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1. The Odyssey in culture, ancient and modern

Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey recounts the 10-year journey of Odysseus from the fall of Troy to his return home to Ithaca. The story has continued to draw people in since its beginning in an oral tradition, through the first Greek writing and integration into the ancient education system, the numerous translations over the ages, and modern retellings. It has also been adapted to different artistic mediums from depictions on pottery, to scenes in mosaic, to film. We spoke with Barry B. Powell, author of a new free verse translation of The Odyssey, about how the story was embedded into ancient Greek life, why it continues to resonate today, and what translations capture about their contemporary cultures.

Visual representations of The Odyssey and understanding ancient Greek history

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Why is The Odyssey still relevant in our modern culture?

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On the over 130 translations of The Odyssey into English

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Barry B. Powell is Halls-Bascom Professor of Classics Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. His new free verse translation of The Odyssey was published by Oxford University Press in 2014. His translation of The Iliad was published by Oxford University Press in 2013. See previous blog posts from Barry B. Powell.

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2. National Short Story Month - Karate Chop by Dorthe Nors, Translated by Martin Aitken

Nors coverA short little story collection, Karate Chop by Dorthe Nors (translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken) from Graywolf Press is full of short gems. Stories that might seem like they'll be cute or simply slide toward the dark or weird.

"The Duckling" begins:

Alongside the big farm, dad ran a duck farm, and because he was a clever man he earned a lot of money from it.

A story called "The Duckling" starting off that way--how dark can it get? Well at some point the dad gives the daughter who narrates the story a duckling born somewhat unhealthy, giving her a chance to raise it. Her thought is to put it in a bowl lined with a towel and put it in the oven to keep it warm. Perhaps not so surprisingly it dies. In a nice upswing however, they have a nice father/daughter moment burying the duckling together.

Another story, "Female Killers" has a married man staying up after his wife has gone to bed and he starts wandering the internet. He ends up looking up various female killers and maybe the only thing stranger than the facts that start to pop up about the killers is the thoughts that pop into the man's head about the female killers--they're odd, they're scary--they're inspired writing. He worries for the son (given up at birth) of the serial killer that will one day find out her name and find there are over 200,000 hits for her on Google; he thinks of chimps killing bush babies with spears they've made when put in the position of being hungry.

Nors' stories are short, but not quite what I'd consider minimalist. They have big ideas and just get to them quickly. It's a very entertaining collection and one you'll read in a day.

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3. Money matters

By Valerie Minogue

Money is a tricky subject for a novel, as Zola in 1890 acknowledged: “It’s difficult to write a novel about money. It’s cold, icy, lacking in interest…” But his Rougon-Macquart novels, the “natural and social history” of a family in the Second Empire, were meant to cover every significant aspect of the age, from railways and coal-mines to the first department stores. Money and the Stock Exchange (the Paris Bourse) had to have a place in that picture, hence Money, the eighteenth of Zola’s twenty-novel cycle.

The subject is indeed challenging, but it makes an action-packed novel, with a huge cast, led by a smaller group of well-defined and contrasting characters, who inhabit a great variety of settings, from the busy, crowded streets of Paris to the inside of the Bourse, to a palatial bank, modest domestic interiors, houses of opulent splendour — and a horrific slum of filthy hovels that makes a telling comment on the social inequalities of the day.

Dominating the scene from the beginning is the central, brooding figure of Saccard. Born Aristide Rougon, Saccard already appears in earlier novels of the Rougon-Macquart, notably in The Kill, which relates how Saccard, profiting from the opportunities provided by Haussman’s reconstruction of Paris, made – and lost – a huge fortune in property deals. Money relates Saccard’s second rise and fall, but Saccard here is a more complex and riveting figure than in The Kill.

