What to do about offline Origen?

The homilies of Origen are all offline.  This is because the 19th century translators of the Ante-Nicene Christian Library (repackaged as the Ante-Nicene Fathers later) were selling their translations by subscription, and couldn’t get enough subscribers to translate these works.  Of 574 homilies, only 186 have survived, mostly in Latin translations by either Rufinus or Jerome.

Quite a few have been translated in various series during the 20th century.  But under our accursed copyright laws, these remain offline and inaccessible to ordinary mortals.

From time to time, I wonder what to do about this.  What can be done, I wonder?

I suppose that I could commission someone to make a translation.  But this would be costly, and also wasteful.  I hate the idea of spending my hard-earned to produce a translation of Origen’s homilies, when so many ancient texts remain untranslated.

I’ve toyed with the idea of getting someone who knows Latin to take a modern critical edition of the Latin text, and whatever translations exist in English, and produce a copyright-free version that way.  It’s always quicker and easier to translate something when someone else has done the heavy lifting and produced a first version.  I wouldn’t care whether the result was of publishable quality, so long as it was fairly true to the original.  But… who would I ask?  I could make such a thing myself fairly easily if laboriously, if I had time, but I don’t.

If I were a billionaire, of course, I would just buy the companies that own the existing versions, give the texts away, and then sell on the companies.  But I am not.

Are there any other alternatives?  It is deeply frustrating.  What can be done?

10 thoughts on “What to do about offline Origen?

  1. I have thought about this very thing myself. Perhaps we could work with High School Latin teachers to get the teachers to assign the texts to the students as homework and then allow them to be placed in the public domain.

  2. I think Origen, and especially Origen, will need a professional translator – one with a sufficient knowledge in the theology and Church history of that period. Origen’s writings are difficult, and have been controversial, and this has been made worse by various people interjecting their own writings, and ideas, into his. Amateur translation, without accompanying critical editing, will not do the job. But I can understand the frustration, and the limitation in time and money.

  3. I think this is by far the most important project out there – and not just the homilies but the rest of Comm on Matt in Latin. Why don’t we pool our money together for projects like this. Get 50 or a 100 like-minded people to contribute £50 or $100 each and put all of Origen’s stuff online. If that worked we could move on to other authors. Maybe Roger you could open a Paypal account.

  4. What do you mean by this:

    “Of 574 homilies, only 186 have survived, mostly in Latin translations by either Rufinus or Jerome.”

    ? Do you mean that there were 574 in the 19th century, and all but 186 have been lost in the last century or so? Or do you mean that there were 574 penned by Origin, but all but 186 were lost over the last 1700 years? Or do what?

    Please forgive my novice-type question.

  5. On lost homilies: Books generaly did not get lost after the invention of typography. When someone prints 2000 copies of a book, a few stick around. When someone copies 5 copies by hand, it is easy if all get lost. Usually a copy of a book got lost when there was a major disaster like a siege, fire, crusade and the like

  6. Interesting thoughts, gents. Of course I’d be willing to contribute as well. It then comes down to finding a translator somewhere.

    Dioscorus; I don’t think that these will be so difficult as some of his works. The homilies are mostly copies of sermons that people wrote down as he gave them. If he was talking to the people, he had to talk in language they understood. But that is just a guess, of course.

    The 574 must be some count of the homilies made in ancient times before they were mostly lost (I got it from Quasten’s patrology). I don’t know where that number comes from.

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