Monthly Archives: January 2015

Allan Bloom on Translating Plato.

After I wrote my paper on translating Medea last quarter, I am continuing with that theme in this terms’ Plato course.  We are reading Crito and Euthyphro.  I’m focusing on the Crito, but am also reading literature about other Plato translations.  I don’t agree with his method, but I do appreciate Republic translator Allan Bloom’s honesty.

This book is intended to be a literal translation.  […]  Such a translation is intended to be useful to the serious student, the one who wishes and is able to arrive at his own understanding of the work.  He must be emancipated from the tyranny of the translator, given the means of transcending the limitations of the translator’s interpretation, enabled to discover the subtitles of the elusive original.  The only way to provide the reader with this independence is by a slavish, even if sometimes cumbersome, literalness — insofar as possible always using the same English equivalent for the same Greek word. (xi)

Literal translation makes the Republic a difficult book to read; but it is in itself a difficult book, and our historical situation makes it doubly difficult for us.  This must not be hidden.  Plato intended his works essentially for the intelligent and industrious few, a natural aristocracy determined neither by birth nor wealth, and this translation attempts to do nothing which would contradict that intention. (xviii)

(Taken from the Preface to Allan Bloom, trans., The Republic of Plato, 1968.)

Review: A Vulgate Old Testament Reader.

When learning ancient languages, I have gone back and forth between inductive and deductive approaches.  So first-year Greek was painful, because there was so much grammar drilling, but my four months of very inductive, surah-by-surah Arabic lessons left me with little ability to read an unfamiliar text.  When I was teaching myself Latin this summer with Wheelock’s Latin, I stopped halfway through the text to spend some time with Scott Goins’ useful reader in Vulgate Latin.

1-59333-215-7Goins bills this as a reader for intermediate Latin students in Vulgate Latin.  Because the Vulgate’s Latin is so simple, very little background is needed to start reading it, even if some nuances might by missed by the beginner.  Goins selects several of the most well-known Old Testament passages and includes them: hits such as the creation in Genesis, the Ten Commandments in Exodus, David’s fight with Goliath, ten different psalms, and the entire story of Jonah.  (You can view the table of contents on Google Books.)  I really liked the variety of the selections included, although he was a little light on Pentateuch readings.

Each selection has running vocabulary at the bottom of the page, but after three uses of any word he includes an asterisk next to subsequent uses to let the reader know they should memorize that word.  The last two readings had no glosses at all, forcing the student to rely on memory and the glossary in the back of the book.

Goins’ introduction includes a brief history of Jerome and the Vulgate, a guide to Latin pronunciation both classical and medieval, and a brief list of basic vocabulary to memorize. He also has a short bibliography of useful books for the student of Vulgar Latin.  Though adequate for intermediate students, his introduction and bibliography are based on survey texts and omit many of the more recent scholarship on Jerome (e.g. Tkacz’ article or Michael Graves’ scholarship).  A better place to go would be Stefan Rebenich’s recent introduction to Jerome, which includes excerpts from the several different types of writing he did.

The Vulgate is a tricky text for Latin students, because often they already know what it will say.  While that could be seen as a defect allowing students to be lazy, it enabled me to connect with the Latin more, because I was personally and spiritually interested in what I was reading.  Knowing the Latin of the Vulgate is also important to understand medieval theologians, who constantly quote and allude to the Vulgate.  More importantly, it was a nice break from Wheelock’s relentless grammar lessons because it let me get comfortable with reading long Latin passages.

Overall, this was a very useful book, especially alongside Smith’s volume which I recently reviewed.  I can only hope that Goins decides to produce an accompanying volume for the  Vulgate New Testament!

Review: Ecclesiastical, Medieval, and Neo-Latin Sentences.

7982Last summer I taught myself Latin using Wheelock’s Latin, Groton and May’s 38 Latin Stories, and Richard Upsher Smith, Jr.’s Ecclesiastical, Medieval, and Neo-Latin Sentences.  One of the frustrations of being interested in Medieval Latin is the scarcity of teaching resources.  While classical authors such as Ovid, Vergil, and Catullus have numerous glossed readers and commentaries for students, Augustine, Bonaventure, and Aquinas do not.  So I was excited to find this volume, which was just published this year by Bolchazy-Carducci, a specialist in Greek and Latin teaching texts.  Smith, a professor at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, provides medieval and ecclesiastical Latin sentences to accompany Wheelock’s gold standard Latin textbook.

For every chapter of Wheelock, Smith provides 15 Latin sentences.  The blend is diverse: some Vulgate excerpts, a few quotes from patristic and medieval theological Latin, and often a few bits from contemporary Latin liturgy or Vatican II documents thrown in.  I really like how Smith provides the sources for his excerpts, so that the reader can dive further into a text if they wish.  I also like that he grades each sentence in order of difficulty.  (I felt better if I couldn’t get a sentence when I saw that it had an “A” for “Advanced”!)  My only complain here is that he often fails to provide context for more obscure sentences.  This is particularly a problem for quotes from scholastic or astronomical treatises.

In the second part of the book, Smith provides 16 readings drawn from the Vulgate, Augustine, Latin hymns, Bede, and other famous Latin writers.  Trying to include many different types of literature, he even includes a monastery charter and an entire passage from the scholastic Summa of Thomas Aquinas.  I haven’t had the chance to work through these yet, so I can’t comment on them too much, but he gives glosses for everything.

Then come the appendices.  He has a 12-page outline of differences between medieval and classical Latin, as well as an extensive bibliography of the Latin texts he draws from, with many short biographies of Latin authors.  At the end there is an index of every author and book of scripture from which he included exercises.

For the student using Wheelock’s Latin who wants some exposure to ecclesiastical and medieval texts, there is no need to justify this book.  Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel and write a new Latin textbook, Smith has added to what is already the gold standard in many high school and college Latin programs.  This book would also be very useful for someone trained in classical Latin who wants a segue into medieval and ecclesiastical texts. Working through Smith gives the student an idea of some of the medieval and ecclesiastical Latin authors out there, and provides basic vocabulary to understand those texts.

But for the beginning student with no Latin and no prescribed textbook, why not use Collins’ A Primer of Ecclesiastical Latin?  Before Wheelock’s, I tried Collins’ book, and found it to be less useful for self-teaching.  Because Wheelock’s is so popular, there is a wealth of study aids, flashcard sets, and accompanying volumes (like Smith’s) to use alongside it.  Plus Wheelock’s is just fun in a way that Collins is not, and it exposes the student to classical authors and Roman culture along with the grammar.  Having tried both methods, I think it better to use Wheelock’s with Smith’s volume, rather than Collins’ by itself.

Smith writes in his preface that as medieval studies grows, more books like his will be needed.  In future posts I will review some of these recent texts, such as Randall Meissen’s Scholastic Latin: An Intermediate Course and Scott Goins’ A Vulgate Old Testament Reader.  And no student of medieval Latin should be without Leo Stelten’s Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Latin.