All of us know that the internet has revolutionised our access to ancient texts.
First sites like CCEL came into being, back in the mid-90’s. This made the Ante-Nicene, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers accessible to us all. Indeed I remember, long ago, seeing a bound set in 38 volumes of that collection, in Mowbrays Bookshop in Kings Parade in Cambridge. I was interested in the Fathers even then, but such a thing was far beyond my slender financial means. But with the internet came CCEL, and suddenly we took it for granted.
Google books came along a few years ago. I don’t even remember when it arrived, so much do I take it for granted, but after 2005, certainly. That gave us access to vast amounts of older literature, of scholarly series such as the PL, PG, the Bonn series of Byzantine texts and much, much more. All this was given freely, and with the generous aid of American universities like Harvard. European publishers poisoned the gift, and by their bleating for money made it largely inaccessible; but Google meant us all to have it.
Manuscripts are coming online as well, despite much resistance.
Now we have Google translate. This improves constantly. For French it is now very good indeed, and doubtless other languages will improve over time. Latin has been added already. All this would have been unimaginable as recently as 2005.
Now let us look into the future; a future that may be no further away than a handful of years. As translate improves, will there be any purpose in providing hand-made translations?
When I first came on the web, CCEL was all there was. I sought to help, by scanning more translations and placing them online. Then Google books came along, and made much of this work redundant. If you go to Archive.org, or Google books, an OCR of these older translations is generated automatically. The books are searchable. Yes, it’s not perfect; but we can always get the text, and often it is very, very good. So there is now very little purpose in my duplicating this effort, I sometimes feel.
Instead I have been translating stuff, commissioning new translations, and so forth.
But will this go the same way? Will it too, one day soon, be pointless.
I’m not sure, I admit. For one thing, digitising texts is still worthwhile. When I want a text, I rejoice if I find it at Lacus Curtius, accurately typed in and easy to search. I look there in preference. Probably other sites like mine are also used in this way.
Will it be the same for man-made as opposed to machine translations?
Note: I have several interesting emails in my inbox awaiting answers. Unfortunately I have gone down with the headache bug, so it will be a day or two before I can reply.