The other evening I realised with a shock that the project with the St Nicholas material is actually done. My original intention was to make the oldest hagiographical material available in English translation, and this I have achieved. With the translation of the “Life of St Nicholas” by Methodius (ad Theodorum), which originally drew me into this, the project is complete. All that remains is to tidy up.
What remains? Well, I have a couple more fragments of Latin miracle stories that I did. But the original reason for doing these was to help with the translation of John the Deacon’s “Life of St Nicholas”, which often is interspersed with Latin miracle stories. But all those are done. The remainder are all later stuff, and really are out of scope. So I will just release the last handful that I have done, and stop there. That will be it.
Something that I did long ago was the first recension of the “Praxis de Stratelatis”, the story of the three generals. This a kind colleage translated from the text printed by Anrich in “Agios Nikolaos”. A couple of days ago, I started to OCR the second recension from Anrich, so that I could put this into an AI Translator. I did the first page, and the results were very nice indeed. The AI translators do a fine job. The OCR wasn’t too bad either, except that Anrich used a strange version of “theta” (θ) where the loop is not closed, so Finereader OCR thinks that is an ampersand (&). Likewise sigma was sometimes handled as beta. The high-point was always recognised with an asterisk. And so on. The accentuation was a mess, of course; but the machine translators do not seem to care. My new unicode Greek SPIonic-layout keyboard for Windows 11 worked fine. But … correcting the OCR became tiresome. And I found myself wondering why I was bothering. I never intended to translate everything between the covers of Anrich’s two fat volumes.
Thankfully an academic team has now come along and will do professional work on all the St Nicholas texts. That is as it should be, and I wish them all the best. My own humble efforts have made the texts more accessible to everyman, and they never had any purpose beyond that. If they have spurred renewed interest from scholars, then that is better still.
So… what now?
I was quite impressed with how well the modern Greek translations of St Nicholas material were handled by the AI translators, with a bit of sanity-checking from Google Translate. I really have almost no translations of patristic material into modern Greek. Indeed I wonder… now that we can work with modern Greek, it might be interesting to see just what already exists in translation in that language!
The only other text that I have in modern Greek translation is the mass of hardly-edited texts under the name of “Ephraem Graecus”. I have the Phrantzolas edition of these, thanks to a correspondent. In fact I find that the ancient/medieval Greek of these is in the elderly TLG disks, which most of us have, so I have access to that too.
