From my diary

I have just spent four hours on an application for grant funding.  I ache as much as if I had been doing manual labour!  Why is this process so awful?  I did smile, though, at the assurances that the process is not intended to be a barrier to applicants – an assurance contained in a PDF guide to applying which was itself 57 pages long!

The application is for money to translate from Old Slavonic Methodius’ De resurrectione and De autexusio, plus the Greek fragments of each, plus whatever remains of other works in Greek.  The price tag is a lot more than I can afford to spend, and the work does need doing.

After all, nobody is ever likely to translate Methodius into English again.  An academic would need Greek and Old Slavonic, and that isn’t such a common combination.  And, as we all know, the way that research funding is set up, just making a translation is not “research”.  So how does it ever get to happen?

Anyway I thought I’d see if anyone might fund the work.

It’s slightly daunting to realise that the timescale for the project is 18 months of my life!  Ouch!  I just wish I could think of some way to get some money out of it myself.  A good project is one that profits everyone.

I’ve produced a combined version of De Lepra, and I’ve today had back some comments from Ralph Cleminson on the differences between the Old Slavonic and the Greek.  I hope to work on this later today, and I hope to get it out of the door.

I rather grudge the time on that application.  I had so much useful to do, and that time is all gone.  Rats!  And I know that I need to reread that application and make sure it explicitly answers the questions asked, rather than rambling.

It’s probably all time wasted.  But I do have to try.

Thinking about Methodius, De resurrectione and De autexusio

This evening I combined the English translation of the Old Slavonic text of De Lepra with the translation of the Greek fragments of the same work.  The latter were considerably fuller, where I had both, and sometimes with startling differences.  However I hope to have this completed before too long.

This will complete the four short works of Methodius, leaving some Greek fragments, but also two large works: the De resurrectione and the De autexusio (On Free will).  The latter has a French translation by Vaillant.

I’ve worked out the price of translating both, and it is far beyond my means.  If it is to be done, it must be done by a grant.  Fortunately I have such a body in mind, so this evening I have been doing some calculations.

It is relatively straightforward to work out a price for the Old Slavonic of both works, based on the page count of the manuscript.  That said, Vaillant did edit the Old Slavonic text, so in this case we do have an edition to work from.

But working out a price for the Greek is much harder.  It turns out that there is an awful lot of Greek extant for these works.  The total for the Greek is 50% of the total for the Old Slavonic!

A further issue came to my attention when skimming through Vaillant’s preface.  It seems that the Old Slavonic translation is often almost unintelligible.

The reason for this, says Vaillant, is that the translator simply substituted for each Greek word the equivalent term in Old Slavonic, without bothering much about whether the resulting sentence made sense!  In fact he says that often the best thing to do is to reverse the process – to work out what Greek word lies behind each Slavonic word, and then see what the sentence actually originally meant in the Greek!

If we are to take this seriously – and translators are known to exaggerate the difficulty of their achievement sometimes, at the behest of their publishers – then this would mean that only a translator fluent in both Greek and Old Slavonic could make a translation of Methodius.  Only a native English speaker fluent in Greek and Old Slavonic could make an English translation.  Does anyone know of such a prodigy?

But I suspect that this is a tall tale.  Doubtless this may sometimes be the case; but I don’t think that I should abandon the effort of getting a translation made for such a reason.

It is late now, tho, so the application process will have to wait until another day.

One other point caught my eye.  Interestingly Vaillant refers to an unpublished French translation of an Armenian recension of De autexusio.  I wonder where that is now?

Methodius of Olympus, On the Leech – now online in English

The third of the short works by Methodius of Olympus, On the leech (De sanguisuaga) is now available online, thanks once again to Ralph Cleminson who has translated it from Old Slavonic for us all.  It’s an explanation of a couple of passages from the Old Testament.

Here are the files:

I have also uploaded them to Archive.org here.

As usual, I make these files and their contents public domain.  Use them in any way you like!

From my diary

Work is continuing on Methodius of Olympus.  There has been no progress for just over a week, thanks to a contaminated sandwich purchased at a garage, and then some other trivial but time-consuming difficulties.  It would be nice, sometimes, to be a man of independent means!

However a translation of Methodius “On the Leech” has arrived, and will appear as soon as I can edit it.

The translation of De Lepra was done a little while ago, but we have been waiting for a translation of the Greek fragments of this work.  This has arrived, but I have not been able to look at it yet.

I’m hoping that I shall be able to deal with both soon.

