Connotatively accurate translations from Ancient to Current Greek
What are they?
Today, should a text contain specialized or, even more complicatedly, multidisciplinary data, it can become a nightmare for translators. The terminologies and their absolutely correct translation, require a skilled translator (or translators) with extensive experience and reliable sources of information. Such translations are time-consuming and thereby, expensive.
A novel can be relatively easy for a translator, even if not very experienced, as long as one is ‘artistic’ enough and ‘empathic’ with the author so as to better render his style. Things become tricky when the author of a work is a scientist and his book is, for example, a dissertation. The difficulty in translating grows and together the cost.
If the text to be translated comes from the ancient past, things can really get out of hand. To start with, the translator must be fluent in the ancient language, at least to the extent it is comprehended today by the scientific community. Also necessary to be taken into account, is to know the ancient author to be translated, because every age and every writer has varying degrees of intricacy in comparison to others of that or another time. The meaning of words is not stable over centuries, and must follow different rules in the translated texts. The output of these writers does not qualify as ‘casual’ reading when compared to that of contemporary writers whose culture, temperament, style and mannerisms are relatively more ‘familiar’ to their also contemporary translator.
Certainly the role of the literary translator or philologist remains key, but there arises a need on Philosophy Mathematics, Physics (all fields), Nautical Science, Astronomy, Geology etc, at least to the extent that the ancient writer exhibits such knowledge. And let no one for a moment think that these ancient writers had but modest multi and interdisciplinary scientific knowledge. The surprising findings which keep cropping up, demonstrate how little we know about them and their world, especially of the most renowned of them. For example, the astronomical instrument which is the Antikythera mechanism, exhibits know-how not to be seen again until almost 15-16 centuries after it was manufactured. The harmonium found at Aigai (first ever suchlike to be found) has amazing technology, easily comparable to todays. And should the writer in point be Plato, then one is looking at probably the most difficult to comprehend -in full- of all the ancient literati and especially in the works he wrote later on in life.
There are also several other causes that are not conducive to producing connotatively accurate translations exclusively but the most important is not the skill of the philologist-translator and the quality of his work. The determining factor was, is and will remain the financial.
Let’s imagine a typical book by an ancient Greek author of moderate difficulty and let’s assume that it would take a month or two of daily endeavour to achieve a relatively high degree of accuracy in its translation. Should that author happen to be Plato and especially when in advanced age, then the time needed for translation can easily magnify tenfold to manifold while the cost of the endeavour becomes exorbitant and unrealistic.
How many publishers would pay for such an undertaking? As many as the customers who would buy it; that is to say, nobody or practically nobody!
From all of the ancient text of Timaeus, just 134 lines were re-translated, those that were relevant to Atlantis. Of these, 35 posed a particular challenge. It took a great deal of time to translate these 35 lines and a lot more to make sure that all of what Plato meant had been accurately rendered and certified ready for publication. All the book of Critias was translated, the entire 582 lines! To render this sum total of 716 lines from Ancient into Current Greek, took about 4,000 hours of application by the present author in collaboration with a Philologist of the University of Athens and the confirmation by other Philologists. No matter how conservatively priced, a job like this will not be paid for by any publisher.
One may well ask, so what to do? Consider as passable whatever adequate, mediocre or even poor translations and for nobody to re-address this issue ever again?
The answer is easy. Given the results of these studies that are based on accurate translation, one will unequivocally say YES, it was indeed well worth it!
But who would invest money for this purpose if not knowing beforehand that it would be well worth it?
UNIVERSITIES, THEY HOLD THE KEY!
Such projects can only be accomplished by universities under sponsor financing and/or their students under the guidance of qualified philologists, so as to produce new translations piecemeal. It is the firm conviction of the present author (and owner of this website), that current knowledge will increase spectacularly, not only on matters of the past, but also in direct benefit to our civilization which at the present, should one not be aware of it, seriously lacks interdisciplinary knowledge and alternatives to conventional research methods.
But let’s hear the opinion of a modern-day translator.
Nick Kaloudis, Translator.
Apart from the above views on translation, more have been expressed in the homepage introduction and in the subpages ‘More About the Author’, ‘Lexical Disambiguation of ‘Apocalypse’ and at every other opportunity and justifiably so, because this whole project is based on the accurate retranslation of Plato’s recount of Atlantis. I beg the reader’s indulgence if becoming repetitive in the urgency to impress the importance of accurate translation, but it is for no other reason than that this is the source of the disclosures outlined in this website and elaborated on in the book ‘The Apocalypse* of a Myth’. Although translation is the key issue, requiring special attention, I will nevertheless attempt for the purposes of this site to be brief. Thus, there follow some thoughts on Translation (or mistranslation) in general and on the hitherto English translations in particular.
