In my last post, en route to discussing my latest attempt at publishing both a scholarly and a trade book on the same topic, I talked about how I took on the task of doing a new Greek-English edition of the Apostolic Fathers for the Loeb Classical Library. At the end of the post I indicated that doing that edition was one of the hardest things I have ever done. There were lots of things that made it very difficult – deciding which form of the Greek text to use for each of the writings included (i.e. what to do in the many places where the manuscripts differed from one another), doing all the research in order to write up competent and relatively complete Introductions to each text, studying the history of research into various problems posed by the Apostolic Fathers, from the 17th century until today, and so on.
But the hardest part was the translation itself. The Greek of the Apostolic Fathers is not incredibly difficult, as far as Greek goes. It is more difficult than most of the New Testament, but not nearly as difficult as most classical authors. (Like the NT, it is the kind of Greek called “koine” [pronounced Coin-ay, rhymes with payday]; this was the common language of regular folk at the time, not the highbrow language of upper crust elite literary authors.) Still, it’s difficult enough. But what I found in doing this, my first really big translation project, was that it is hard not only to read the Greek but even more to put the Greek into English.
So here’s the deal. For most of my professional life – and for my student life before that – I have actively translated Greek texts both by myself and in communal settings. When you’re reading, say, 1 Corinthians in Greek to yourself, you do not try to produce a polished translation for others to read; you get the nuances of what the Greek is saying and understand it as Greek, not as English in another language (if that makes sense). Often you don’t even choose one English word over another in order to understand what the author, in this case Paul, is saying. You read it and try to understand it as Greek.
Communal settings are, for example, in the….
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