Monday, May 2, 2011

for nerds: history, punctuation

It's almost as if Chloe Angyal over at is afraid of talking seriously about history. Or is it really just "nerdy," for example, to remember (which she does) "the role of Black women activists in the abolition movement" from 1833 to the 1870s (as blogged by historian and professor of English, Carla L. Peterson)?

I did think it was really nerdy for Mike Sangrey over at Better Bibles Blog to go on and on and on about punctuation.  Or was he just trying to get us to notice how wacky his punctuation was while he was making his pronouncements?  He was trying to convince us of clarity and naturalness, saying things like, "So, punctuation is required in the translation, or it wouldn’t be clear and natural—it wouldn’t communicate to an English audience."  I don't really see that as particularly obvious or fair to a writer, and it gives the translator both a lot of latitude and liberty (contra "Nature"), which is how it should be, I believe.

But then who am I?  For family portraits, you may find me wearing such t-shirts:

And sometimes I like blogging on history and on punctuation together, as HISTORYANDPUNCTUATIONTOGETHER.  Sometimes I'll blog on Aristotle.  Wouldn't a dissertation be enough?  Sometimes I'll blog on the Bible.  Wasn't sunday school quite enough?

Well, call me what you like.  I think you're reading this blog post, aren't you?  Maybe you're one of those translation nerds.  If so, then stay tuned for more.

One day, one of Aristotle's students (it could have been Alexander the Great) read this:

If you recognize it, then it's likely that you know it wasn't written for you.  It wasn't.  You know it's a little clip from Aristotle's Rhetoric.  Yep, that's right.  We know it as the book called "The Rhetoric," or as what its most recent translator, George A. Kennedy, calls On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civil Discourse.  And we know that it's really 3 Books, and the little clip above is what has been punctuated as Book 3, Chapter 5, paragraph 6.  Kennedy has entitled the context here as this - "Chapter 5: To Hellēnizein, or Grammatical Correctness" and has put that title, without my quotation marks but with his own white space, as the header on page 206 of his book, the translation of Aristotle's book(s) on rhetoric.

We can also see that paragraph 6 here is how Aristotle rags on the "punctuation" of Heraclitus.  (To be sure, we already know from other things Aristotle wrote how much he disliked Heraclitus, who, for Aristotle, did not write with "Grammatical Correctness," or To Hellēnizein.)  Aristotle is stressing how important it is to be clear and natural with Greek, for his elite Greek all-male students.  (It's sort of like Mike Sangrey's mantra for Bible translators punctuating).

So, some later editor of Aristotle makes these helpful changes in punctuation, helping out Aristotle, not necessarily Heraclitus:
[6] πέμπτον ἐν τῷ τὰ πολλὰ καὶ ὀλίγα καὶ ἓν ὀρθῶς ὀνομάζειν: “οἱ δ᾽ ἐλθόντες ἔτυπτόν με”.  ὅλως δὲ δεῖ εὐανάγνωστον εἶναι τὸ γεγραμμένον καὶ εὔφραστον: ἔστιν δὲ τὸ αὐτό: ὅπερ οἱ πολλοὶ σύνδεσμοι οὐκ ἔχουσιν, οὐδ᾽ ἃ μὴ ῥᾴδιον διαστίξαι, ὥσπερ τὰ Ἡρακλείτου. τὰ γὰρ Ἡρακλείτου διαστίξαι ἔργον διὰ τὸ ἄδηλον εἶναι ποτέρῳ πρόσκειται, τῷ ὕστερον ἢ τῷ πρότερον, οἷον ἐν τῇ ἀρχῇ αὐτῇ τοῦ συγγράμματος: φησὶ γὰρ “τοῦ λόγου τοῦδ᾽ ἐόντος ἀεὶ ἀξύνετοι ἄνθρωποι γίγνονται”: ἄδηλον γὰρ τὸ ἀεί, πρὸς ποτέρῳ δεῖ διαστίξαι.
And that's when the English translators get busy.  Here's the renderings of the top three translators (I guess they're the most-read):

