Thursday, August 28, 2014

Project Comenius Transcription - Status Fall 2014

I have mentioned in some earlier posts that I was working on transcribing Comenius's Janua Linguarum Aurea Reserata (Janua). To refresh your memory on the purpose:

  • Comenius's Janua was enormously popular across Europe. But years of experience convinced Comenius that school children needed to start with something simpler. Hence the Orbis Sensualium Pictus (OP), Comenius's rewrite of the Janua, treating the same topics, in more or less the same order, but in more summary form. By design, the Latin OP was meant to be used side-by-side with a literal translation in the student's native language. For many of us, the availability of multiple legible editions of the OP on Google Books, with translations in English, French, German, etc., and Evan Millner's recording of the entire Latin OP have been a boon to our Latin vocabulary.
  • For us OP fans, it is natural to want to complement the OP, topic by topic, with the Janua. Additionally, what really pricked my interest in the Janua was the discovery that it had been translated into Greek (as well as English, French, German, etc.). That meant an equally rich source of Greek vocabulary. Unfortunately, the Greek in the editions I was first aware of on Google Books was in Greek minuscule. Unless you are a trained or aspiring palaeographer, the ligatures of minuscule are virtually undecipherable. But let's face it, most people are not going to bother even with the Latin in these centuries-old books. So I thought it was time to bite the bullet and produce a modern, digital, legible, editable, recordable transcript of the Janua, Latin and Greek.

And that's what I set out to do, in fits and starts. For what I want to do with this transcript, there's still a lot of work to be done, but this summer has seen some exciting progress. Best of all, much of that progress has come from others. You can read about it in a README document and see my current transcription document on Dropbox. I will give some of the highlights here.

Along the way, I learned that the Orbis Pictus (OP) was also translated into Greek (in post-minuscule, relatively modern Greek font). Since, as I said, the Janua and OP are just two treatments of more or less the same topics in more or less the same order and are mutually reinforcing, I decided I really wanted to combine them. At least that was my pipe dream. Then I found out that Stephen Hall has in fact been transcribing the OP, Latin and Greek, as well as the Greek2Latin keys the Greek translators provided for each topic. Stephen is near finished with this and has kindly allowed me to incorporate his transcription into my document, so it's official: my transcription is now the Janua + the OP, Latin and Greek. And this is now the Stephen-Randy project. (Stephen is a summer-time instructor in communicative Greek at the Christophe Rico Polis Institute in Rome. I first learned about Stephen's OP transcription from Seamus MacDonald. I just linked you to Seamus's blog; check it out, it's fascinating.)

Also, at the beginning of this summer, Martin Ciesko reached out to me and pointed me to some nineteenth-century editions of the Janua Greek in a legible font. Martin is a Slovak, so he is steeped in Comenian culture and able to read Comenius's own translation in his native language. This may be very valuable in understanding what Comenius meant by this or that word. (Of all things, Martin is on the Classics faculty at Tokyo University, Japan!) So thanks to Martin, I was able to say a fond farewell to minuscule. And this is now the Martin-Stephen-Randy project.

And now, at the end of the summer, Felipe Vogel reached out to me with this little bit of news: He has transcribed the ENTIRE Janua (Latin and Greek)! In a very handsome edition, I might add: check it out. Like Stephen, Felipe has kindly allowed me to incorporate his transcription into my document. This is now very much the Felipe-Martin-Stephen-Randy project. (Entirely coincidentally, Stephen and Felipe just met a few weeks ago at the University of Kentucky, where they have each moved to begin graduate studies in the well-known program there for compositional and spoken Latin, led by Terence Tunberg and Milena Minkova.)

Also, Roberto Lionello has been meticulously proofreading Felipe's text. Roberto is a recording artist of ancient Greek, including the entire Greek Ollendorff and some exciting current projects in the works, including Pseudo-Eratosthenes' Κατα-στερισμοί, on the mythic origins of stars and constellations (Roberto is a trained astronomer from Italy and now a practicing scientist in California). I'm especially excited about the Eratosthenes, having just finished transcribing and notating the Latin and Greek names of Ptolemy's 48 constellations in the Janua (see Janua sentence 43.1 in my transcription document) and having studied Ovid's Fasti last year (Tempora cum causis Latium digesta per annum / lapsaque sub terras ortaque signa canam). We're hoping we can get Roberto to eventually record the Comenius. This is now the Roberto-Felipe-Martin-Stephen-Randy project.

Where does this leave my own document? The hard work of the transcription is done, thanks to Stephen and Felipe. That allows me to focus on three "value adds" to the raw transcription:

  1. I have concluded that for the learning and recording purposes of this transcription, it is highly desirable to provide the macrons and breves for indicating vowel length, both for the Latin and the α ι υ vowels in Greek. This is something I think should be done in all student Latin and Greek textbooks. (Exemplary in this regard is an excellent 2011 Latin-German publication of the OP by Uvius Fonticola, which Martin pointed me to.) It's enormously tedious to do, but, I think, necessary.
  2. As you dive more deeply into the Janua and OP, you realize that's it's often not as simple as Latin word = Greek word = English (French, German, etc.) word = thing immediately and precisely identifiable in our minds. You will see, therefore, that I am adding a considerable number of linguistic and historical notations, mostly drawn from the dictionaries. For example, Janua sentence #128 lists a number of legumes that are wrapped in pods or shells. One item in the list is ervum, translated as ὄροβος. What is that? My notation tells you: ὄροβος L&S: bitter vetch, Vicia Ervillia - ervum OLD: a kind of cultivated vetch, Vicia (Ervum) ervilia, or its seeds.
  3. The Janua and OP are about things first, the naming of those things second. In researching the precise meaning of this or that word, I have made many interesting excursions on the net. I came to realize that a hyperlink provides a single-click link between Comenius's state of knowledge about things and our's, so I have also been providing these. For example, bitter vetch. Not only have I, the mus urbanus, learned something, I am also much more likely to remember the meaning of ervum and ὄροβος.

Learning vocabulary requires repetition. Evan's recording provided me the means of repetition for the Latin OP. I think the ultimate value of a legible, editable transcription of the Latin and Greek Janua and OP is as an enabler of recording. My motivation from the start was to have a recording that alternates between Latin and Greek for each sentence in each topic. But there's plenty of material here for plenty of different approaches. Any volunteers (in addition to Roberto)?



  1. Βοηθοῦντος τοῦ Θεοῦ, πάντα ποιήσω, ὦ φίλε.

  2. I don't know if you've mentioned this text before or not, but I have a Google scanned copy of "Latin at Sight" by Edwin Post, circa 1900, which I believe advocates the same method as yourself. If you'd like a copy and can no longer find one on the web, please let me know and I'll email you one. --Jim Abraham, jcabraham_add_the_at_sign_google_do_the_dot_next_dot_com