Creative Commons translations from Greek and Latin into modern languages?

Posted by Greta Franzini (not authored).

The Open Philology project is looking for ways to encourage the distribution of translations from Greek and Latin into modern languages. Many authors are simply happy to put their materials on their own websites. Our goal at this point is to elucidate some issues for those who want their materials to be more widely used and to gauge how many people might produce new materials if they had some sort of support. We see (at least) three topics for producers to consider:

  • Making your materials available under a Creative Commons license: Many producers make their materials freely available on a website but do not include an explicit rights statement enabling third parties to make use of their work. This also prevents their work from having the impact that they often actually wish. There are various CC licenses to choose from. A CC-BY-ND-NC prevents anyone from modifying your work or using it for commercial purposes. Such a license is conservative and relatively easy to accept but a bolder approach, using a CC-BY-SA license, which allows for derivative works and for third-parties to include your work in a commercial service, makes it easier for your work to reach more people. The BY feature requires that you receive credit, while your original version can remain available as a point of reference. The SA feature means that anyone who modifies your work has to share the results — thus preventing a commercial enterprise from making a new version of what you have done and hiding it behind an exclusive subscription wall.
  • Making your materials available in TEI XML: Producing TEI XML requires learning how to go beyond using a word processor but, once a text is in TEI XML, it can be queried and represented in more sophisticated ways. If a document is in well-structured TEI XML, then versions in PDF, HTML or e-book formats can be produced as well.
  • Making sure your work has a citation scheme: Few, if any, translations of poetry try to align each verse with the original but it still helps to be able to show roughly where line X in a Greek or Latin source corresponds to your translation. With prose works, alignment is much easier and you may choose to keep sentence boundaries where section breaks occur in a Greek or Latin source edition.

We are posting this preliminary query to elicit public discussion from those who have produced, or would like to produce, translations. Mastering enough Greek and Latin to produce translations is far and away the hardest task. The issues above require some thought and training but they are relatively minor tasks compared to the work of translating  a single play of Sophocles or a speech of Cicero.

Feel free to get in touch with us either by email or by leaving a comment below!

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10 Comments

  1. I’m interested in translating and/or making the already translated works from Greek and latin into Arabic online. There are two schools of classics in Cairo and Ains Shams Universities (both in Cairo, Egypt) who have hundreds of students and scholars who would be interested in collaboration with such a poject. The Cairo-university school has introduced and still introduces alot of this translations, but in booktexts. Putting some of this corpus online and linking it to the original texts is desirable both for teachers and students of classics in the Arabic-region.

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  2. This sounds like a great idea; but I would love to go even one step further, to crowd-sourced translation: I’ve been impressed with the facilities of Duolingo.com for translation. It does not handle anything but flat text, but it will pop up suggested meanings of a word, while allowing users to enter a translation, or further edit (and comment on) another user’s translation. Furthermore, users can vote ‘looks good’, ‘looks wrong’ on these existing translations. In the context of Greek and Latin, it would be great to have more modern translations (into any number of languages) than what already exists in the public domain. One could start from scratch, or take an unreadable old public domain translation and adapt it. An entire class might together adopt a play or a Platonic dialogue and produce a readable translation. Of course, they could already do that, but the Duolingo environment (word-for-word help, votes, points for submitted translations, rewards for upvotes,..) is more inviting. I think a lot of the harder infrastructure is already in place at Perseus or Alpheios; so perhaps the rest will come easy?

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    • Some years ago I tried doing a crowd-sourced translation of Jerome’s Chronicle. It did work; but it places a heavy burden on the editor.

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  3. Guidelines (or, at least, pointers) for developing or adopting a citation scheme would be very useful here. Alternatively, some examples of what a citation scheme is, or should be (in TEI XML). The idea itself is great — there are some Croatian translations waiting to be CC’ed!

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  4. I’m very glad that you’re thinking about this. Much of the problem, I imagine, is the lack of a home for scholarly translations of ancient sources. I suspect that many of us have bits and pieces of translations on file from our teaching and research that are much better than what is publicly available, but aren’t substantial enough to be published formally.

    For instance, I’m teaching a class next week on the Concordat of Worms; to my horror, I discovered that all the English versions I could find (both online and in recently-published sourcebooks) are based a translation from the late nineteenth century that used the MGH edition of 1837 rather than the much-improved MGH edition of 1893 that is typically cited by scholars. After only a couple hours’ work, my students now have a much more readable and accurate translation of the document, and I would be delighted to be able to make it more widely available under a CC BY licence. But there’s nowhere at present where I can put the thing where it would have any chance of being found.

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  5. I commission translations commercially from (mostly) young or retired scholars, in order to get texts more accessible. I have my own website, but I also post them on Archive.org, and on my blog, and tend to link to them from Wikipedia. I make the output public domain, so that it may be used as widely as possible.

    The main problem, frankly, is getting translators at all, even though I pay fairly generously. It is, after all, very hard work to make the first translation of something. I could afford to commission more work than I can find people to do it.

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  6. PS: Get some “share” buttons on this website. I just wanted to share this post of yours on twitter, and will have to do it manually.

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    • Hello, thank you for your message.
      Share buttons are now available on all of our blogposts.

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  7. Hello,

    I read this post with interest as it was published just as I was preparing to start making online translations of the Greek paradoxographical texts available at a dedicated website paradoxography.org and a companion blog. Before reading your comments, I had intended to use a CC non-commercial licence, but have changed my mind based on the points you raise to allow for the maximum freedom of use.

    Because the translations will only be carried out gradually as a spare-time activity, I am making no attempt to make them available in TEI XML at this stage (apart from anything else, I don’t have the expertise). However, when the whole project is complete, I certainly would consider acquiring the necessary skills and producing a version more suitable to data-linking and sharing. As it is, I link to sources such as Pleiades but only via hyperlinks; I know that there are much more powerful ways to achieve this, so that is a job for the future.

    Meanwhile, I look forward to reading further posts from you to help me stay informed on these matters.

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