Tuesday, August 15, 2006

At long last Loeb

Slate has a late but good addition to the hoopla surrounding the 500th volume in the Loeb Classical Library, the venerable series of Latin and Greek texts with facing translations. Good because the author, Emily Wilson, actually has something amusing to say about Quintillian's Lesser Declamations, with facing translation by H. Shackleton Bailey, and because (not unrelatedly) she's a working classicist with intelligent doubts about the sort of dilletantism the series enables:

I still wonder whether we really should be welcoming these splendid new translations with open arms. I, for one, would be extremely wary of recommending a Loeb in an undergraduate class in which the students were expected to read the original Latin or Greek. The temptation to rely too heavily on the translation would be all the greater now that the translations are so much better than they used to be.

This is surely a decision that makes itself. You don't have to recommend Loebs. Where there are undergraduates expected to read Latin and Greek, there will be at least one bookshop with a wall of the things. Even if your classics department is too small to make your town a Loeb-rich environment, word will get around. Some things are too useful not to hear about. Your students will find them and crib. And if you haven't recommended them, then any moderately conscientious student will crib thoroughly enough to give the impression that they didn't crib.

The worse worry, well expressed higher up the article, is that the Loebs can serve a culture with no place for the more than moderately conscientious. Mastering the crib is as far as you're encouraged to go. Indeed, you may receive a gold star for getting that far. Googling around this point, I found that the Weekly Standard considers Loebs to "certify seriousness". It's the handsome covers that do it, apparently.

Back when I dreamed of being serious about such things, it was the Scriptorum Classicorum Bibliotheca Oxoniensis that certified seriousness: hyper-reliable texts, no English even in the notes, and a cover style that makes a Loeb look modernist. I never managed them. But even a straight English translation was more heavyweight than a Loeb, provided it wasn't a Penguin.

Loeb bonus: Harvard UP's publicists, otherwise pretty hot on this one, seem nonetheless to have missed the 90th birthday of one of Latin literature's most-used cribs: H. Rushton Fairclough's Virgil. Or maybe they're saving the champagne for the second volume's 90th, in two years' time.

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