About translations, translators and the spirit of Christmas

Yesterday in  a forum I stumbled upon a thread about the quality of astrological translations.

I will not quote neither the forum nor the translator they were talking about because  he is known in the astrological world – this is the Christmas spirit 🙂 – especially because he always writes about philological exactitude.

This is a point which is very dear to me, because in the net I read many “experts” -as they call themselves- for whom I can’t understand which expertise they are talking about.

People who can’t read original works because they can’t read Greek or Latin, their only source is English translations, insisting on their mistakes (together with their expertise). Often their “knowledge” is limited to lesser works because they can’t read neither most important works (being untranslated in English) nor academical works about “their” favourite authors.

Obviously I’m not talking neither about Chris Brennan with his translation project of Hellenistic astrology or Ben Dykes– Bonatti translation is in my Amazon wishlist if someone would buy it for me 🙂

But I heard too many gossips about well known authors from Greek for example, and not just in the net. And  I know well several translators of astrological texts, even the one they were talking about in the astrological forum.

I’m writing this because yesterday I read in that post the same doubts I have since longtime.  Should we trust as philological correct, texts coming from people we don’t know any curriculum vitae, any background?

Obviously I always appreciate any translation of old astrological texts, and in doing mine my only goal is just sharing with others texts I think important and valuable, with no  pretence to be an “expert.” I don’t want to play this game.

But if I should trust someone, I would look just at the academic world, I should admit – same conclusion of the writer of the post in the astrological forum.  Professors have no interest in selling their books to earn money, and have a well known background. In this I’m lucky to be an Italian because we have many true experts  inside Italian University, Vescovini for Abano, Faracovi for Cardano, Ernst for Campanella, Bezza for Ptolemy to give some names.

My favourite one – I have all her books- is Simonetta Feraboli and her work about stellar catalogues in Greek and Latin literature. Without forgetting David Pingree, Charles Burnett, Franz Boll.

On my side, I’m very skeptical about self-teaching, surely this comes not from Tradition. The word Qabalah, the ancient Jewish knowledge, means “from mouth to ear”  because it was mostly an oral tradition and a teacher was needed to learn it. According true Tradition there is no esoteric or exoteric knowledge people can learn with Dummies.com !

How people can insist they are preserving tradition when they are breaking the first rule?


17 thoughts on “About translations, translators and the spirit of Christmas

  1. Hello Margherita,

    It sometimes seems to me that certain astrological techniques are in the tradition, but that their origins have been lost, or that certain knowledge was indeed from ‘mouth to ear’ and so was not recorded. A good case in point are the tables of dignities. The most mysterious being exaltation but also the terms. (if you recall Ptolemy’s mysterious manuscript).

    We are still left with many many puzzles and so any good translation is invaluable, and poor translation only serves to make some things more obscure than they were before!

    best regards,

    PS thank you for your translation of the Cardano Returns. 🙂

  2. Hi, Marguerita, glad you liked my post.
    why don´t you also write a little bit about the importance of testimony ?
    thanks for your comment.

    About this post, I was going to make a commemnt for a long time: I can´t agree more with you. We have a lot of pseudo-scholars in astrology, but to make you feel better, it is the same everywhere, mainly in some fields like administration and education. yucks. And I have a masters in both of them ! The years I lost hearing non-sense….

    I am very envidious of you, because you have all this wonderful translations and I don´t 😦


  3. Hello Yuzuru,
    I have the wicked idea that many consider traditional astrology just a business. I mean, it’s right to earn honestly money with things one likes more but sometimes I can’t see any honesty.
    I’m not a scholar – I have a degree in Economics- but I don’t make believe to be in Academia. Others do.

    Last summer I had an awful quarrel with one of this famous “experts” because this astrologer said “This Renaissance astrologer says this” because the expert could not read other works than the one (a lesser work) translated in English.
    At home I had an Italian translation (which I can understand without any difficult) which examples given by this Renaissance astrologer. I gave quote, translation in English, link to Latin text, but no way to persuade the “expert”.

