GitClassics: Collaborative Editions of Obscure Latin Texts


In 1830, a virtuoso Latin poet writing under the pseudonym Publius Porcius Poeta wrote hundreds of lines of poetry in a book called Pugna Porcorum, or The Battle of the Pigs. What makes the poetry particularly notable is not so much its fanciful subject or mock-heroic frontispiece (shown above). Instead, the most remarkable feature of the Pugna is that every word in the poem, including those in its occasional footnotes, begins with the letter ‘p’:


The Pugna Porcorum, like tens of thousands of other Latin texts, is not available in translation, nor is the Latin itself easily accessible. Yes, Hathi Trust, The Internet Archive, and Google Books have digitized many of these texts, but they’re only available as images or PDFs. And to find the Pugna, you need to know beforehand what you’re hunting for. (I first heard of the Pugna while studying with Reggie Foster in 2006.)

I’ve started a project called GitClassics to create plaintext versions of obscure but noteworthy Latin texts, starting with the Pugna Porcorum. It aims to make “weird Latin” just as readily available as Vergil and Horace. The project uses GitHub to allow collaborative text editing without the mayhem of a shared Google document. If you’ve never used GitHub before (most classicists haven’t), you should head over to GitHub Guides to learn a little more about how the site allows people to collaborate on big projects. And if you work at a university, you may want to ask a friend in the sciences or digital humanities to help you get started.

(Sure, there might be a way to do these transcriptions with some very slick OCR. But OCR doesn’t give entirely accurate results, and it has a hard time dealing with some features of printed books, such as footnotes. Take a look at the OCR-produced text of the Pugna over at the Internet Archive, and you’ll see what I mean.)

Having only image-based versions of Latin texts makes them harder to search or incorporate into digital humanities projects. It’s also good to spend some time with Latin just for the sake of becoming more comfortable with the language. And after we transcribe the Pugna, I’m hoping that people will start to work on a translation together. I’ll admit, I’ve never done a collaborate translation on the Internet (even though people always talk about how it’s possible), and it might not work so well. But if GitClassics just becomes the chaotic corner of GitHub where everyone makes alliterative jokes about pigs with pistols instead of patching Python, I’m all for it.

Head over to the GitClassics page or the repository for more porcine pleasantries.