Émile Zola painted by Edouard Manet

It is Saccard who drives all the action, carrying us through the widely divergent social strata of a time that Zola termed “an era of folly and shame”, and into all levels of the financial world. We meet gamblers and jobbers, bankers, stockbrokers and their clerks; we get into the floor of the Bourse, where prices are shouted and exchanged at break-neck speed, deals are made and unmade, and investors suddenly enriched or impoverished. This is a world of insider-trading, of manipulation of share-prices and political chicanery, with directors lining their pockets with fat bonuses and walking off wealthy when the bank goes to the wall — scandals, alas, so familiar that it is hard to believe this book was written back in 1890! Saccard, with his enormous talent for inspiring confidence and manipulating people, would feel quite at home among the financial operators of today.

Saccard is surrounded by other vivid characters – the rapacious Busch, the sinister La Méchain, waiting vulture-like for disaster and profit, in what is, for the most part, a morally ugly world. Apart from the Jordan couple, and Hamelin and his sister Madame Caroline, precious few are on the side of the angels. But there are contrasts not only between, but also within, the characters. Nothing and no-one here is purely wicked, nor purely good. The terrible Busch is a devoted and loving carer of his brother Sigismond. Hamelin, whose wide-ranging schemes Saccard embraces and finances, combines brilliance as an engineer with a childlike piety. Madame Caroline, for all her robust good sense, falls in love with Saccard, seduced by his dynamic vitality and energy, and goes on loving him even when in his recklessness he has lost her esteem. Saccard himself, with all his lusts and vanity and greed, works devotedly for a charitable Foundation, delighting in the power to do good.

Money itself has many faces: it’s a living thing, glittering and tinkling with “the music of gold”, it’s a pernicious germ that ruins everything it touches, and it’s a magic wand, an instrument of progress, which, combined with science, will transform the world, opening new highways by rail and sea, and making deserts bloom. Money may be corrupting but is also productive, and Saccard, similarly – “is he a hero? is he a villain?” asks Madame Caroline; he does enormous damage, but also achieves much of real value.

Fundamental questions about money are posed in the encounter between Saccard and the philosopher Sigismond, a disciple of Karl Marx, whose Das Kapital had recently appeared — an encounter in which individualistic capitalism meets Marxist collectivism head to head. Both men are idealists in very different ways, Sigismond wanting to ban money altogether to reach a new world of equality and happiness for all, a world in which all will engage in manual labour (shades of the Cultural Revolution!), and be rewarded not with evil money but work-vouchers. Saccard, seeing money as the instrument of progress, recoils in horror. For him, without money, there is nothing.

If Zola vividly presents the corrupting power of money, he also shows its expansive force as an active agent of both creation and destruction, like an organic part of the stuff of life. And it is “life, just as it is” with so much bad and so much good in it, that the whole novel finally reaffirms.

Valerie Minogue has taught at the universities of Cardiff, Queen Mary University of London, and Swansea. She is co-founder of the journal Romance Studies and has been President of the Émile Zola Society, London, since 2005. She is the translator of the new Oxford World’s Classics edition of Money by Émile Zola.

For over 100 years Oxford World’s Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford’s commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more. You can follow Oxford World’s Classics on Twitter, Facebook, or here on the OUPblog.

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Image credit: Émile Zola by Edouard Manet [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.

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4. Graphic Novel Week: Pluto

Pluto by Naoki Urasawa, based on work by Osama Tezuka.

I'm going to review the entire 8-volume series as one, because that's how I think about it, because that's how we looked at it for inclusion on the Outstanding Books and College Bound list for Science and Technology.

Urasawa takes a story arc from Osama Tezuka's classic Astro Boy series and retells it for an older audience. The first volumes really focus on Gesicht, a top European detective who's looking into the horrible murders of some of the world's leading robots. It's soon evident that the serial killer is targeting the seven most powerful robots in the world. This troubles Gesicht for many professional reasons, but many personal ones as well--most of the seven are his friends, because he is one of them. This killer is unlike anything they've ever seen before--he's too fast to be captured on film, so he can't be human, but he doesn't show up on any robot sensors, so he can't be a robot.

