For my high school English class, which is a translation "workshop," we're all expected to give class-long, individual sessions focusing around a translation we've performed from whatever language we choose to English. The piece/excerpt we choose can be literally anything (about 2-3 pages in length when translated), but most people so far have been doing poetry or short stories where the workshopping part of class focuses around trying to improve shaping of phrases or tweaking little details to augment the meaning or effect on the reader.

Latin's my main foreign language (I'm in a post-AP class, so I feel confident taking a crack at pretty much any text) and I was brainstorming what to translate, but I'm a bit sick of golden-age poetry and historical prose. Instead, I was thinking of doing something completely different and trying some New Latin, maybe some sort of scientific text like Isaac Newton's Principia or Copernicus' On the Revolution of the Heavenly Spheres.

My questions are: exactly how different are texts like these to what I've done so far (e.g. Pliny, Virgil, Caesar, Cicero, Ovid), and would scientific texts in general be able to make for an interesting discussion about translational nuances (i.e. would they be workshop-able)?

2 Answers 2


Had you considered Adelard of Bath? His translation of Euclid (from Arabic) and his treatise on the Astrolabe (written for William II) are both significant. "Various questions" is a bit long-winded but pithy compared to Newton. His book on falconry is based on observation and best practice and was addressed to High-school students.

You would not have to battle with the Abstract nouns of Newton, Copernicus. The 12th century renaissance was profound, dynamic, dramatic, accessible.

So far I have only found facsimile texts on line (with abbreviations and sigla [i over g =igitur};though the writing was unfussy at this date) but I shall keep looking.




BL the British library; The Wellcome Foundation; and especially the University of Toronto have helpful websitesfor independent students.

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    Are his works available online somewhere?
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jan 1, 2017 at 11:33
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    Awesome, thanks for the suggestion, I'll check his writing out! (I ended up doing a bit of Ovid's Metamorphoses for my first presentation, but I plan on going for a more modern text in my next).
    – Nick
    Jan 9, 2017 at 5:48

Newer forms of Latin tends to be much easier than classical Latin because the Romans used relatively sophisticated forms of expression. In ancient Rome education was almost entirely focused on learning and perfecting the use of the Latin language through rhetoric. And if you just do one thing, you get damn good at it. Consequently most ancient Latin is relatively elegant and sophisticated compared to that of non-native speakers.

The main difficulty you will run into with modern forms of Latin, especially scientific Latin, is that many obscure technical terms are used. However, if you have access to good dictionaries that problem is easily solved.

Rather than translate science, you might want to translate a modern historical work. For example, Rerum Scoticarum Historia (1582) by Buchanan which was a source for Shakespeare's Macbeth. Actes and Monuments by John Foxe was another important historical source book for many authors. Then of course there are the medieval histories which are great, like the Historia Brittonum, the Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, and the Vita Ælfredi regis Angul Saxonum.

If you want to translate an entire work, you will need something short. One option might be the Magna Carta, one of the most important legal documents of all time.

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