Philology: Introduction to the Significance of Language Analysis

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When you first enter an ancient history or archaeology degree you are introduced to several sets of material evidence. Notably, the archaeology, material evidence, and philological evidence. But the philological side is more often than not rarely mentioned again. This is quite a shame considering some of the most interesting and revealing information comes from the ancient written sources. People generally fall into the trap of ignoring the writing in favour of the archaeology and artefacts and frankly you can’t really blame them because humans are naturally attracted to pretty visual things. I see this every day with the likes and shares on my Facebook page. But philology is all important too and if students can learn even a little about ancient writing and textual criticism, a whole new side to history and analysis opens up to them as it should.

DSCN0428BB - Clay Tablets with Liner B Script
DSCN0428BB – Clay Tablets with Liner B Script (Photo credit: archer10 (Dennis))

Philology is derived from the Greek terms φίλος (love) and λόγος (word, reason) and literally means a ‘love of words’. It is the study of language in literary sources and is a combination of literary studies, history and linguistics. Philology is generally associated with Greek and Classical Latin, in which it is termed philologia. The study of philology originated in European Renaissance Humanism in regards to Classical Philology but this has since been combined to include in its definition the study of both European and non-European languages. The idea of philology has been carried through the Greek and Latin literature into the English language around the sixteenth century through the French term philologie meaning also a ‘love of literature’ from the same word roots.

Generally philology has a focus on historical development. It helps establish the authenticity of literary texts and their original form and with this the determination of their meaning. It is a branch of knowledge that deals with the structure, historical development and relationships of a language or languages. This makes it all the more significant to study as language is one of the main building blocks of civilisation.

There are several branches of philological studies that can also be undertaken:

Comparative philology is a branch of philology which analyses the relationship or correspondences between languages. For instance, the commonalities between Latin and Etruscan or further flung languages of Asian or African provinces. It uses pre-determined techniques to discover whether languages hold common ancestors or influences. It uses comparison of grammar and spelling which was first deemed useful in the 19th century and has developed ever since. The study of comparative philology was originally defined by Sir William Jones‘ discovery in 1786 that Sanskrit was related to Greek and German as well as Latin.

Cognitive philology studies written and oral texts in consideration of the human mental processes. It uses science to compare the results of research using psychological and artificial systems.

Reconstruction of the missing Greek text on th...
Reconstruction of the missing Greek text on the Rosetta Stone

Decipherment is another branch of philology which looks at resurrecting dead languages and previously unread texts such as done and achieved by Jean-Francois Champollion in the decipherment of Hieroglyphs with the use of the Rosetta Stone. And more recently by Michael Ventris in the decipherment of Linear B. Decipherment would be key to the understanding of still little understood languages such as Linear A. Decipherment uses known languages, grammatical tools and vocabulary to find and apply comparisons within an unread text. By doing so more of the text can be read gradually as similarities and grammatical forms become better understood. The remaining text can then be filled in through further comparison, analysis, and elimination of incorrect solutions.

Textual philology editing is yet another branch of philology with includes the study of texts and their history in a sense including textual criticism. This branch was created in relation to the long traditions of Biblical studies; in particular with the variations of manuscripts. It looks at the authorship, date and provenance of the text to place it in its historical context and to produce ‘critical editions’ of the texts.

Significant Examples:

The importance of philology is exhibited in its use and achievements. Without philology the bible translation would be even more wrong, trust me read it in the original Greek. We would not be able to translate hieroglyphs, Linear B, Linear A, Sanskrit, any ancient language. Our entire written past would be blank, we would not have the information we have now on mathematics, social structure, philosophy, science, medicine, civilisation, transport, engineering, marketing, accounting, well anything really, knowledge would not have been rediscovered or passed on without the ability to study texts and language. Understand the love of words.

Antiochia ad Cragum: Archaeology Blog 2013

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Deutsch: Burgberg mit Zitadelle von Antiochia ...
Fortress above Antiochia ad Cragum

Only eleven days until travel and digging resumes for the 2013 season. This year we will be working on the agora it seems, shop complex and mosaic so you are bound to see lots of photos and interesting reports from this years season. So here is some background information on this amazing site where we will be digging and translating.

Excavations are currently being undertaken by the Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project headed by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the area of Rough Cilicia in modern Turkey.[1] The excavation site of Antiochia ad Cragum (Αντιόχεια Κράγου) is located about 8 miles to the East of the modern town of Gazipaşa, in the area of the village of Guney. Over the centuries, Antiochia ad Cragum has also been known by the names of Antiochetta and Antiochia Parva which basically translates to ‘little Antiochia’. The additional name ‘ad Cragum’ comes from the site’s position on the steep cliffs (Cragum) overlooking the Mediterranean coast in Southern Anatolia. The site covers an area of around three hectares and contains the remains of baths, market places, colonnaded streets with a gateway, an early Christian basilica, monumental tombs, a temple, and several unidentified buildings. The city itself was built on the sloping ground that comes down from the Taurus Mountain range which terminates at the shore creating steep cliffs; in some places several hundred metres high. The temple complex is situated on the highest point of the city and most of the building material remains though in a collapsed state. There is also evidence of a gymnasium complex nearby.

