From my diary

I am still collecting references to Matthew 27:25 in the fathers, and still encountering interesting and unusual texts that are unfamiliar to me.  The major chunk of material still in my hands is a bunch of references in the commentaries of St Jerome, and a library visit is going to be necessary to finish them up.

Another project of mine has sprung back into life this week.  I’ve wanted to do something about Methodius of Olympus for a while.  I was resigned to paying for translations from Russian; but I was never very happy about that.  Rather to my surprise, a kindly colleague has found for me a gentleman who knows Old Slavonic!

Today I have agreed with him to translate into English some of the works of Methodius of Olympus, found only in that language.  Thankfully there are a couple of manuscripts online, and he is able to work from these.  For the text itself has never been published.  The text is rather corrupt, apparently, but probably as a result of some earlier accident.

The sample of the first page of one of them arrived today, and looks excellent.  Unless there are any mishaps, I am confident that we’ll get at least one work of Methodius online from this.

Working with anyone that you haven’t worked with before always involves a settling-in period.  He doesn’t know my quirks, copious as they are, and I don’t know his.  But it usually works out OK with goodwill on both sides.

Mind you, I still cherish the memory of one chap who withdrew in a fit of political correctness almost before we started.  I had explained to him that I’d want to see a sample page of translation without obligation, because of a bad experience in the past with some Lebanese translators.  They’d produced gibberish, which I felt obliged to pay for, but was unusable.   This apparently was a major solecism.  He informed me that I shouldn’t have said that they were Lebanese – he didn’t say why – and he threw all his toys out of the cot, refused to proceed, and never corresponded with me again.  That the project was of benefit to the world was of less importance than ideology, I fear.

I tend to look for a couple of things in every translation that I’m involved with.

Firstly, the result must always mean something in English.  There should never be any doubt, in my opinion, what the translator thought the author was saying, and that something should be in the translation.  This principle protects one against producing gibberish, which is always a risk when a translation becomes too literal.  I feel that one should never shy away from paraphrasing when the alternative is unintelligible, but always include a footnote.  The footnote preserves us both from the carping reviewer, of course.

Secondly, I think we ought to remember that, in these days of the internet, material in English may be read by those for whom it is a second language, or indeed only barely so.  There’s several billion people out there, who might potentially wish to read what the author had to say.  Let them do so!  But we can effectually stop this, if we use obscure or archaic language.  In particular the “language of Zion” is a chancy business: in some ways, it can be a universal language.  In other times, it can be a complete barrier.

The influence of the Authorised Version of the Bible lives on.  Most of us at some time have struggled with some translation of a patristic author, and found ourselves mentally retranslating each sentence out of stilted wording into the English we would actually use, simply so that we can work out what is being said.

I’m not intending to commission any other projects at the moment, as my industry is in the doldrums right now.  But I still have various Greek and Latin texts that I want to do.  There are still more texts about Nicholas of Myra to attack.  I’d like to get a work against the Jews by Maximinus the Arian into English.  But for now, let’s concentrate on Methodius.

5 thoughts on “From my diary

  1. This kind of thing is such a chancy business. I have just had (by contrast) a very good experience with my translation of the Ecclesiastical Chronicle of Bar Hebraeus. The Syriac text was copy-typed by a Syriac Orthodox monk (Lebanese, perhaps?) retained by Gorgias Press from the 1877 edition of Abbeloos and Lamy, and I have to confess that I was dreading the result. To my suprise and pleasure, the quality was excellent. I have been trying to find an error for several weeks, just for the sake of my own self-esteem, and thought I had found one a couple of days ago. But no, a quick check with A&L revealed that what he had typed was quite correct. I felt quite ashamed of myself … Like yourself I have also had unpleasant experiences with collaborations, and could tell you some stories about Peeters in Louvain, so it’s worth recording a pleasant experience for once.

  2. I’m glad that your experience was good! I suspect that George Kiraz only uses people whom he knows, and well done him. My own experiences have been indifferent with transcription. But of course I am very glad to hear that some of these people are excellent!

  3. Really looking forward to the Slavonic methodius translation, it will be quite a contribution to our knowledge of early Christianity

  4. You should publish a book on this…the title can be simple and catchy: “On us and our Children” … or something similar

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