Translation is a craft, especially of Literature and the Humanities. It is a thankless job, mostly compensated for by a sense of satisfaction for a job well done. Many authors have been skilfully translated into many languages to international applause but who remembers or considers the facilitator, the translator? In truth and without wanting to blow trumpets, seeing that the results herein speak for themselves, an accurate translation is not easy to come by. But when it does, the results can be marvellously groundbreaking; as in this case. All in all however, as a profession, translating is underpaid and undervalued. As a vocation it is self-rewarding when the end result is good.
But what is a good end result? If dealing with the Humanities, a good translation gets the content across in a satisfactorily comprehensible way. But good does not mean accurate. Since a translation can never be literarily literal, the translator is required to be innovative and often ‘creative’ in order to overcome an interpretational hurdle. Every so often a translation turns out to be more involving than the original, at least for anyone who can comprehend and compare both languages. If one can’t, then one will obviously go by the language one understands and put trust in the authority of the translator. This has been the case with English renditions of Plato’s texts on Atlantis.
Of course, when in transferring data or terminologies, it goes without saying that nothing less than absolute accuracy is required. In the case of a ‘dead’ language (which, by definition, no one alive can have 100% fluency of, at least of its intonation and inflection which could well modify the message), the implication of creative translation is that it can be misleading. Plato’s recount of Atlantis is a mixture of straightforward reporting, idiosyncratic turns of phrase and data delivered in words. It is literarily complex, especially over those passages giving geographical directions. Hitherto existing English translations excel as to the literary and philosophical aspects but fall short on the technical.
The first recorded English translations of Plato’s Timaeus and Critias appeared in 1804 by Thomas Taylor. The next authoritative one was in 1871 by Benjamin Jowett. It is important to keep in mind the level of scientific knowledge of the times and of the outlook and disposition of those Englishmen who produced these translations and of their peers and contemporaries who perused them (it was generally considered that Greek History essentially began in 400 B.C.). The industrial revolution and the reaction to it, Romanticism or, one could say anti-rationalism, were upon England. Troy and Knossos, to mention a couple of sites in the Eastern Mediterranean, had yet to be identified as actual places. They were still in the realm of myth. Archaeology began to come into its own in the late 19th century.
Ancient Greek translators were scholars of the classics or of the liberal arts, not of the applied sciences. They moved in academic circles and as ‘authorities’, they had the last say. They were interested mostly in the socio-philosophical messages imparted by the ancient writings, not in whether the settings mentioned actually existed. Or, if they were seriously interested in their existence, the means were not readily available to go exploring.
From that time onwards, many have made their own translations based on these classics, some vying to be definitive. They continue to be referenced by latter day Anglophone researchers inquiring into Atlantis. Very few new English translations of the text relevant to Atlantis have been published that offer substantiated insight. Most have been reshuffles of the wording accompanied by a host of interpretations. There has been no translation in over 2.000 years that can begin to compare with the connotatively accurate and revolutionary as to its descriptive elements, present one; certainly not in Greek or English. Consider this: 4.000 hours for 716 lines, from the Ancient to the Current Greek, of which only a few were challenging to ‘decipher’.
Let us not forget that the current technological age with its across-the-board explosion in scientific knowledge, is just over half a century old while the digital ability that allows immediate access to information and to its wide and interactive dissemination, is just over a couple of decades old. This restricts subjective interpretation in favour of objective evaluation. Although it cannot be discounted, one cannot reasonably expect that those erudite scholars of the past would know of the mechanics of earthquakes or cause and effect of climate change. Nor did they have a spaceman’s view from the comfort of their desk or a wealth of information at their fingertips. They may have visualized, but certainly not have been able to substantiate, that much of the Sahara was once bountiful in water and rich in flora and fauna. Therefore, their translations of Plato were made according to their scholarly interests and academic pursuits and their interpretation of these works according to whatever empirical knowledge of their world and within the parameters of their discipline and limitations of their time. This was well and good in conveying socio-political and philosophical messages but not enough to so analyse the ancient wording as to be able to accurately convey the data artfully given by Plato in those few lines of complex text where he describes where Atlantis is and how to get there.