I fired up Diogenes, which I use to work with that disk, and picked a text at random. (In fact it was “Sermo unde magi in Hierosolymam ineunt.”) I copied some of the text, and ran it through Bard AI. Here’s the text:
Λόγος ὅτε οἱ μάγοι παρεγένοντο εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα
Ὅταν ἀγαθοῦ τινος ὁδοιπόρος τύχῃ συνόδου, χαίρει τὸν πόνον τῆς μακρᾶς ὁδοιπορίας κλεπτόμενος ὁμιλίᾳ· ὡς ῥάβδῳ γὰρ ἐρειδόμενος λόγῳ ἀκονιστικῷ γλώττῃ, συμβαδίζειν κεκονισμένῳ δοκεῖ τῷ ποδὶ καὶ τῷ στόματι ἀκαμάτῳ· μεριζόμενος γόνασι κόπον, κουφίζει χείλεσι πολυβάδιστον βῆμα. Οὕτω δὴ καὶ τοῦ Χριστοῦ γεννηθέντος, οἱ μάγοι τὸν ἀστέρα ἰδόντες καὶ τοῦτον λαβόντες συνοδοιπόρον, τὸν πολυπόρευτον κόπον ἔκλεπτον τῆς ὁδείας ἐρωτήσει κοπούμενοι, ποῦ ἐστιν ὁ βασιλεὺς πυθόμενοι· ὡς κλέπτας τοῦ τεχθέντος ἠρεύνουν φωνῇ τοὺς Ἑβραίους. Τοῖς δὲ ἐρωτῶσιν εἰκὸς Ἰουδαῖοι, τί δή, ξένοι, τολμᾶτε, τί φατε, ἄνδρες, φασί; Τί φέροντες ἐπικίνδυνον ἥκατε φήμην; Τί βασιλέα καινὸν βασιλευομένῃ σαλπίζετε πόλει; Τί πρὸς ἄωρον κυβιστεύετε τέλος; Τί κατ’ οἰκείων μαχαιροῦτε γλῶτταν τραχήλων; Τί τάφον ἐπιφέρεσθε στόματι, καθεύδοντα καθ’ ἑαυτῶν διυπνίζετε θάνατον; Ἠπόρει μνημάτων Περσίς, ἵνα ἔτι ζῶντος Ἡρῴδου βασιλέως ἄλλου πυνθάνεσθε; Πολλὴν ἀκούσας ὁμολογήσει χάριν ὑμῖν καὶ μεγάλοις ὑμᾶς ἀμείψειε δώροις. Ἀλλ’ ἡ πρὸς ταῦτα τοῖς μάγοις ἀπόκρισις σύντομος· εἴδομεν αὐτοῦ, φασί, τὸν ἀστέρα ἐν τῇ ἀνατολῇ καὶ ἤλθομεν προσκυνῆσαι αὐτῷ. Οὐκ ἠρκέσθησαν ἐρωτῆσαι, ἀλλὰ καὶ προσκύνησιν φῆσαι· διὰ τῆσδε τῆς λέξεως Θεὸν εἶναι τὸν τεχθέντα δηλοῦντες. Ὡς δὲ ἦλθε τῶν τοιούτων πρὸς Ἡρῴδην ἡ φήμη, τοὺς μάγους τέως ἀνείς, τοὺς σοφοὺς Ἰουδαίων καλεῖ λέγων· ποῦ ὁ Χριστὸς γεννᾶται; Οἱ δέ φασιν, ἐν Βηθλεὲμ τῆς Ἰουδαίας. Ὢ τοῦ θαύματος! Τὸν τόπον ἐπίστανται, καὶ τὸν τόκον βδελύττονται· τὴν Βηθλεὲμ βοῶσι, καὶ τὴν οἰκονομίαν σιγῶσι· τὴν Ἰουδαίαν σημειοῦνται, καὶ τὴν δεσποτείαν ἀρνοῦνται. Εἰ οὕτω γέγραπται, διατί μὴ συντίθεσθε; Εἰ ἀνέγνωτε, διατί μὴ πιστεύετε; Εἰ ἐν Βηθλεὲμ τεχθήσεται, διατί μὴ παρ’ ὑμῶν προσκυνηθήσεται; Ὅθεν συνιεὶς ὁ Ἡρῴδης ὡς οὐχ ἁπλῶς ἥκεσαν ἐρωτῶντες οἱ μάγοι, λάθρα τούτους καλέσας ἐπυνθάνετο παρ’ αὐτῶν τὸν χρόνον τοῦ φαινομένου ἀστέρος, ἀκριβῶς, λέγων, τὸν τρόπον ὃν ἥκατε φάσκοντες, εἴπατε τὸ τῆς ὑμετέρας <ὁδείας>
And here is the output from Bard AI, unedited:
The Story of the Magi
When a traveler meets a good companion, he rejoices, stealing away the pain of the long journey with conversation. For as if leaning on a staff with a sharp-pointed tongue, he seems to walk with ease, his foot and his mouth tireless. Dividing the fatigue on his knees, he lightens his weary step with his lips.
So too, when Christ was born, the Magi, seeing the star and taking it as their companion, stole away the long journey of the road, inquiring and asking, “Where is the king?” They sought out the voice of the Hebrews, as thieves of the newborn.
