From my diary

The first draft has arrived of Methodius, De cibis, translated from the Old Slavonic, using manuscript 40 of the Lavra of Holy Trinity-Saint Sergius.  It looks very good, except that the translator has used the Authorised Version as the basis for the bible quotations and allusions.  I’ve suggested that he use the NRSV instead.

The translation is being done by Ralph Cleminson, whose grasp of Old Slavonic is clearly first-rate – he suggests that the translation from Greek into Old Slavonic may have been done in Bulgaria – but of course he doesn’t know my shibboleths, or I his.  However we seem to be getting there.

One thing that I always do, when reviewing a translation – and I always review any text that I commission, no matter who does it – is to make sure that it means something.  This means reading the prose, and trying to follow the thread of the author’s thought.  It is essential for editors to do this, as it often preserves us from errors, not in translating words, but in translating sentences.  We have all seen the unhappy results of a student getting all the words right but paying no attention to what the author was saying!

It is remarkable how much the use of antique expression obstructs the modern English reader from grasping the sense of a text.  This is so, even for a reader such as myself, who habitually reads English literature from past centuries, and is currently reading the Letters of an English Country Parson, James Woodroffe, from ca. 1800.  We all know it; but perhaps we fool ourselves by thinking that the odd “thee” and “thou” is of no importance, and that stilted sentence structure is something we can overcome.  But we deceive ourselves, if we do.

This was brought home to me forcibly yesterday, when I tried to read through the draft.  I had to give up about half-way through, after realising that I had no idea what the author was saying any more!  Now my efforts were not aided by four nights of sleep deprivation and a splitting headache; but, even so, that day I did a good day’s work for someone else, so I should have been able to read a 13-page document.

Fortunately I was more successful today, and I have made various suggestions to improve the readability of the final product, and sent them off.

But we do now have a translation of De cibis.  If the translator were to drop dead, or to refuse to do anything that I have asked for, I could still fix it enough to be usable myself.

One thing that helped me, when I did read the text, was that, as I went, I started to break the text into English paragraphs.  It is remarkable how that helps, compared with just looking at the wall of text preserved in the manuscript.  It is an old journalists’ trick to over-paragraph a text for readability, and it is one that I employed today.  I commend this point to anybody intending to translate Cyril of Alexandria!!

Unlike De vita, the manuscript is divided by headings in red, which do correspond to the content.  Whether these are ancient or medieval, whether these are authorial, or whether they were added by a Greek scribe, or a Slavonic one, I do not know.

There are  two more short works by Methodius in Slavonic, which were translated into Russian by Michael Chub in the 1960’s, and are present in the ms. 40 of the Holy Trinity-Saint Sergius Lavra.  These are On Leprosy and On the Leech.  No trace of De Vita, or De Cibis, exists in Greek.  But this is not true of the next item, De Lepra, where a Greek fragment is preserved.   This is also the case for De resurrectione and it raises the question of what to do in such cases.

Other things being equal the original language must have priority over a version, however good.   But when we have fragments, what we mean by this is that either we have a quotation from the work, preserved in some later writer, or, worse, a catena fragment, from some medieval Greek bible commentary.  In the latter case the compiler usually modifies the opening and closing words, alters the tenses, and abbreviates etc, in order to create a running narrative.  Even a quotation may display some of these features.  So … what do we do?

My thinking at the moment is to translate both.  That is, to give the translation of the Old Slavonic as the main text.  When we get to a passage extant in Greek, give the translation of the Greek but footnote the translation of the Slavonic; or do the reverse if we think the Greek is damaged.

It will be interesting to see how it works out.

The other short work, On the Leech – such charming names, but these works are really quite interesting! – has no such problems.  That leaves us with the next text, a big one: De resurrectione, in two books.  The price of doing that at the same rate-per-word of the short works might be prohibitive, and I might try to negotiate a bulk discount, or find someone willing to do it cheaper.  Also there are substantial Greek remains, mostly from Epiphanius’ Panarion.  We have a translation of that in English already, so that raises other questions.  We’ll see what to do with this when we get there.

In other news, I’m hoping to persuade a gentleman familiar with Cyril of Alexandria’s works to finish off the translation of his Commentary on Isaiah.  This was started by Robert C. Hill, who died after translating the commentary as far as Isaiah 50.  Holy Cross Press published what he had done in 3 volumes, as I have blogged before.  To this end, I have presented him with a copy of the Hill translation.  But of course there is no obligation on him to do so.

I’ve also come across a post on Ancient World Online, directing my attention to a site listing patristic commentaries on Genesis, and referencing a book from 1912 (?) as the source.  I will look further into this next week, if time and tent-making permit.

Back in the winter, I did commission a translation of Theodore of Mopsuestia on Genesis 1-3, whose fragments are preserved in Syriac and published by Sachau.  Unfortunately the translator went silent on me, and I have therefore rerouted the money put aside for this to other purposes.  Never mind.  One day it will happen, if I am spared, and if I find someone with the necessary language skills.