John H. Freese had this in 1926 and his later publisher, for the Harvard Loeb Classical Library, put the revised punctuated Aristotle text right next to Freese's English --
The fifth rule consists in observing number, according as many, few, or one are referred to: “They, having come (pl.), began to beat (pl.) me.”
   Generally speaking, that which is written should be easy to read or easy to utter, which is the same thing. Now, this is not the case when there is a number of connecting particles, or when the punctuation is hard, as in the writings of Heraclitus. For it is hard, since it uncertain to which word another belongs, whether to that which follows or that which precedes; for instance, at the beginning of his composition he says: “Of this reason which exists always men are ignorant,” where it is uncertain whether “always” should go with “which exists” or with “are ignorant.”
Then H. Rhys Roberts, the same year, has this (which was republished also, in 1954), with a few updates in natural and clear punctuation, like so --
(5) A fifth rule is to express plurality, fewness, and unity by the correct wording, e.g. "Having come, they struck me (oi d elthontes etupton me)." It is a general rule that a written composition should be easy to read and therefore easy to deliver. This cannot be so where there are many connecting words or clauses, or where punctuation is hard, as in the writings of Heracleitus. To punctuate Heracleitus is no easy task, because we often cannot tell whether a particular word belongs to what precedes or what follows it. Thus, at the outset of his treatise he says, "Though this truth is always men understand it not," where it is not clear with which of the two clauses the word "always" should be joined by the punctuation.
Much more recently, and to make things more natural and clear for students of rhetoric in 1991 (and then 2007), Kennedy has this --
6. Fifth is the correct naming of plural and singular:  "Having come, they beat me."  What is written should generally be easy to read and easy to speak--which is the same thing.  Use of many connectives64 does not have this quality, nor do phrases not easily punctuated,65 for example, the writings of Heraclitus. To punctuate the writings of Heraclitus is a difficult task because it is unclear what goes with what, whether with what follows or with what precedes. For example, in the very beginning of his treatise he says, "Of this Logos that exists always ignorant are men." It is unclear whether "always" goes with what precedes [or what follows].

64. Polloi syndesmoi, or polysyndeton, regarded by later rhetoricians as a figure of speech involing a surfeit of conjunctions: i.e., A and B and C, etc., rather than A, B, C. . . . .
65. Classical Greek was generally written without punctuation and even without spacing between the words; it thus had to be "punctuated" by the reader.

Now, if you're looking for a point from me, an idea, a belief, a conclusion of sorts, then it's this: there's very little "natural" about language like this. Rules are written by humans, even punctuation rules. And these are often broken. I believe the KJV Bible, and just about every Bible before it and after has broken punctuation rules.  (I wanted to say that today, just because it's a historical one, you know, the KJV birthday.)

So the king of pronunciation is the one who makes up the rules. A creative writer, like Heraclitus, might be difficult or playful or allow too much play. And so somebody like Aristotle will come in to try to shut that down, to attempt to shut him up. It's sort of comical when you look at it, because Aristotle is just as nerdy as Heraclitus before him. And his punctuation is hardly any clearer. It's just different in how it pronounces the need for clarity and for naturalness and for correctness.  What might you think?  Is this nerdy stuff?  Does it have relevance to history for you, to bible, to translation?  Is one of the four translations above (that Greek one and the three Englishes) clearer or more natural or more accurate or correct to the original than the others?


J. K. Gayle said...

Here's a clip from my dissertation on this example "sentence," or Aristotle's paragraph 6, his fifth lesson to his male only students in his Academy:

If Aristotle’s daughter Pythias, his second wife or concubine Herpyllis, and his slave Horace were to read Aristotle’s example sentence, then they would understand its meaning in a way that they felt in their bodies. Quite possibly, at least one of them had been hit, if not by their master, husband, father, then by others. The ones hitting, perhaps a mob or a lynching gang, were likely males. Such is the legacy of the violent ancient Greeks.