The harbour at Antiochia ad Cragum measures about 250,000m squared and is one of the few large, safe harbours along the coast East of Alanya.[2] On its Eastern side are two small coves suitable for one or two ships but with limited opportunity for shipping and fishing due to wave activities. The area is well situated as a defensible position against invaders. Recent terrestrial survey at Antiochia ad Cragum has had emphasis on finding evidence of pirate activity which has been limited, but it has turned up pottery principally from the Byzantine Period with additional pottery from the late Bronze Age, Hellenistic and Roman Periods.[3] Thirty stone weights and anchors have been uncovered, alongside lead stocks from wooden anchors and almost twenty iron anchors representing the early Roman through Ottoman periods.[4] There is little evidence of pre-Roman occupation at the fortress or pirate’s cove at Antiochia ad Cragum. Banana terracing may have caused much of the evidence to have been erased. The maritime survey has turned up shipping jars, transport amphoraes and anchors from the Byzantine, Roman and Hellenistic periods as well as a range of miscellaneous items. It is not possible to date the stone weights and anchors at present, but further research may assist in their analysis.[5] Many of them are small and likely to represent local fishing activities over a long period of time. The assemblage appears to indicate early activity to the West of the harbor moving East over time.[6] Access to the site these days is through the Guney village grave yard and past the old school house which is now used as the excavation’s artefact and equipment house.

History of the Site

The city of Antiochia ad Cragum was officially founded by Antiochis IV around 170 BC when he came to rule over Rough Cilicia. The site and its harbor likely served as one of the many havens for Cilician pirates along the South Anatolian coast, this is because of its small coves and hidden inlets. Unfortunately no definite pirate related artefacts or buildings are visible in the modern day. Antiochia ad Cragum’s pirate past ended with Pompey’s victory in the first century BC and the takeover of Antiochia IV. Initial occupation appears to have occurred in the Classical and Hellenistic periods, followed by a surge of activity in the Roman periods.[7] The area of Antiochia ad Cragum is also neighboured by a citadel on the Western peninsula which was built by Armenian princes and a well-preserved necropolis on the South-Eastern peninsula.

Pompey ended the pirate menace in 67 AD with a naval victory at nearby Korakesion, modern day Alanya. The emperor Gaius gave control of Rough Cilicia after this episode to the client king of Rome, Antiochis IV of Commagene around AD 38 and later in 41 AD under Claudius. After Pompey’s victory he founded and named Antiochia after himself but was removed by Vespasian in 72 AD. With this later change of control, Antiochia ad Cragum and the rest of Rough Cilicia fell under direct Roman rule as part of the enlarged Roman province of Cilicia. The numismatic evidence left at the site shows that there was a working mint at Antiochia for several centuries after the Roman takeover. One coin dates from 139-161 AD and reads of Marcus Aurelius as Caesar on the obverse with a nude male god holding a long sceptre and a mantle over his shoulder.[8] Other coins from Antiochia ad Cragum date from the mid-third century AD, with examples detailing Philip I and Trajan Decius.[9]

History of Excavations

The Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project (ACARP) was founded by Professor Michael Hoff from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Rhys Townsend from Clark University in 2005. ACARP started off as a facet of the regional survey, the Rough Cilicia Archaeological Survey Project (RCASP) which ran under the field direction of Nicholas Rauh of Purdue University. The aim of RCASP was to document and record the physical remains of the major cities and minor sites within the survey zone, this zone included the site of Antiochia ad Cragum. The members of the RCASP research team have already prepared and published a number of publications detailing the progress of the survey.

In the summer of 2005 Hoff and Townsend formed the separate project at Antiochia ad Cragum with the collaboration of architectural engineer Ece Erdoğmuş who is also from the University of Nebraska.[10] Originally the project at Antiochia ad Cragum began operating under the aegis of the local archaeological museum in Alanya. But in 2008 it was granted a full excavation permit by the Archaeological Directorate of the Turkish Ministry of Culture. Professor Hoff is a professor of Art History in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he has been since 1989. Hoff specializes in Greek and Roman archaeology. Townsend is a lecturer with the Department of Visual and Performing Arts in the Art History Program at Clark University.[11]

The Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project has several goals which will hopefully be achieved in the next few years. The project will be pioneering in architectural and archaeological studies in Rough Cilicia. The main goal is the restoration of the temple to a sufficient point. The temple reconstruction is a huge work in progress as currently the project does not know how much of the architecture can be reused. This will not be determined until the marble blocked have been removed to the adjacent block fields, cleaned and repaired. After this has been achieved and the podium of the temple has been completely revealed and assessed, then the extent of the restoration can be determined and a full and detailed plan for restoration can be submitted to the Preservation Board of Historical Buildings in Antalya. This plan and its subsequent approval will be needed before final submission to the Ministry of Culture in Ankara for actual permission to carry out restoration.

