The importance of standard spelling in critical editions

A few months ago a kind gentleman offered to translate some Latin for us all.  Meaning no harm, I suggested that the earliest Latin version of the Life of St George might be a good candidate.  For narrative texts are easier to translate, and how difficult could a late antique saints’ life be?  There was a 19th century edition by Arndt, and this I sent him.

Chunks of this have proceeded to arrive over the last few months.  I commented in detail on the first couple, and then pressure of work meant that I just filed the next few.

However last week I started to collect them, and go through them, and try to create a final version.  This evening I finished with what I had.  This consists of chapters 1-8 and chapter 10 (out of 21).

I feel really rather guilty now.  It’s a nightmare to translate and revise.  The reason, simply, is that the editor, Arndt, slacked on the job.  All he seems to have done is to fix one or two obvious errors, and leave the rest as he found it, weird late spellings and all.  That makes it very hard indeed to read.

I can cope with “capud” for “caput”, “head”.  But more obscure words have frequently left me baffled and guessing.  It’s obvious that “maggana” is “magana”, “daggers”, once you know.  Other words like “amos ferreos” – “iron whatsits” – are beyond me.

These spelling choices make it very difficult to find words in dictionaries!  The tortures that St George undergoes name quite a lot of bits of the body, as the wicked emperor gloats on what he will do to the saint unless he recants.  I do have a specialist glossary for body parts.  But even so what is the noun in “nerbona incidam”?  Or what does bella in “humera et bella secabo” mean?

In these few cases, indeed, I have been quite unable to work out what the word means.  Maybe this is down to the eccentric spelling.

What on earth did Arndt think he was doing here?  If he was providing a transcription, he had no business correcting the text, as his apparatus makes clear that he did.  If he was providing a text, then using normal spellings was essential.

We will plod on, of course.  But Arndt’s laziness makes the task much harder than it should have been.

14 thoughts on “The importance of standard spelling in critical editions

  1. Have you tried comparing other versions of the text? This often provides helpful hints. The third Passio printed by Huber (Monacens. 2552) seems to be very close to Arndt’s, and reads:

    “Si quos invenero contradicere et non sacrificaverint diis, incidam linguas eorum, oculos evellam, aures obturabo, maxillas separabo, dentes evellam, cerebrum capitis spargam, brachia separabo, cervices dividam, humeros evellam, secabo tibias, pedum nervos incidam, intestina scrutabor, et quod super fuerit vermibus tradam.”

    This does not give the actual solution, but suggests that ‘bella’ and ‘nerbona’ MAY mean ‘tibias’ and ‘pedum nervos’, thus narrowing the search. It also confirms ‘hamos ferreos’ later.

  2. “Si quos invenero contradicere et non sacrificaverint diis, incidam linguas eorum, oculos evellam, aures obturabo, maxillas separabo, dentes evellam, cerebrum capitis spargam, brachia separabo, cervices dividam, humeros evellam, secabo tibias, pedum nervos incidam, intestina scrutabor, et quod super fuerit vermibus tradam.”
    “If those whom I find in against it, and not sacrifices to the gods, I would fall to their tongues, eyes, yet would I pluck, the ears of the muzzle, on the jaws and separate myself from it, the teeth will pluck up, brain in my head I will scatter, the arms separate myself from it, the neck of the I will divide, shoulders, yet would I pluck it will cut the legs, feet, of the nerves of fall, but the intestines will investigate and the worms will give up on it. ” Google Translate

  3. A relative who translated some late Latin texts said that the Oxford English Dictionary was frequently helpful for translating Neo Latin.

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