Aristotle taught such violence even in the Rhetoric. He began with innocent games like “knucklebones.” Earlier in Book I (1370b), he wrote of the “sweet pleasures” of competition and of winning boys games. And he goes on to describe similar pleasures for those preparing in brutal ways for the sweetness of the battlefields of men.

But Aristotle himself is using this second example to attack another man. Just as he had assaulted Protagoras and his views with the first example sentence, he now takes aim at Heraclitus. Ostensibly, Aristotle is only giving a lesson on bad punctuation in written Greek; the writing of Heraclitus is to serve as the bad example of how not to punctuate writing. He starts in by giving another imperative: δει̂ εὐανάγνωστον. This means, quite literally, that “It absolutely must be the case that knowledge from above ought to be good, or blessed.” In other words, δει̂ means “ought,” and εὐ connotes a good blessing from the goddesses and gods, and ανάγνωστον is the idiomatic word for “reading,” which is ανά meaning “upwards” and γνωστον meaning “knowledge.” What is important here is that there is a theological implication in the mandate for what Freese (and Kennedy) translate as “should [generally] be easy to read.” As a feminist rhetorical translator, I am trying to listen in with intent to what Aristotle is writing to the boys in his academy. Without too much of a stretch, I think it is fair to suggest that Aristotle is intending to say that Heraclitus is not playing by the rules of the universe.

Heraclitus is the early philosopher who so influenced the sophists of Aristotle’s day by claiming that the “logos” (not Aristotle’s “logic”)—that is, “the Statement,” is the unifying principle for all things, in the heavens and on earth. I noted previously that Aristotle takes jabs at Heraclitus. Aristotle discusses the philosopher in his Physics and calls him extreme, not a centrist. ("Moreover, the view is actually held by some [i.e., Heraclitus] that not merely some things but all things in the world are in motion and always in motion, though we cannot apprehend the fact by sense perception" [Physics 253b 9.) The male students in Aristotle’s elite academy would have heard about Heraclitus’s teachings; they would have understood Aristotle’s position against Heraclitean philosophy.

J. K. Gayle said...

Likely, those in Aristotle’s household would also have overheard him complain about Heraclitus, so strong was his influence. My feminist rhetorical translating tries to bring out Aristotle’s issues with the great philosopher. And yet I also want to acknowledge the perspectives and the voices of those around Aristotle who must read someone else’s mail and who must eavesdrop and overhear and listen rhetorically with intent but not necessarily to the author’s ostensibly singular intent. What is the one thing that Aristotle must intend with the phrase, τῳ̂ ὕστερον? It is the phrase that traditional phallologocentric translators of the Rhetoric have rendered as “that which follows” and “what follows.” However, the very same phrase, nearly literally, can mean “a lack,” and it is the very same Greek phrase that Aristotle uses in his biological writings of females for “uterus.” If Aristotle had talked of such biology around his home, in front of his “women” and his daughter and slaves, female and males, then reading his lesson here to the boys, they would have understood the many meanings of the phrase. A feminist rhetorical translating seeks to open up in the text the many meanings, especially the meanings that have to be made in sometimes-painful bodily experiences, when the body is a possession of a man.

My translation is as follows:

Five: there’s “one” and the “many” and the “few” to get straight who’s named:

having arrived in that way,
         they hit me.

On the whole, then, blessed knowledge-from-above ought to be as blessed to utter as is writing. Yet these are self-sufficient. Those many who are shackled together are not so self possessed nor are the marks across easy. So it is with Heraclitus.

In fact, the markings across by Heraclitus are work because they are unclear whether they’re in front or in the rear with that hysterical lack. Here is what’s at the beginning of his written composition: He declares, in fact, that “of the Statement that exists through the ages, there are mortal human beings born without consciousness of them.” It is not clear, in fact, whether “through the ages” goes to the front by his marks across.