The Internet Classics Archive.
March 7, 2002 12:31 PM   Subscribe

The Internet Classics Archive. Along with the Perseus Project, part of an expanding effort to put all the wisdom of ages gone by online. After all, it's all in the public domain, right? There are so many translations of the ancient texts, so many onlne analyses by lunatics...when you search online for that quote from the Iliad, how much discretion do you use in determining how good the translation and commentary is? What are the most legitimate online sources for accessing apocryphal knowledge?
posted by bingo (12 comments total)
If I don't have a good translator for Latin/Greek/Arabic listed in my notes when I'm rummaging through the texts, I usually just stick to the penguin editions.. If you have a little grounding in the languages, its usually not hard to spot those who add bits to the translations.. I hate flowery translations. There's also always the problem in languages like arabic of the million and one meanings to words..
posted by Mossy at 12:48 PM on March 7, 2002

I use whatever comes to hand and then add a note that I have altered a few things that seemed poorly translated. But of course I don';t specify any changes since I have not made any. No one knows. And readers think you mighty smart.
posted by Postroad at 1:14 PM on March 7, 2002

The Perseus Project is a beautiful, beautiful thing. If you know just a little bit of Greek, Perseus makes it possible to do a pretty decent reality check on a translation, without having to spend hours crawling through a lexicon. If it's a short passage, and you know the language reasonably well, you can even translate it yourself

Judging a good translation is tricky, though, because the more you need a translation, the harder it is to tell if it's any good. Reading prefaces to translations is helpful, because you can at least tell where the translator's coming from. Looking up key words in the original can also help.

Online translations are kind of a mixed bag. The Internet Classics Archive has Jowett's exceedingly poor version of Plato, but it also has W.D. Ross's version of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, which is excellent as long as you look up the Greek equivalents for his vocabulary, and Heath's Euclid, which is almost perfect.
posted by moss at 2:20 PM on March 7, 2002

Both Mossy and moss are classicists. What are the odds?
posted by dhartung at 2:22 PM on March 7, 2002

The Internet Sacred Text Archive has a HUGE collection.
posted by euphorb at 2:44 PM on March 7, 2002

I am not smart enough to contribute to this discussion.

The Kilmartin and Moncrief proust is nice tho
posted by Settle at 3:27 PM on March 7, 2002

heh dhartung, more people are probably interested in classics than you would imagine - its quite fun if you've got the time to have a look at where our current day languages stemmed from..

There are two main problems with almost all translations:

1) If its a poetic piece, you'll invariably lose some of the rhythm - Ovids Metamorphoses sound quite nice until you translate them, and something like the Qu'ran, quite poetic in arabic, sounds positively bizzare in English.. And this causes major problems when you see how people in days gone by tried to be clever and arty with most of their writings, not just poetry..

2) The meanings.. The translator has to a) figure out which of the meanings of a word is present in the text, and b) attempt to maintain the continuity of it by choosing the appropriate one if choices are presented. The meaning of meanings (if you get what I mean), also changes over time of course, so allusions which the passage may have cast become lost/make no sense in todays world lacking in camels..

The rhyme and the reason I suppose.. Still, given some work, and many, many footnotes.. :)

That, I suppose, is the best thing a translation can have - a study guide/analysis associated with it which will explain all those subtleties..

Some other usefulish sites are:
Project Gutenberg - useful for those hard to find books
The Vergil Project - guess what this is about..
Study links - lotsa lotsa links neatly organised

Thanks for the Internet Sacred Text Archive euphorb, will have a browse through there tmrw..
posted by Mossy at 4:56 PM on March 7, 2002

What about printed translations? Anyone have an opinion about that ubiquitious series of red and green hardcover pocket books...I forget the name...they have all the classic stuff, most of it with Latin translations on the opposing pages.
posted by bingo at 9:27 AM on March 8, 2002

What are the most legitimate online sources for accessing apocryphal knowledge?

Email a Classicist — they need the work.
posted by eatitlive at 1:46 PM on March 8, 2002

Anyone have an opinion about that ubiquitious series of red and green hardcover pocket books?

The Loeb editions. Not generally nice translations for reading, necessarrily, they're a little stilted. And always in prose (I can't think of a Loeb translation of verse that is actually rendered in verse). I remember them being very handy when I was a student, like any bilingual edition, but now that my official education's over and I just pick up classics in translation, I usually pick either whatever is easily obtainable (Penguin Classics I'm pretty biased for) or whatever is making waves, like Fagels's Homer from a few years ago or the Pinsky Dante (granted, that's medieval, but I still mention it if only to say that Allen Mandelbaum's trans. is lots more funner to read, and he's also done great versions of Ovid and Vergil).
posted by sherman at 3:04 PM on March 8, 2002

While I've got you classicists here, what's the best Iliad translation? And what do you think of the Alexander Pope version done in rhyme? Does that correspond to the style of the original, or is it a total joke?
posted by bingo at 4:04 PM on March 8, 2002

Pope's Iliad is brilliant and composed, a masterpiece of English Neoclassicism. However, Pope's meter, in heroic couplets, bears no resemblance to the (unrhymed) dactylic hexameter of Homer. Also, you won't find any of Homer's cadence and repetition in Pope. If reading Homer is like riding the darkening seas, then reading Pope like walking on the shore hoping to keep your pants dry.

Samuel Butler has a decent prose translation that might as well be verse. You hear lot's of praise for Richard Lattimore's literal translation of the Greek into modern verse (problem is, he sometimes forgets his English). Robert Fagels' translation is solid and vivid (puts the "I see!" back in epic). Fagels is my pick — better than any translation I've encountered, this is the translation that feels most like Homer.

I recommend you sample various translations before settling on the one that best suits your needs: Use Pope if you want an Iliad-as-high-literature. Use Butler if you can't get a better Iliad. Use Lattimore if you want a foreign Iliad. Use Fagels if you want an Iliad to share with friends (goes well with a nice Pramnian wine, sprinkled with barley and grated goat's cheese).
posted by eatitlive at 11:05 PM on March 8, 2002

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