Saturday, September 21, 2013

ICS Ancient Philosophy Seminar 2013-14

ICS Philosophy Seminar

Senate House South Block 243

All are most welcome.
Alternate Mondays throughout the year at 4.30 pm

Organizer: Shaul Tor (KCL)



28 October  James Warren (Cambridge) The bloom of youth

11 November  Sean McConnell (UEA) Cicero’s cosmopolitanism: imagery and argument in the Dream of Scipio

25 November Anne Sheppard (RHUL) Images of drama and dance in Plotinus

9 December Jenny Bryan (UCL) The painter analogy in Empedocles

13 January Alex Long (St Andrews) Imagery and the criticism of Socratic argument in Plato’s Republic

27 January Thomas Johansen (Oxford) Aristotle on the difference between practical and productive reasoning

10 February Geoffrey Lloyd (Cambridge) Image and argument: some Greek and Chinese comparisons and contrasts

24 February Suzanne Stern-Gillet (Bolton) Images of poetic inspiration in Plato

10 March Robert Wardy (Cambridge) TBA

24 March Fiona Leigh (UCL) Image, appearance and logos in the Sophist

12 May Michael Trapp (KCL) and Claudio Garcia Ehrenfeld (KCL) Up the rocky road to nowhere? The  imagery of sectarian choice in Lucian’s Hermotimus

19 May Giles Pearson (Bristol) TBA

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Res Publica and the rigours of translation

The 'think tank' (What is one of those?  Is it like a 'drunk tank' but the intoxication is purely intellectual?) Politeia has published a pamphlet urging some changes to the place and examination of Latin in British schools.  You can read a press release here and read the pamphlet here.

The authors cannot be held responsible for the comments they provoke.  But, whatever one thinks of the pamphlet itself, some of the comment it has generated seems to me to be unhelpful.  For example, here is Harry Mount in the Telegraph in an article entitled 'The tragic dumbing down of Latin in our schools'.
When you're translating Latin into English, you can busk it: translate the words roughly and then cobble them together into goodish English. With the other way round – English into Latin – there's no busking. You're either right or you're wrong – there's no grey area. That's one of the joys of Latin; precisely because it's a dead language, there's no wriggle room, no negotiating over the correct answer, as there is with the shifting meanings of modern languages.
Um.  Well, it seems to me this is questionable on two counts.  First, there are of course plenty of ways in which a translation from Latin into English can be just plain wrong.  And even 'goodish' English is not what is being aimed at, at least in any of the examinations I'm familiar with.  But there are, to be sure, various ways in which equally accurate translations may differ from one another.  That, I've always thought, is at least part of what makes translating a language like Latin into English an interesting thing to do.  So 'busking' is not a helpful way to put it; it's just that people whose first language is English tend not to make great grammatical howlers in the English of their translation.  But they may of course misunderstand the Latin they are translating.  Or they may understand it perfectly well, but choose to render it in various different ways.

And I really don't understand the contrast between the 'shifting meanings of modern languages' and their ancient counterparts.  Is the implication that there can be no ambiguity (deliberate or otherwise), say, in Latin?  No room for reasonable debate over what is meant?

Similarly, it is surely not the case that there is one and only one correct rendering into Latin of any given phrase in English.  Again, there are various wrong ways to do it: ways of getting the syntax of the Latin wrong, getting the vocabulary wrong  But there are usually a number of equally accurate but different ways of rendering a given English sentence into Latin (or, for that matter, most languages, I reckon).  That's part of what is interesting about this kind of translation too.

So, this is a misleading way of putting things.  Yes, translating from English into Latin is hard.  It requires an active knowledge of Latin grammar and vocabulary.  But translating from Latin into English is also hard, certainly if one is interested not merely in producing a bit of 'translationese' into 'goodish English'.  ('Caesar, his legion having been arranged into a hollow square, fortified the ditch lest he be surrounded by the Gauls...'.)

There is a danger, it seems to me, that comments of this kind will lead to the impression that there is a 'two tier' approach to teaching and learning Latin in schools: the soft way, for the buskers, of translation into English, perhaps with a bit of ancient history and literary discussion thrown in, and the rigorous road, for those who want to tackle turning English into Latin. 

Harry Mount begins his article with the exclamation: 'o tempora! o mores!'  How would you translate that into English and retain the meaning and force and rhythm of the original?  Try busking it.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Essay Competition for Year 12 (Lower Sixth) Students

Corpus is pleased to announce its Essay Competitions for 2013-2014.

Entries are invited from Year 12 (Lower Sixth) students for the following subjects.

For further information follow the links.  Please note that each essay must be accompanied by the Cover Sheet.

Perceval Maitland Laurence Classics Essay Competition

History Essay Competition

Philosophy Essay Competition

Essay Cover Sheet

Computer Essay + Programming Competition and Cover Sheet

The main focus should not be on something that has been or is currently being studied in the classroom or offered as  A level coursework.

Primary and secondary authorities used should be acknowledged and, where quotation is made, cited. Sources may be quoted in the original language or in translation; in the former case all quotations  should be accompanied by an English translation. A list of books, websites, and people consulted should be appended. Printed copies of essays, accompanied by the cover sheet (which must be signed by the entrant and by Head of Sixth Form) should be submitted by schools or colleges on behalf of their entrants to:

The Admissions Office, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge CB2 1RH

to reach the College by 5pm on Friday 14 February 2014.

Regrettably, faxes and email attachments cannot be accepted. Please note that entries will not be returned and entrants may therefore wish to keep their own copy of the essay. Receipt of entries will be acknowledged by email. Winners and other particularly commended entrants will be notified by letter in March 2014 and will be invited to attend the College Open Day on Saturday 12 April 2014.
The College does not enter into correspondence about any aspect of the competition or the results. Feedback on the essays submitted is not provided.

Friday, September 13, 2013


I've been spending so long hunting for missing commas and deleting unnecessary spaces in a big pdf proof that my brain has gone to mush.  But this woke me up.  Beautiful and novel and interesting.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Bad news for shorties

Well, there is if you listen to Aristotle.  He says this in his discussion of the virtue of 'greatness of soul' (megalopsychia):
ἐν μεγέθει γὰρ ἡ μεγαλοψυχία, ὥσπερ καὶ τὸ κάλλος ἐν μεγάλῳ σώματι, οἱ μικροὶ δ' ἀστεῖοι καὶ σύμμετροι, καλοὶ δ' οὔ.
Nicomachean Ethics 4.3, 1125b6-8
Christopher Rowe translates:
For greatness of soul depends on scale, just as a beautiful body must possess a certain scale, and small people are neat and well-proportioned, but not beautiful.
How small is 'small' here?  It's not clear.  Perhaps it's like one of those signs at the fairground: 'You have to be this tall to be beautiful'.  He's consistent, at least.  I suppose this is a bit like him claiming elsewhere that some animals are too small to be beautiful because you see them all at once (and some are just too long to be beautiful).  And I suppose it is true that some pieces of music or some plays might be too short to be properly beautiful since they cannot display the kind of organisation and structure that takes time to perceive (Poetics 7, 1450b35–1451a10 and 23, 1459a17–21).

It's a shame we don't know more about Aristotle's own appearance.  Diogenes Laertius (5.1) says that Aristotle had slender calves ('so they say') and small eyes, wore lots of rings and a conspicuous hair-do.