined that there was any risk of someone else doing this.  I felt a bit shifty about it; translating a translation is a bit rubbish.  But after a century it is clear that no-one was going to make an English translation of any of the five important Arabic Christian histories.  Maybe my efforts might provoke one!

In a way, we’re looking at a positive spiral here.  An amateur does a rubbishy translation of part of it from French, which provokes another amateur to do a better one, which provokes someone who knows Arabic to improve the situation again, which leads a professional to do an academic version.  That’s what is happening with Eusebius Chronicle (more or less!), and everyone benefits as momentum takes hold.

Of course there is a negative spiral possible, as Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie found out almost a century ago.  He produced some bad translations of Proclus, often from the French.  No-one took any notice.  The only person to take any notice was a now-forgotten academic, who published a review slagging them off as worthless.  So Guthrie was discouraged, no-one else was motivated to do better, and to this day the works he attempted have never received a proper translation.

Let’s hope that everyone who sees efforts like mine will think “I can do better” — and do better; rather than spend time debunking them.  Per ardua ad astra.

Leave a Reply