Not that many concerned themselves overmuch with Plato’s directions, dimensions and demarcations. At least not outside the compass of the concentric system of alternating wheels of land and water. Sometimes, the short section on Atlantis in Timaeus was even regarded independently from the full blown description that is the book of Critias. Besides the previously mentioned limitations, there were a number of entrenched historical preconceptions that had to be reconciled, the main one being -and indefensibly still is- that the Pillars of Heracles were Gibraltar. Thus, in relation to Atlantis, Plato was regarded as having been deliberately ‘creative’ or perhaps a bit of a white liar for reasons known only to him. Since then, others, less diehard who have come to terms that a continent can’t sink in 24 hours (never mind as geologically early as 10.000 years ago), have tried -and continue to try- to reconcile the flawed translations with candidate sites as geographically diverse as Mesoamerica and the Indonesian archipelago (somehow ignoring where Greece is). Tragicomically, the combination of historical presumptions and misinterpretations arising from the aforementioned English translations taken as definitive, have given rise to quests for Atlantis over the length and breadth of the globe. It is suggested here, that these keen explorers may find traces of megalithic construction elsewhere from the Age of Atlantis but they will not be Atlantis.
Of latter day researchers, nobody, for all the reasons mentioned plus an inadequate knowledge or even total ignorance of Ancient Greek, attempted to make a collaborative and comprehensively crosschecked retranslation of Plato’s story of Atlantis from scratch, relying instead on existing but erroneous as to their scientific content, English translations as their sole source of reference.
This brings us back to the new connotatively accurate translations. As should be clear, the 4.000 hours referred to above, were not equally distributed among Plato’s 716 lines on Atlantis. Hours and days, even weeks, were spent pouring over a single word. I know, because I too spent considerable time over words and phrases. And that was from the Current Greek to English where the ‘deciphering’ had already been done… In fact, the translation into English from the Current Greek of those 716 lines, as well as of the many other ancient reports and references, occupied me disproportionately longer than did the rest of the 400 or so pages of ‘The Apocalypse* of a Myth’. I stopped keeping a record of the time early on.
As anyone who has ever written knows, there are various ways to write about something. As anyone who has ever translated knows, it is not unheard of to be caught up in the manner of the original wording and the mannerisms of its writer. I will not go into the linguistics of translating from Greek to English. Suffice it to say that I usually require about ~10% more words in English to convey the Greek. That percentage is ~20% (as far as I have observed) from Ancient Greek into Current Greek. This shows the correlative and therefore concise nature of the Greek language and of Ancient Greek especially. The latter’s translation must be approached in a logical, nay, mathematical way, especially of Plato, who was of the view that true learning comes by thinking about what you are doing.
My approach to the translation of the Current Greek from the Ancient Greek was in line with GS’ thorough and exacting standards. He could not have made so exhausting and exhaustive an effort to translate the Ancient into Current Greek and me to produce anything less than appropriate. GS insisted on a word for word translation of the Ancient text, with explanatory inserts where necessary to clarify a contextual or connotative uncertainty.
If nothing else, this English translation of the original 716 lines of what Plato wrote about Atlantis can henceforth be considered, like the Current Greek, as the latest definitive version. It may not be as ‘beautiful’ or enjoyable a reading as some earlier ones, but it’s definitely connotatively accurate.
Why the emphasis on connotatively accurate translations?
Because these translations are of a rationalist who wrote about a fabulous place that existed way before his time. As already stated, this larger than life place is portrayed with a wealth of descriptions in generally easy to follow wording but which becomes highly complex where it provides data. Plato was well into his mature years when he wrote about Atlantis, having produced many manuscripts, having set up his academy and having gained reverence and renown as a teacher. The conversationalists through which he ‘speaks’ to unfold the story, are given as personages, not personas. Could Plato have written Atlantis out of whim or to make a teleological point? If yes, then to what purpose the detailed dimensions and directions? Did he ‘forget’ to finish it off or was he stumped for a conclusion (hard to imagine) or did he deliberately leave it open-ended (The case of the ‘unfinished’ book of Critias). Besides these reflections, Homer too has to be taken into account, as must Herodotus and others. The former’s awesome epical work was as the ‘bible’ of ancient times. It is evident that Plato ‘borrowed’ from Homer when writing about Atlantis. He didn’t attempt to conceal this; he simply adapted it to his own literary purposes.
