on 22 February 2015
As an approach to ‘recovering’ my Latin I tackled ‘The Gallic War’ by Julius Caesar, translated by H. J. Edwards (1917). It’s published in the Loeb Edition which proved perfect for my purpose – Latin one side & English on the opposite page. I would tackle a short passage in Latin, check my version word for word with the translation (particularly noting differences (mistakes!); sometimes I could make little sense of the Latin and so I read the English version checking word for word with the Latin & then tackled the Latin for a second time. It proved an excellent technique and I’ve certainly made progress!
The Lain is very concise, Caesar is very fond of using infinitive + accusative or ablative absolute for producing sharp writing – compare Hemmingway for approach. A major problem I found was how he would organise the order of these short phrases. Here the translation proved invaluable.
The translation flowed very easily – but sometimes deceptively so. For example, in Book VIII:8 (P.528) Caesar ‘set forth everything that had been reported to him‘ for ‘rebus eis quae ad se essent delatae’. But ‘essent is subjunctive so shouldn’t it be ‘everything which might be being reported to him’. This is a slightly darker reflection on Caesar’s style of sharing ideas with subordinates. The translation is easier to absorb. Likewise in Book VII:62 (P.468) we have ‘inde cum omnibus copiis ad Caesarem pervenit’ translated as’Marching thence with all his force, he reached Caesar on the third day.’ Can anyone see any reference to a third day in the Latin? Incidentally note the rather antiquated language which might put some readers off.
There were two side-effects from how I read this book. Firstly my long admiration for Roman toughness and organisation was enhanced by getting so close to the original. Secondly, I was aware of a gripping excitement which wouldn’t have been there if just reading a modern account. Caesar certainly was a good writer – but also a good propagandist. For example on PP.83-87 there is a detailed description of Roman defensive measures vs. overwhelming opposition at Alesia. Surely nothing can handle this level of defence (leaving ied’s way behind) and yet in a few pages on the Romans are fighting for survival with scarcely any mention of such ‘welcomes’ as ‘cippus’ (= ‘tombstones’ or in this case hidden stakes for the enemy to impale themselves on).
At the end there are SOME good maps (others are too complex in monotone) and an excellent description of aspects of Roman military matters. Often I was reminded of wars from the 19th century (e.g. Rourke’s Drift in 1879 which formed the basis for the film ‘Zulu’). May I add that, perhaps just in my imagination, Caesar’s ‘racist’ attitude towards the Gauls was less apparent in describing the natives on visiting Britain in 55 & 54 B.C.E.
In sum, well worth 5 stars.
on 28 March 2013
A wonderful translation of a classic with the Latin original on the left-hand page. After fifty years absence from the classroom, it was great to be able to sweat over the reasons for using the ablative case again. And, more to the point today, to see that the Roman dream of a loose federation of states was never to be because of the ongoing troubles between the German and French tribes. Plus ça change...