The goals for the temple are shared by the local governmental authorities and the Ministry of Culture in a collaboration involving archaeologists, engineers, authorities and preservation officials. There is also a huge collaboration with the local villagers who reap many of the benefits of the excavations. They receive short-term employment opportunities as workers and guards on site and also long-term economic gain and education from the project. The site foreman who looks after the site year round is also a prominent member of the local community in the village of Guney and banana grower.

The first full season of digging at Antiochia ad Cragum began in 2005 and began by documenting the temple’s remains by surveying every block in situ with a total station. Two-hundred and seventy blocks were recorded which will be used to create an accurate plan of the blocks and their find spots. This allowed the researchers to determine the basic structure of the temple and some of the decoration and moulding that originally were associated into the structure. At this point, the dedicatee of the temple was unknown but bust remains suggest possibly Apollo or an Imperial personage. The 2005 season hypothesized that the temple belonged to the first half of the third century AD.[12]

The 2007 and 2008 seasons of the excavation saw a total of four-hundred and ten blocks catalogued, almost 50% of the material of the collapsed structure.[13] In 2008, the excavation team used Ground Penetrating Radar to survey for underground features. This first focused on the block field to make sure they were free of anomalies. The GPR unit was also used to survey the top of the temple platform and it indicated the presence of an intact arched vault underneath the stone platform. This chamber was already suspected because temples nearby at Selinus and Nephelion include the same form of feature. Additionally Professor Erdoğmuş began analysis of the block and lime mortar on site in order to gather authentic materials and assess the condition of the existing materials for the restoration process.[14]

The 2009 season saw the team continue the architectural block recording and removal as well as remote sensing and excavation. The architectural block removal focused on the western and southern quadrants of the collapsed temple with refined documentation and photographic techniques. The blocks were removed with the help of a local crane operator who became adept at carefully lifting the ancient material. By the end of the season there was three block fields being used and four-hundred and thirty-four blocks successfully moved and five-hundred and forty-six blocks catalogued with almost half drawn. This has left three sides of the temple cleared with the east side still to be cleared. GPR was also used to scan the suspected vaulted chamber. 2009 excavations of the deposits under the platform allowed further scans to be undertaken and further indication of the vaulted chamber. Fiberscopic Remote Inspection equipment was also utilized to investigate the original structural and architectural designs of the temple. Several cavities were investigated but unfortunately none allowed for deep probing.[15]

The excavations focused on the temple mound in 2009 starting with two small trenches (001 and 002) in the northern quadrant. Trench 001 revealed a long wall running parallel to the cella wall alongside the Eastern side of the temple podium. Much pottery and a frieze fragment was uncovered as well as a decorated columnar drum fragment. Trench 002 revealed little information concerning post-antique usage of the structure. Thick marble fragments of a floor were uncovered in both trenches 001 and 002. The suspected chamber vault’s entrance remained undiscovered after no evidence of an internal staircase was found. A trench 003 was also excavated to probe the exterior rear façade of the temple. Excavation through the fill around the temple revealed no discernible stratigraphy. Trench 003 also revealed the top of the base moulding of the temple supporting a large orthostate course.

Erdogmus, E., Buckley, C.M., and H.Brink, ‘The Temple of Antioch: A Study of Abroad Internship for Architectural Engineering Students’, AEI 2011: Building Integration Solutions: Proceedings of the 2011 Architectural Engineering National Conference, March 30 – April 2, 2011, (Oakland, 2011), 1-9

Hoff, M., “Interdisciplinary Assessment of a Roman Temple: Antiochia ad Kragos (Gazipasha, Turkey),” (with E. Erdogmus, R. Townsend, and S. Türkmen) in A. Görün, ed., Proceedings of the International Symposium on Studies on Historical Heritage, September 2007, Antalya, Turkey (Istanbul 2007) 163–70.

Hoff, M., “Bath Architecture of Western Rough Cilicia,” in Hoff and Townsend, eds. Rough Cilicia, New Historical and Archaeological Approaches. An International Symposium held at the University of Nebraska, October 2007 (Oxford 2011) 12 page ms; forthcoming.

Hoff, M., “Lamos in Rough Cilicia: An Architectural Survey,” (with R. Townsend) Olba 17. Proceedings of the IVth International Symposium on Cilician Archaeology, Mersin University, Mersin, Turkey, June 4–6, 2007 (Mersin 2009) 1-22.

