The Duty to Translate: Was: Re: Notitia Dignitatum
Carl W. Conrad
cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Tue Dec 1 11:29:53 EST 1998
At 10:40 AM -0500 12/1/98, TonyProst at aol.com wrote:
> I would like to lay a challenge to classicists on the list, and propose that
> there is a duty to translate. Only people with particular skills are able to
> do this, and there remain many (countless?) documents which require
> translation into English either for the first time, or modernly.
> At this time in history, when raw information is available as never before,
> these documents of antiquity should be available. And now, during a
> of classics studies, our classicists should affirmatively take on the task of
> translating as a duty to modern civilization.
> Hence, I challenge every person reading this who has the skills, to select a
> document of particular interest to him, and to aggressively search for
> underrepresented manuscripts, and to produce new translations. If you have
> these skills, use them for the benefit of humanity. If each capable
> scholar or
> amateur on this list were to translate one document, the quantum of human
> knowledge would be expanded enormously.
> So, guys and gals, rev up those lexicons, and do your duty to mankind!
While I don't disagree (quite) with EVERYTHING in the above, some of its
assumptions (and conclusions drawn from them) seem at least a bit dubious
"Only people with particular skills are able to do this, and there remain
many (countless?) documents which require translation into English either
for the first time, or modernly."
I rather suspect that many of those who do have the particular skills
called for don't recognize that they have them; on the other, hand, I think
that some of those who don't have them are nevertheless doing some of the
As for the second part of this, I'm not really sure that there are that
many ancient documents that remain untranslated into a modern language
really NEED to be translated. I think that the persons who might most
likely need to read them can and usually do go ahead and acquire the
languages needed to read them in the original language--I just don't
believe that works of MAJOR importance continue to lie untranslated. What
is produced, of course, is new translations of works that have been
translated before--and that's all to the good, inasmuch as (a) tastes
differ, and (b) by and large, the quality versions do rise to the top. I
can't think offhand of anything I'd like to see translated into English
other than the entire corpus of Origen--but: I don't know if that's really
even desirable, inasmuch as much of Origen is being translated into French
that is of a better quality than the English one might expect to see.
Moreover, I feel that here too it makes more sense for those who really
want to read and understand Origen to learn Greek. And finally, unless
we're speaking of electronic publication only (and to some degree, even
then), there's the question of who will pay the costs of this new avalanche
Finally, I'm not so readily convinced that we are experiencing a real
"resurgence of classical studies." I'd like to see something more than a
blip on a flat line to reassure me of the proposition. I don't really think
classical studies are dying or moribund either, but a "resurgence" strikes
me as highly charged rhetoric for what's going on.
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649
cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu OR cconrad at yancey.main.nc.us
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