I’ve got a new review of the Ancient Wisdom for Modern Readers series (Princeton) of Greek and Latin translations over at Commonweal. In short, the series is a mixed bag: some of its texts haven’t been refreshed in Harvard’s Loeb series for several decades, so a new edition is very welcome. But the Ancient Wisdom series sometimes renders its ancient texts as especially lifeless banalities. Here’s the beginning, head over to Commonweal to read the rest:
The market for bilingual editions of ancient Greek and Latin books is dominated by the Loeb Classical Library series from Harvard University Press, the iconic green and red hardbacks (often simply called “Loebs”) that have helped generations of classics undergraduates untangle Cicero’s convoluted syntax. At their debut in the last century, Virginia Woolf, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, called Loebs “a gift of freedom” because, by placing Latin and Greek texts opposite their English translations, these volumes recognized “the existence of the amateur.” Nowadays these attractive volumes appeal not only to the philological laity but also to those for whom books are objects to be seen and not read. Loebs have even appeared in the glossy photographs of Martha Stewart Living—what better way to round out a living room’s red color scheme than with a “1930s Chinese Chippendale-style fish tank” and a few crimson editions of Ovid?
Princeton University Press, then, is entering a competitive publishing niche with its new series of similarly portable and stylish hardcover books, “Ancient Wisdom for Modern Readers.” That’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement from the current offering of Loebs. By presenting “the timeless and timely ideas of classical thinkers in lively new translations” from first-rate scholars, Princeton’s collection will be helpful for readers looking for updated renderings of these canonical texts. Although new and updated Loeb editions still appear every year, some of the translations are ancient, even for centrally important works from classical antiquity. The Loeb of Cicero’s De Amicitia, the work translated in Princeton’s new How to Be a Friend, was published in 1923, and the Loeb of Epictetus’s Handbook, part of Princeton’s How to Be Free, is now ninety years old. For Loebs that need a refresh of idiom and style, Princeton is doing Woolf’s amateur classicist an overdue favor, especially because these two new Princeton volumes in particular also include the original ancient texts facing the translations.