A German translation of my book Learning Latin the Ancient Way (Cambridge 2016) was published last month by the Swiss press Schwabe with the title Latein lernen wie in der Antike. It’s a fantastic translation, in places better than the original, and so far it has been quite a hit, with the German Classicists’ Association (Deutscher Altphilologenverband) naming it their Publication of the Month. So I am super pleased!
The process behind this publication began in 2019, when a lovely woman named Marion Schneider contacted me out of the blue to say she wanted to translate the book to facilitate its use in German schools. Naturally I thought this was a great idea, and so did my publisher, Cambridge University Press; convincing Schwabe took a little longer, but eventually they came round, and I hope they won’t regret it. So early in 2020 I went to Würzburg to show Marion how the ancient line-for-line translation system works. After all, translating this book was not going to be simply a task of converting English to German. Much of the book consists of bilingual texts that were originally Latin and Greek in line-for-line equivalents, where I have replaced the Greek with English; Marion was going to have to replace the Greek with German, still keeping the original layout. This line-for-line translation is tricky to do in English, because of our fixed word order, and works better in German because of that language’s greater flexibility. So by the end of my session with Marion I was getting pretty jealous, because I could already see that her version of some texts was going to come out better than mine had.
For example, a schoolboy’s explanation of what one of his classmates did was originally written like this in Latin (left-hand column) and Greek (right-hand column), with the two languages lining up so that on each line the Latin and the Greek said exactly the same thing:
|Sed statim||Ἀλλ’ εὐθέως|
|dictavit mihi||ὑπαγόρευσέν μοι|
A literal translation of that into English, keeping the ancient line-for-line equivalent, would have looked like this and would not have made much sense:
|Sed statim||But at once|
|dictavit mihi||dictated to me|
|condiscipulus.||a fellow student.|
So in Learning Latin the Ancient Way I had to do this (§2.1.7):
|Sed statim||But at once|
|dictavit mihi||a fellow student dictated to me.|
But because German allows a subject to follow its verb, Marion was able to match the ancient text more precisely, like this:
|Sed statim||Aber sofort|
|dictavit mihi||diktierte mir|
Right after my meeting with Marion the pandemic hit, and I didn’t hear any more from her for so long that I thought she must have abandoned the project. But she was working away on it, and about a year later she sent me the complete translation. We took the opportunity to fix some mistakes in the original version; for example one of my emendations to a Latin text had turned out to be wrong, so it was handy to be able to eliminate that. And then Schwabe got to work, and I did not have to worry about the copyeditor’s queries or read the proofs or anything – Marion did all the work, and I get to enjoy the result!
Written by Professor Eleanor Dickey