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Books – What’s in a Translation?

August 26, 2012

"thoughts from the corner"

Attention to detail is a wonderful attribute. To the private English tutor, a student who is able to grasp a text and analyse it in detail is indeed most welcome. I have never had one who has paid close attention to a loaf of bread but Marcus Aurelius was a little before my time! Below, Professor Serendip picks out three different translations of Mr Aurelis’s study of that staple of all diets.

"private english tutor"


Excerpts from

Books that have been unnecessarily culled by libraries

Books that have been serendipitously encountered

Books that need to be saved for browsers


Marcus Aurelius, Meditations III,2

"private tutor"

Perhaps some of us might be surprised that one of the Ancients could be found to have mused aesthetically over the cracks in the crust of a loaf. By chance several translations of what Marcus wrote about this (in idiomatic Greek) were seen on the shelves just before a library cull swept them away.

1.    Such things as this also we ought to note with care, that the accessories too of natural operations have a charm and attractiveness of their own, for instance when bread is in the making. Some of the par split open, and these very fissures, though in a sense thwarting the bread-maker’s design, have an appropriateness of their own and in a peculiar way may stimulate the desire for food. Again when figs are at their ripest they gape open; and on olives that are ready to fall their very approach to over-ripeness gives a peculiar beauty to the fruit. [Loeb tr.]

2.    We must also observe closely points of this kind, that even the secondary effects of Nature’s processes possess a sort of grace and attraction. To take one instance, bread when it is being baked breaks open at some places; now even these cracks, which in one way contradict the promise of the baker’s art, somehow catch the eye and stimulate in a special way our appetite for the food. And again figs, when fully mature, gape, and in ripe olives their very approach to decay adds a certain beauty of its own to the fruit. [A.S.L. Farquarson’s tr. Oxf. Clarendon]

3.    Another thing we should remark is the grace and fascination that there is even in the incidentals of Nature’s processes. When a loaf of bread, for instance, is in the oven, cracks appear in it here and there; and these flaws, though not intended in the baking, have a rightness of their own, and sharpen the appetite. Figs, again, at their ripest will also crack open. When olives are on the verge of falling, the very imminence of decay adds its peculiar beauty to the fruit. [M. Staniforth’s tr. Penguin]

A greekless browser would value the opportunity to compare the three translations – if only some librarians were not advised to see three translations as ‘duplication’.

"private english tuition"

As one giving private English tuition I have never encountered Marcus Aurelius and his ‘Meditations’. However, I still think there should be room on library shelves for translations of his works. One wonders just how many books will continue to disappear before this worrying trend of culling is ended!

From → Books

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