    I could give so many examples, but obviously is not possible, but after seeing things around I prefer search inside the University. In this I’m lucky, Renaissance is synonym for Italy 🙂 I have many resources where searching and now many Latin texts are on the net.
    See you around.

  4. Hello Thomas,
    you are always right! I think that Giuseppe Bezza gives an explanation for triplicities but obviously for terms is impossible. Anyway I’m almost converted to Egyptian terms 🙂

    About Cardano, my friend in CieloeTerra tells me I should not trust him entirely. Everytime I quote some lines from Cardano my friend replies Albumasar, Dorotheus, Manilius says the opposite!
    Anyway my friend is a little exaggerated 🙂 I know

  5. Nice post, Margherita. However, I would like to wish you felice anno nuovo this time as I missed buon natale. 🙂
    You’ve raised some important issues I’m not willing to address right now (it would be so long), thus I’d only like to ask you just one question: why are you longing for the English Bonatti translation if it’s two original editions are available online :)? Yeah, they were edited by Johannes Engel (and who knows how much he ’emended’ the text), but I’m afraid no one wants to make a critical edition in near future.

  6. I had a teacher in my business masters that wanted to write papers criticising administration because “they were having a huge amount of attention”.

    So, in her morality, you write something against administration, or in favour, depending of the directions of the winds…

    I am waiting for your take on receptions as well.

    By the way, I use only the egyptian terms.


  7. The point is the way one makes things, I’m happy if someone translates ancient texts I could not read and I’m happy if someone translates modern texts I could not read, like Boll’s Sphaera. I would buy these texts immediately.

    But when someone plays the expert of Latin or the Greek or the Renaissance scholar, I don’t like this anymore. They told the same in the astrological thread I read.

    For example, I’m sure it is like that in the other countries too- but I know just Italian education. Till ten years ago children studied Latin from the age of 10 to 13, then in the high school from 14-19, and the in Literature faculty for other 4 years: 13 years of Latin. Many people inside University have this background. This is a guarantee: maybe they are not astrologers but they can’t do mistake in their translations.
    Is it the same for some experts we know? Which is their background?
    To me -as Italian- the difficulty of Latin is putting words in the right order, but the meaning of single words is almost clear, we have the same words. But do you think it is the same for everybody?

    I mean, I’m not an expert and I never said this, while others do.

    Anyway, I know it’s difficult explain my point without giving examples with facts I know quite well , and this – you understand it is impossible. It’s not my way.

    About testimony I don’t know, both you and Rodolfo wrote so many interesting things…the only limit is the language, luckily we have Google translator 🙂

  8. What I meant is that it would be beautiful if all the astrologers interested in ancient texts would be skilled as Chris Brennan 🙂 or Ben Dykes.
    Unfortunately in the international astrological world there are so many self appointed “experts”, with self education or worse with no education full of “Latinorum”, we call like that in Italy from Manzoni’s masterpiece.

    In Italy “expert” means something else.

    Sphaera is out of print for the moment, a friend of mine inquired. I found a copy in Rome university, but I could copy just the few pages of Dyroff translation of Albumasar paranatellonta.

    I would buy too, even if I can’t read German.

  9. I will appear a stupid but in Italy I can’t see it 😦
    Maybe it will work with some proxy, in every case THANKS I will try with all my strength.

  10. I haven’t had a chance to put them up yet actually. I just uploaded them for you today.

    I did post a link to a scan of Bouché-Leclercq’s ‘L’astrologie grecque’ in the texts section recently, so you might want to check that out. He is a bit bombastic though…

  11. Really? I’m in debt in this case.

    I gave a look to L’astrologie Grecque in a library when I was searching something for ones of my Italian articles. But if I can have at home it’s better. Running here and there for libraries sometimes it’s quite exhausting. In Italy they try to put many obstacles to knowledge because they are supporters of the old “don’t throw the pearls to the swines”

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