It is likely that the Jews asked the questioners, “What do you mean, strangers? What are you saying, men? What dangerous rumor do you bring? Why do you trumpet a new king in a city that is already ruled? Why do you stir up trouble at an inopportune time? Why do you sharpen your tongues against your own necks? Why do you bring a tomb to your lips, awakening death against yourselves? Persia is full of tombs. Why do you ask about another king while Herod is still alive? He would hear your confession with great gratitude and reward you with great gifts.”
But the Magi’s answer to this was short: “We saw his star in the east, and we have come to worship him.” They were not satisfied with asking, but they also said that they would worship him. By this word they declared that the one who was born was God.
When word of this came to Herod, he dismissed the Magi for a time and called the wise men of the Jews, saying, “Where is the Christ born?” And they said, “In Bethlehem of Judea.”
Oh, the wonder! They know the place, and they abhor the birth. They cry out Bethlehem, and they are silent about the economy. They point to Judea, and they deny the lordship. If it is so written, why do you not agree? If you have read, why do you not believe? If he is to be born in Bethlehem, why will he not be worshiped by you? Therefore, Herod, realizing that the Magi had not come simply to ask questions, called them secretly and inquired of them the time of the appearance of the star, saying, “Tell me exactly the way you came, and tell me the time of your journey.”
And here, for comparison, is the Google Translate text, again unedited:
Reason when the magicians were brought to Jerusalem
It was a fellowship of the Synod, he enjoys the pain of the long -standing manner of the mackerel; ITON VIMA. Even so, when Christ was born, the magicians, seeing the star and receiving this as a companion, asked the rich laborer, the thief of the covenant, when they were cut down, where the king was; they sought out the Jews by voice as the thief of what had been done. And they will ask them if they are Jews, what do you say, foreigners, you dare, what do you eat, men, fasi? What dangerous fame have you come? What city do you trumpet the king’s new reign? What do you end up turning against the hour? Why do you stab the throats of necks? Persis, the treasurer of monuments, why should you marry Herod’s living king? He heard many confessions for your sake and rewarded you with great gifts. But the answer to this to the magicians was short: we saw the star in the east, and we came to worship him. It was not enough to ask, but also to worship; through this word God is declaring what has been done. And when the rumor of these came to Herod, he called the magicians of old, the wise men of the Jews, saying: Where is Christ born? They said, in Bethlehem of Judea. Ὢ of the miracle! The place they visit, and the interest they detest; Bethlehem loudly, and the economy quietly; Judea they mark, and despotia they deny. If it is written like this, why do you not compose it? If you read it, why do you not believe? If it is made in Bethlehem, why does it not worship before you? How did Herod know that the magicians did not simply come inquiring, and you secretly called them a priest for them at the time of the vision? stay star, exactly, saying, the way you came, you said that of the mother <Odeia>
Google Translate is now out-dated, but because it uses a different technology – NMT – it acts as a useful check on AI. For instance the first sentence is paraphrased by AI, rather than translated. At least one can count the sentences and get an idea if it’s all there!
Likewise Diogenes allows you to click on individual words and get the L&S result for each, which helps in checking.
But all the same, the AI translation looks wonderful. Basically we can now make use of it for ancient and medieval Greek. So long as we proceed with caution!
I’m not sure whether I want to start working on Ephraem Graecus tho. What is there in this mass of texts that is going to be interesting? At the moment I don’t know.
There is another issue with the Ephraem Graecus material. The edition was made by Assemani, in the 18th century. He just printed in a heap whatever he found in the manuscripts. What this means is that some short “texts” are actually just abstracts of other texts.
But which ones? There ought to be a list, but if so, it has not reached me.
I wonder whether we could get AI to work out the relationships? After all, the task is basically one of text comparison. We have all the Greek in electronic form, thanks to the wonder that is the TLG. So… can we get AI to look through it and tell us?
I think it might be possible. But there’s only one way to find out, which is to try. When I get a break, I might experiment a bit!