Hoff, M., “Life in the Truck Lane: Urban Development in Western Rough Cilicia,” (with N. Rauh, R. Townsend, M. Dillon, M. Doyle, C. Ward, R. Rothaus, H. Caner, U. Akkemik, L. Wandsnider, S. Ozaner, and C. Dore) Jahreshefte des Österreichischen Archäologischen Institutes in Wien (JÖAI) 78 (2009) 169 page ms; forthcoming.

Hoff, M., “Rough Cilicia Archaeological Project: 2005 Season,” (with Rhys Townsend and Ece Erdogmus) 24. Arastirma Sonuçlari Toplantisi (24th Annual Archaeological Survey Symposium). Turkish Ministry of Culture (Ankara 2007) 231–44.

Hoff, M., “The Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project: Northeast Temple 2009 Season” (with E. Erdogmus and R. Townsend), Anadolu Akdenizi Arkeoloji Haberleri (ANMED) 8 (2010) 9-13.

Hoff, M., “The Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project: Northeast Temple 2008 Season” (with E. Erdogmus and R. Townsend), 27. Arastirma Sonuçlari Toplantisi (27th Annual Archaeological Survey Symposium).Turkish Ministry of Culture, Ankara 2009 (with R. Townsend and E. Erdogmus) 461-70.

Hoff, M., “The Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project: Northeast Temple 2008 Season” (with E. Erdogmus and R. Townsend), Anadolu Akdenizi Arkeoloji Haberleri (ANMED) 7 (2009) 6-11.

Hoff, M., “The Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project: Northeast Temple 2007 Season” (with E. Erdogmus and R. Townsend), 25. Arastirma Sonuçlari Toplantisi (25th Annual Archaeological Survey Symposium). Turkish Ministry of Culture (Ankara 2009) 95-102.

Hoff, M., “The Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project: Northeast Temple 2007 Season,” (with E. Erdogmus and R. Townsend, S. Türkmen) Anadolu Akdenizi Arkeoloji Haberleri (ANMED) 6 (2008) 95-99.

Hoff, M., “The Rough Cilicia Archaeological Project: 2005 Season,” (with Rhys Townsend and Ece Erdogmus) Anadolu Akdenizi Arkeoloji Haberleri (ANMED) 4 (2006) 99–104.
Hoff, M. and R. Townsend, eds. Rough Cilicia. New Historical and Archaeological Approaches. An International Symposium held at the University of Nebraska, October 2007 (Oxford 2011) forthcoming.

Marten, M.G., ‘Spatial and Temporal Analyses of the Harbor at Antiochia ad Cragum’ (2005) Electronic Theses, Treatises and Dissertations Paper 2715

Turner, C.H., ‘Canons Attributed to the Council of Constantinople, A.D. 381, Together with the Names of the Bishops, from Two Patmos MSS POB’ POG’ ’, The Journal of Theological Studies (1914) M: 72

[1] I’d like to thank Professor Michael Hoff of the University of Nebraska for the permission and freedom to write articles based on the excavations which are due to be published this year, in addition to Associate Professor Birol Can of Ataturk University for his kind permission to publish information on the mosaic and current excavations being undertaken by Ataturk University at Antiochia ad Cragum.

[2] Marten, M.G., ‘Spatial and Temporal Analyses of the Harbor at Antiochia ad Cragum’ (2005) Electronic Theses, Treatises and Dissertations Paper 2715: 5

[3] Marten 2005: 63-68

[4] Marten 2005: 43, 50

[5] Marten2005: 43

[6] Marten 2005: 56, fig. 4.2 – Antiochia ad Cragum Artifact Distribution

[7] University of Nebraska Lincoln Website, Project History –

[8] Antiocheia (AD 139-161) AE 26 – Marcus Aurelius 100 views Marcus Aurelius as Caesar, 139-161 AD. AE26 (10.40g). ΑΥΡΗΛΙΟC ΚΑΙCΑΡ, head right / ΑΝΤΙΟΧЄΩΝ Τ-ΗC ΠΑΡΑΛΙΟΥ, nude male god holding long scepter, mantle over shoulder. Nice green patina, VF.

[9] Antiocheia (AD 244-249) AE 29 – Philip I58 views Philip I, 244-249 AD. AE29 (13.00g). Laureate draped and cuirassed bust right / ANTIOXЄωN THC ΠAPAΛIOV, eagle on wreath. Very fine; Antiocheia (AD 249-251) AE 26 – Trajan Decius279 viewsTrajan Decius, 249-251 AD. AE26 (7.83g). Laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right / Eagle standing facing on wreath, head left. Good VF, jade green patina.

[10] “Rough Cilicia Archaeological Project: 2005 Season,” (with Rhys Townsend and Ece Erdogmus) 24. Arastirma Sonuçlari Toplantisi (24th Annual Archaeological Survey Symposium). Turkish Ministry of Culture (Ankara 2007): 231–44.