Accordingly, with all these and more considerations in mind, together with the lexical, grammatical and contextual meanings, the connotative associations took form and were delivered in translation. The process was one of logical induction and deduction in order to find the meaning behind the meaning, the nuance behind the literal, the semiotics behind the semantics.
The more observant would have noticed that I use the term Current Greek. This is my designation as to the style of language used in the Greek version of the book I was called to translate into English. Why this term and not Modern or Contemporary or Vernacular or Latter-day Greek? Like every language, Greek has undergone changes (in recent years, to the much simplified -read poorer-). In order to best express in writing what he needed to convey, especially in translation of Plato, GS employed a mild form of diglossia, which means that the book is written in Demotic (popular) Greek with sprinklings of Katharevousa, an archaic form of modern Greek, used mostly by purists and mostly in writing (its usage has waned considerably over the past few decades and it is unused and practically unknown to the younger generation of Greeks). Thus, the term Current Greek is for no other reason than to distinguish this inergrative, mix and match literary style that strikes a practical balance between informal and formal (the latter, used sparingly). Any other designation would have been, for me, too restrictive in definition.
Consequently, because of the language and correlative subject matter, the book is more than a casual read. In any case, like Plato, GS is not addressing himself to young intellects. On the other hand, the book is not directed just to the highbrow. It is readable by all but the completely ‘analphabetic’. All these preconditions would not have made any translator’s job easy. Translators get writers block too…
Seeing that translation of Literature and the Humanities is a craft, evidently each craftsman or craftswoman has their own technique. Personally, on completing a translation, I look over it again at least a couple more times, correcting as I go. Then I let it ‘season’ for several days or weeks, deadlines allowing, before revisiting it for final review(s). I then hand it over to my associate, who is also an English native speaker, to look at my translation with a fresh eye so as to make sure that it flows and is comprehensible to everyone, not just to me. This was exactly the procedure followed in translating ‘The Apocalypse* of a Myth’. An ideal state of affairs that is not usual in the translational world because of the ever-present money and time constraints. Happily, I was dealing with GS who went through the throes of translation himself and understands all too well the strains of a good delivery.
Finally, because an example always helps to illustrate a point, the reader may have read that a single mistranslated word was what set off this project. This has been analysed elsewhere but I would like to briefly mention it here again as a prime, because it is definitive, example of connotative mistranslation and particularly elucidatory for the English reader.
It is the Greek word ‘pelagos’, an ancient word that has survived intact to this day and is still commonly used by Greeks. It has no translational counterpart (in any language, as far as I know) but a connotation of it in English, is in the word ‘archipelago’. The word ‘pelagos’ has been consistently translated since Roman times and in English, as either Ocean or Sea or Open Sea. But Plato knew ‘ocean’ and would have used ‘ocean’ if that is what he meant. Instead, he uses ‘pelagos’. The one best known to him was the Aegean, which is still used in dictionaries and encyclopaedias as the primary example in definition of ‘archipelago’. To ignore this association in translation is to make a connotative error, because the hydronym ‘Atlantiko pelagos’ that Plato uses, can, for example, be probably more validly translated into English as Atlantian Archipelago.
However, that rendition is connotatively and conceptually incompatible with the fixed idea of Gibraltar as being the site of the Pillars of Heracles that Plato refers to in his writings on Atlantis. Why and how this belief was established, maintained and propagated is not of the moment. It is explained thoroughly elsewhere by GS. I use it here simply to underline the importance of connotatively (in)accurate translation. Suffice it to say that, this misconception was born of misinformation nourished by mistranslation that matured into dogma. Until now, in lack of proof contrary to the dogma of Gibraltar, the translation of ‘pelagos’ has been connotatively understood and commonly translated as Ocean or generically as Sea. In recent years, in circles of ‘serious’ researchers, Gibraltar has begun to lose ground as a valid point from where to begin enquiry into Atlantis. Nonetheless, this example serves to show how a misconstrual can occur and besides whatever other ‘logical’ consequences, can mislead Anglophone researchers, explorers or enthusiasts whose investigations depend on translations.
So, with this unwarranted translational liberty and the incontrovertible fact that the site of Atlantis has been found via rendering Plato properly, the case rests on the importance of connotatively accurate translations. In ending as I started, I beg indulgence if repetitive at times, while stressing, again, the need for accurate translation; not of the literal kind but of the well researched connotational kind.