Don’t Read German, But My Ancient Greek is Great!

So here I am reading “Sketch of a History of the Doctrine of the Ideal and Real” in Philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, translated by Belfort Bax and Bailey Saunders. And it is well translated: very clear English with not a hint of German syntax. Then: bam! Schopenhauer starts to discuss the ideality of time in Plotinus’ Ennead 3.7: “On Eternity and Time.” And he quotes part of it. In Greek! But not to worry, for those illiterates like me, he provides a translation: in Latin!

You see the problem for translators! They are translating a German text into English—and doing a beautiful job of it. What are they to do when Schopenhauer left text in Greek and Latin? Obviously, Schopenhauer thought his readers would know ancient Greek or at least Latin—in 1851 when Parerga and Paralipomena (where the essay first appeared) was published. Why should they translate these passages into English now?

I will tell you why! No one who needs German translated into English knows ancient Greek! This wasn’t even true in 1936 when it was translated. Anyway, isn’t it obvious that Schopenhauer only provided the ancient Greek and Latin quotations because they were readily available? A German translation would have had to have been done by him. This would have opened him to attacks that his translation was all wrong in terms of detail and meaning. And then no one would have even considered the arguments he was making.

What were Bax and Saunders thinking? They couldn’t provide endnotes with the English? This was written before Google Translate, you know!

Update: Google translate does not include Latin or ancient Greek. There seems to be no really good free auto-translators for Latin. I don’t know about Greek. But it hardly matters: I wouldn’t even know how to enter the characters!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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