[11] Project Sponsors include: National Science Foundation, Loeb Classical Library Foundation, Harvard University, Research Council, University of Nebraska, Vice Chancellor for Research, University of Nebraska, College of Fine and Performing Arts, University of Nebraska, Dean’s Office, Clark University

[12] “The Rough Cilicia Archaeological Project: 2005 Season,” (with Rhys Townsend and Ece Erdogmus) Anadolu Akdenizi Arkeoloji Haberleri (ANMED) 4 (2006): 99–104; “Rough Cilicia Archaeological Project: 2005 Season,” (with Rhys Townsend and Ece Erdogmus) 24. Arastirma Sonuçlari Toplantisi (24th Annual Archaeological Survey Symposium). Turkish Ministry of Culture (Ankara 2007): 231–44.

[13] “The Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project: Northeast Temple 2007 Season” (with E. Erdogmus and R. Townsend), 25. Arastirma Sonuçlari Toplantisi (25th Annual Archaeological Survey Symposium). Turkish Ministry of Culture (Ankara 2009): 95-102.

[14] “The Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project: Northeast Temple 2008 Season” (with E. Erdogmus and R. Townsend), 27. Arastirma Sonuçlari Toplantisi (27th Annual Archaeological Survey Symposium).Turkish Ministry of Culture, Ankara 2009 (with R. Townsend and E. Erdogmus): 461-70

[15] “The Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project: Northeast Temple 2009 Season” (with E. Erdogmus and R. Townsend), Anadolu Akdenizi Arkeoloji Haberleri (ANMED) 8 (2010): 9-13.

Welcome to GraecoMuse!

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This site is aimed at similar people who are interested in archaeology, ancient history, philology and epigraphy. Interesting stories, archaeological tidbits and blogs will be put up as I partake in digs myself and come across things to share.

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Translation and Textual Criticism of Ancient Sources

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Translation: a rendering of something written in one language into another which does not misinterpret the meaning or sacrifice the feeling of the original. So what makes a good translation? It is difficult to know where to begin in answering this question due to the multiple theories throughout the centuries, so it is important to provide a base.  Definitions of a good translation include that a translation ‘Must neither be ‘free’ nor ‘literal’…faithful…a faithful imitation (not adaptation or approximation) of the original.  It must be faithful both to the language of the original text and to the idiom into which it is being translated.  It must be faithful both to the letter and to the spirit.’ Rees provides a definition which is quoted above but also adds that faithfulness is significant as ‘he is the best translator whose work is nearest the original.’  Knox highlights three simple rules for when creating a translation; be accurate, be intelligible and be readable, but this in some ways is too simplistic.  Peyser contributes one of the more comprehensive arguments concerning what makes a good translation by stating that ‘Comparative naturalness of expression should be the first aim in a translation, and whatever mars that should be discarded.  Sometimes it may be achieved by the retention of literalness, by rhyme, by metrical forms; sometimes it can be obtained only at the price of one or more of these.  How best to compass it is for the translator to decide’

By looking at such definitions it becomes evident that there are many ideas of what makes a satisfactory end-product.  So, is it really possible to define what makes a good translation? Through the study of different translations and theories, we see that different purposes involved in translating mean that different sets of criteria have to be issued.  Many aspects are considered when exploring the idea of correct translation: content, use, the nature of the translator, cultural production, text survival and the recognisation of limitations. When looking at these aspects, we see that there is no single set definition of what makes a good translation.


Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher
Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher

When looking at theorists, Schleiermacher comes into the foreground. He highlights many of the problems faced in translation and outlines what he considers makes a satisfactory translation.  Schleiermacher asserts that all translators are under the sway of the language they speak and in many cases there is little difference between better and worse renditions. The translator cannot fully understand concepts beyond the boundaries of the language he was educated in. Schleiermacher is a strong advocate of the idea that the translator, while endeavouring to keep his language sounding foreign, often fails to observe the fine line between undesirable extremes. Schleiermacher’s discussions highlight that with people understanding the concepts in what is to be translated, a satisfactory rendition can indeed be created. The idea of a good translation is fully dependent on the ideals of the individuals viewing it.


One must also consider Schopenhauer’s theories.  Schopenhauer points out the difficulty in rendering an accurate translation as it is not always possible to find an exact equivalent in one language for a word in another.  He states that it is almost never possible to transpose a sentence pregnant with meaning and character from one language to another so as to make precisely the same impression on a speaker of the second.  The equivalence of words issue in translation can be seen even in the translation of Schopenhauer, as seen in the two examples in your handout:

It is not always possible to find an exact equivalent in one language for a word in another.  Thus concepts signified by words in one language are likewise never exactly the same as those signified by words in another.

(Trans.: D.Robinson)

Not every word in one language has an exact equivalent in another.  Thus, not all concepts that are expressed through the words of one language are exactly the same as the ones that are expressed through the words of another

(Trans.: P.Mollenhauer)

Much of Arthur Schopenhauer's writing is focus...
Much of Arthur Schopenhauer’s writing is focused on the notion of will and its relation to freedom.