Before I fell ill, I had located a possible source for a grant to translate the two major works of Methodius extant in Old Slavonic.  These are sufficiently lengthy that the price is a little beyond my own purse, but it looks highly likely that a grant may be possible.

Methodius of Olympus, De Cibis – now online in English

Once again Ralph Cleminson has very kindly translated for us a work by Methodius of Olympus out of the Old Slavonic, in which alone it now survives, and made the first-ever English translation!

Dr Cleminson has done if anything a better job here than with the previous text, De Vita.  I’ve also incorporated into the footnotes some of his explanatory material on points that I found obscure, and that I think might be of general interest.

One point of general interest – Dr C. draws attention to a linguistic feature identified as a “Preslavism” – not, as I thought, a pre-Slavism, but rather something associated with the Bulgarian city of Preslav.  It was in Preslav, after the death of SS Cyril and Methodius, that a translation movement came into being in the 9th century, translating material from Greek into Old Slavonic.

The files above may also be found at Archive.org here.  As usual, I have made this a public domain text: do whatever you like with them!

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.

Methodius, On Life and Rational Action – online in English

Today I am quite pleased to be able – at long last! – to upload the first English translation of De Vita, On Life and Rational Action, by Methodius of Olympus.

The translation was made by Ralph Cleminson, from the unpublished Old Slavonic text, which alone has survived.  This was accessed using the online images of manuscript 40 of the Holy Trinity-St Sergius Lavra in Russia.

Here it is:

I have also made the files available at Archive.org here.

As usual, I make these files and their contents public domain.  Do whatever you like with them, personal, educational or commercial.

We all owe Dr Cleminson a debt of thanks.  I have also asked him to translate some more Methodius, and he has agreed in principle.  The next one is likely to be De cibis.

From my diary

I hope to upload Methodius On life and rational activity soon.  The translation is done, and paid for (as of today), and only needs a tweak to my introductory footnote.

Less good news: the Trinity-St Sergius Lavra site,  which hosts the Old Slavonic manuscripts that we are using, is offline.  Fortunately I did download the images of the two Methodius manuscripts so we are not completely stuck.  I will pop them onto a keydrive and post them to the translator.

This is a warning, tho, that these online collections of manuscripts are very fragile.  In the case of most such sites, I wouldn’t even be able to download the images.

I’ve seen the list of papers for the quadrennial Oxford Patristics Conference, 2015, which is due to start on 10th August.  Invitations went out last year, and I looked at the price for the week, and I looked at the cost of staying in the accommodation (which you do want to do), and I thought about the financial loss involved in being away from work for a week.  I also thought about the problem of car parking, which they make so difficult and expensive, and the lousy quality of the accommodation.  And … I decided not to go.

In truth I didn’t enjoy my conference all that much.  Booking late, I ended up in a poor room in Queens College, which undoubtedly affected my mood rather.

Having made that decision, I looked at the papers with some trepidation.  Would it be full of items that I would ache to be present at?  Things that I would really want to be present for?

In fact, and I hate to say it, the papers look very dull.  An awful lot of them seem to be by Americans, on the sort of topics that might be given to an undergraduate.  So few of these papers looked interesting!

I don’t know whether it is just me, or whether there is a genuine diminution in quality.  The answer is probably a bit of both, in truth.  There will be 900 people there.  I’d like to mix with patristics people, it is true.  But … I think I’ll be happier not to attend.

From my diary

Some of the works of Methodius of Olympus (d. 311 AD) no longer exist in Greek.  But an unpublished Old Slavonic version of a few does exist.  Recently a couple of manuscripts of this appeared online on a Russian site; and a little while ago I commissioned a translation of “On life and rational activity”.

Last night I received the translation and it seems fine.  I have sent off a cheque for it today – unusually, in these days of instant funds transfer – but of course I shan’t put it online until the money has reached the translator, and it becomes mine and, therefore, public domain as usual.

The sermon – for such it is – is well adapted to these present days of uncertainty.  The actual Slavonic is rather corrupt, and somewhat awkward at points, but the work is still comprehensible.  The translator has stated as his opinion that the corruption is probably older than all the exemplars.

This evening I shall look at the other sermons by Methodius, and do some calculations of word counts, and see if perhaps we can get some more of these translated too.

I wonder if there is an index or clavis of Old Slavonic literature, like that for Greek in the Clavis Patrum Graecorum?  I always like to reference such indices if they exist.

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.