Couldn’t both of these translations be seen as good, as they maintain the essence of the original? Yet there are obvious differences in the choice of words and phrase.  As Schopenhauer himself says, this is the necessary inadequacy of all translations.  Schopenhauer, like Schleiermacher, also explains that in many cases concepts cannot be so easily transmitted. Addressing that words and concepts cannot be transferred, it is easy to fall into the trap of accepting that there is no such thing as a good translation.


Humboldt, also presents a comprehensive analysis of translation in his work entitled ‘The More Faithful, The More Divergent,’ a title which clearly illustrates one of the more prevalent of Humbolt’s views.  Like his contemporaries, Humbolt asserts that no word in one language is ever entirely like its counterpart in another, outlining a particular issue when one considers the idea of literal translation.  According to Humboldt, a good translation is one which is not a commentary and contains no obscurities resulting from ‘wishy-washy’ choice, with which the translator would do violence to the text by arbitrarily clarifying and so distorting.  Humboldt attempts to avoid these inadequacies himself by trying with every new revision to eliminate what was not stated equally plainly in the original text; recognising that the translator is tempted to add ‘alien trinkets.’


Nietzsche focused on the translator in relation to the historian and what makes a good translation. He states that ‘The degree of the historical sense of any age may be inferred from the manner in which this age makes translations and tries to absorb former ages and texts.’  Translations influence historians.  Nietzsche pays particular attention to the idea that a good translation is one that fulfils the purpose and use set out by the translator. ‘Should we not make new for ourselves what is old and find ourselves in it?’ This was the idea of the Romans, and it remains a focus of theorists.  Differences in purpose and material will affect the character of, and the process of making a translation; it is no wonder that it is difficult to define what is ‘good’.  These theorists show explicitly that the question of what makes a good translation, and the act of translation itself, is subject to the opinions and interpretations of the individual and the period in which it is created and studied.

Discussion in relation to Examples

A good translation is in some ways like the concept of myth, you will know it when you see it but it is not easy to define.  To better understand the theories that we encounter, we must look at various translations and forewords.  Let us look at the translation of Ammianus Marcellinus by Walter Hamilton.  Wallace-Hadrill comments that cuts have occurred throughout to better fit the volume of the penguin edition and to remove tedious aspects, such as Ammianus’ digressions, to better accommodate the modern reader. This embodies the idea set out as early as Jerome, who asserted that a good translation fits its purpose.  Venuti makes a particularly relevant study of ‘translation to fit purpose’, explaining that it is fundamentally determined by a cultural political agenda in the present and asymmetrical relations, such as the economy.  Hamilton’s translation also demonstrates the difficulty in accessibility of original texts, as Hamilton relies on a single 9th Century corrupted manuscript, which would be unreadable if a close rendering to modern English was attempted.

Literalness, Equivalence and Use

What is particularly enlightening is the comparison of two renditions of the same text.  From these we can isolate the differences in style, choice and purpose set out by the translator.  Beowulf, translated in 1979 and in 1995 by Michael Alexander, highlights problems and how a good translation cannot be given one definite definition.  Both translations keep the content and essence of the text and attempt to maintain the concepts set out by the original author; however the 1979 version takes a non-literal approach in an attempt to maintain the epic composition.  In comparison, the 1995 rendition alludes to the difficulty in cultural accessibility for the modern reader and instead gives a word by word rendition devised for those who wish to study Beowulf in old English, and to work out the meaning for themselves.  Each version is translated to best suit its purpose and use.  Does the difference in translation mean that one is particularly better than the other? These translations also provide an interesting case between literal and non-literal translation; and yet Alexander himself asks scholars to consider whether a literal prose version of a verse epic, is properly, a translation.

Carson and Shaw’s translation of Sophocles’ Electra provides an excellent example of what theorists may consider to be a good translation as well as illustrating many of the problems.  This translation demonstrates the issues of finding English equivalents, such in the case of the verb λυπειν, as well as issues of context and diction.  When translating one is frequently confronted with analogous terms; perfect equivalence after all presupposes an identity of cultural or socially shared experience between two separate ‘speech communities.’ Carson and Shaw also demonstrate that in order to make a satisfactory translation, one must know the subject explicitly; they know for instance, that it is typical of Sophoclean heroes to set themselves cosmic parameters of moral action.  With such knowledge and understanding of the subject, they have better transferred concepts between languages.

Preservation of concepts and values of the original text

Prevalent theorists such as Schleiermacher assert that what truly makes a translation accurate is not so much the words that are preserved, but rather the virtues, thoughts and ideas. Bruni says that it is in understanding these that translators can reproduce accordingly. While various scholars have come to accept this idea, it is also related to several problems of translation.  This is supposedly due to significant fault in the nature of the translator as seen as early as Cicero who explains that every composition is subject to one’s own individuality. Most translators want to, or unconsciously add to, the original translation, even when attempting to preserve the thoughts and graces of the original composer. As Tytler says ‘a translator uses not the same colours of the original, but is required to give his picture the same force and effect.’ With this in mind we see that the nature of the translator is significant to the colours he chooses to use.

Understanding and standing of the translator

Theorists often make the hypothesis that a good translator understands and attempts to deal with the limitations of translation.  Like with the historian, the translator cannot simply create anything near an accurate account without first understanding the task ahead of them.  For instance, the ideal translator should be equally proficient in the languages concerned; be bicultural as well as bilingual. Von Herder remarks that the best translator is in fact the best critic. Unfortunately, the projection of the translator into the translation can hardly be avoided. It seems that the question must be asked of where the meeting ground is between the ‘personal’ and the ‘other’ text?  Batteux put it thus; languages are like men, who have one common nature which unites, and peculiarities which separate them.  It is hardly likely that one can reproduce perfectly a text considering this idea; but with the limitations in mind, the translator may be able to produce the next best thing.

Cultural Production

Much of what is translated is of cultural production; made in light of present circumstances, cultural moralities and ideologies.  These determine the translation of chosen texts.  Burian addresses the question ‘What possible excuse is there for new versions of texts?’  An approved answer for this is that translation is an ‘activity as fully implicated in its own world as any other form of cultural production.’ Anderson provides a valuable look into translation related to cultural production, asserting that the choices made by the translator are determined by changing goals and stylistic preferences within a cultural period. This cultural influence is seen in the many interpretations of Vergil and his views on heroism. Not only is a translation almost forced to conform with the culture for aesthetic reasons, but also for reasons of survival; no doubt that in a few generations, current translations could be considered obsolete.  For further study into this area it is useful to examine the works of Anderson and Eliot.


Among the theories of what makes a good translation is the prevalent debate between non-literal and literal translation seen throughout the examples discussed. The Beowulf translations demonstrate that literal and non-literal can both be considered good based on purpose; modern scholarship though tends to sway towards the non-literal side.  D’Ablancourt states that at times it is necessary to retrench one part to give birth to all the rest. Denham asserts that translations should fit the foreign text naturally and easily as fluency is impossible to achieve with close or verbal translation. No word in one language has an exact equivalent in another. It appears that what, in the minds of most theorists, makes a good translation is transference of ideas and concepts rather than literal word for word, despite earlier scholars such as Horace implying that word-for-word translation is the faithfulness of a translator.

But while these two theories of what makes a good translation are prevalent, we must also consider whether this opposition is in itself a problematic simplification. Literal and non-Literal are indeed simplistic in definition and yet are valid definitions which relate to basically all theories of translation.  Unfortunately, theorists and translators often focus more on the literal/non-literal debate in general opposed to looking into why and/or how a translator has produced a rendition. In saying this, we see that that the habit of defining a translation based solely on its literalness is too simplistic because it often ignores the more integral reasons for the form of a translation.

How do the choices we make in answering this question relate to our idea of what a historian should be?

We have discussed what theorists and translators believe make a good translation, and the problems that arise, which often make constructing a faithful translation difficult. But how do the choices we make in answering this question relate to our idea of what a historian should be? In answering this question we must look back at what we have accepted as our idea of what a translator should be and ask how this relates to the historian. In this case it seems that our idea of what a historian should be relates significantly to the ideas that are confronted when one studies what makes a good translator.

The Historian, like the translator, sets out to create an account based on events, while being physically, culturally and emotionally removed from the events in question.  What makes a good history and what makes a good translation are in many aspects similar.  Readers and scholars deem that both should be faithful and accurate to the original.  We choose to look at translations in relation to the problems that may or may not be overcome; the influence and bias of the translator, the difference of interpretation and creation based on the period, purpose and use of the rendition.  The same can be said of how we approach the historian.

In choosing to look at specific theorists and translations we see various ideas of what a translation should be; the preservation of virtues, thoughts and ideas from the period, that which suits the purpose and period, faithful and accurate, literal or non-literal; and what the translator should be; understanding of limitations, extensively knowledgeable and yet still subject to the issues that face the translator.  In identifying these factors it is easy to relate them to the historian who is often subject to the same factors.  But much like with the question of what makes a good translation, what makes a good historian is based purely on interpretation. Here is one interpretation: What a historian should be is as faithful and accurate as possible, while recognising the limitations and influences that affect their work. A historian should attempt to avoid these issues but not to the extreme as to do more damage.  Isn’t it interesting that the same can be said for the translator?

Important Rules to Remember When Learning Ancient Greek Part 3!

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Well followers, with the success of parts one and two of my Important Rules Series I give you part three!

This post will look at the most important things to remember when learning about the Greek personal pronouns, the perfect and pluperfect tenses and a few significant verbs to remember when reading ancient and New Testament Greek. For Parts one and two of the series, click on the links below before reading this post. Enjoy 🙂

Important Rules to Remember When Learning Ancient Greek Part 1

Important Rules to Remember When Learning Ancient Greek Part 2

The Greek Personal Pronouns

  • The pronoun stands in the place of a person
  • Pronouns occur in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd person
  • Declension of the personal pronoun of the first person
    • No vocative in the first person pronouns (remember that the vocative case is used in a noun that identifies a person being addressed)
    • ἐμοῦ (genitive singular), ἐμοί (dative singular), and ἐμέ (accusative singular) are used to express emphasis
    • μοῦ, μοί, μέ are enclitics throwing the accent of the pronoun onto the preceding word
    • Enclitics used when there is no particular emphasis on the pronouns
  • Declension of the personal pronoun of the second person
    • Vocative the same as nominative
    • σου, σοι, σε are enclitic, except when used emphatically
    • Watch similarity of ἡμεῖς and ὑμεῖς
  • Declension of the personal pronoun of the third person
    • Declension the same as ἁγαθός
    • Except for the neuter nominative/accusative singular form αὐτό

Personal Pronouns (First and Second Person)

1st person 1st person unemphatic 2nd person 2nd person unemphatic
sing. nom. ἐγώ σύ
gen. ἐμοῦ μου σοῦ σου
dat. ἐμοί μοι σοί σοι
acc. ἐμέ με σέ σε
pl. nom. ἡμεῖς ὑμεῖς
gen. ἡμῶν ὑμῶν
dat. ἡμῖν ὑμῖν
acc. ἡμᾶς ὑμᾶς

αὐτός: Third Person Pronoun (oblique cases only) and Intensive Pronoun

masc. fem. neuter
sing. nom. αὐτός αὐτή αὐτό
gen. αὐτοῦ αὐτῆς αὐτοῦ
dat. αὐτῷ αὐτῇ αὐτῷ
acc. αὐτόν αὐτήν αὐτό
pl. nom. αὐτοί αὐταί αὐτά
gen. αὐτῶν αὐτῶν αὐτῶν
dat. αὐτοῖς αὐταῖς αὐτοῖς
acc. αὐτούς αὐτάς αὐτά

Characteristics of Personal Pronouns

  • Used in place of nouns and other substantives in order to avoid monotony
  • The noun for ehivh s pronoun is called an ANTECEDENT
    • Agrees with its antecedent in gender and number
    • Personal pronouns are used in the nominative case only when emphasis is intended
    • The genitive case is frequently used to express possession
    • The emphatic forms of the personal pronouns are normally used after prepositions

Special Uses of AUTOS (αὐτός)

  • Two special uses:
  • When used with an article in the attributive positive it means the SAME = ADJECTIVAL AUTOS
  • When used without an article in the predicate position = SELF = INTENSIVE AUTOS

Intensive AUTOS may also be used with other pronouns or with the unexpressed subject of the verb

The perfect active indicative of LUW (λύω = to loose)

  • The fourth principal part = PERFECT ACTIVE
  • From this are obtained the forms of the perfect, pluperfect, and future tenses of the verb
  • Obtained by:
    • Affixing the perfective aspect morpheme KA
    • Attaching the secondary active suffixes
    • Prefixing a reduplicated syllable to beginning = consonant of start plus epsilon E
    • Exceptions derive from the phonetic characteristics of the initial phoneme of the verb
      • If start with  PHI, THETA or CHI = TAU start
      • If start with PSI, ZETA or XI or Two Consonants except LAMBDA or RHO = EPSILON start
      • If start with with VOWEL = Temporal Augment EPSILON

Second perfects

  • Some verbs do not contain the KAPPA
  • Conjugated exactly like the first perfects except without the Kappa
  • Distinction is one of form only and not of function

The significance of the perfect tense

  • State resulting from a completed action
  • Temporal focus more on the present than on the past
  • Choice of use not necessarily determined by the objective facts
  • Choice by the writer’s point of view of the action
  • Significance must be determined by the context

The pluperfect active indicative of LUW

  • Represents the past tense of the perfect
  • Has an augment in addition to the reduplication
  • EI as connecting vowels
  • Augment often omitted
  • Pluperfect seldom seen in New Testament
  • Future perfect tense even rarer – expresses the perfective aspect in future time

The verb OIDA (οἶδα = to know)

  • Synonym of γινώσκω (to know or perceive)
  • Has only perfect and pluperfect forms
  • Used with present and past meanings also
  • Regarded as a present tense verb
  • ᾔδειν is an imperfect tense verb (pluperfect indicative active 1st person)

Resources that may help you further:

Perseus Vocabulary Tools

New Testament Greek Grammar Books

Learn to Read New Testament Greek, Third Edition, By: David Alan Black

Little Greek 101

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