As the mystery deepens, we meet the other robots, get backstories-- many are haunted by what they saw and did in the last great war and many live their lives today as a way to atone for their actions then. There are flickers of something at the edges of Gesicht's memory that he can't quite place, but he thinks it's important.

And through it all it raises questions of what it means to be human and where the line is between Artificial Intelligence and humanity--if we get too good at designing AI, will there be a line any more? Can there be one? What about an injured human with robotic parts? How much robot is too much robot? And through it all, it's just a damn good, engaging story that has many heartbreaking moments. An early one that stands out is the story of North, a robot who is known for the death and destruction he brought during the war. He's now a butler to a composer who loathes him because everyone knows robots can't feel. All North wants to do is make music, to play piano and bring beauty to the world, but the composer won't let him, because robots are emotionless and can't understand or play true music because of it. It perfectly sets up the prejudices many have against robots, while showing that many of these AI systems are so advanced that robots may not be that emotionless after all. It's a tender story that sets up a lot of the larger issues and dynamics in the series.

I love the world Tezuka and Urasawa have built, and it's eerie to realize that the geopolitics read as super-current, but were in the original text from the 60s. As someone whose never read Astro Boy, I'm not familiar with the source material, but that's ok. The story is amazing on its own, but I do like the touch that each volume has a bit of back matter--an essay, an interview, another comic-- from a variety of people--Tezuka's son, manga scholars, other artists-- that help give both works a context to each other and to the larger manga world. It was very interesting and helpful. (Plus, I just love that Japan takes drawn books so seriously that there are a lot of manga scholars out there.)

I highly recommend it.

Books Provided by... my local library

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5. Graphic Novel Week: Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms

Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms Fumiyo Kouno, translated from the Japanese by Naoko Amemiya and Andy Nakatani

This isn't currently in print, but many libraries still have it and it's seriously worth tracking down a copy. It's two stories, in one book. "Town of Evening Calm" deals with Minami, a young woman who, 10 years prior, survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. She's still haunted by that day, and has intense guilt about the fact she survived when so many didn't. (Including many members of her immediate family.) "Country of Cherry Blossoms" is in two parts and takes place in 1987, the second part in 2004, and on one hand is a story of changing friendships and aging parents, but on the other is a look at how the bombing still lingers in Japanese society and thought. They're connected, but I won't tell you how.

This is an Outstanding Book for the College Bound, on the History and Cultures list. I didn't read it when we were working on the list, because I was on different subcommittees, but hearing the History and Cultures people talk about it, it was on my list of ones to pick up immediately.

The author's note at the end explains why Kouno wrote the story. She's from Hiroshima, where they avoid the subject. When she moved to Tokyo she discovered that the rest of Japan (excepting Nagasaki) don't talk about it because they don't understand it. They don't the scars those cities still bear, and how they're different than the ones the rest of Japan has.

The result is beautifully drawn book. "Town of Evening Calm" is rather heartbreaking, but "Country of Cherry Blossoms" is often very funny. It's a fascinating look into a time and place and effects events still have decades down to the line.

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6. The Voyage

The Voyage (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Veronica Salinas

Illustrated by: Camilla Engman

Translated by: Jeanne Eirheim

Published by: Groundwood Books

Published on: September 17, 2013

Ages: 4+

Book provided by the publisher for review. All opinions are my own.

"You are who you are" is such a simple message but one that can take a long time to sink in. It's nice of this adorable duck who learns this lesson to want to share with us.

This wee duck is in a strange forest and he can't understand the people he meets. He feels out of sorts until he meets another creature who looks a bit like him who gives him the confidence to keep going and meet new people.

The book really reminded me of how I felt when I first showed up in a tiny town in the Japanese countryside and didn't know the language. But someday, after a lot of work, something just clicked and I started to understand a lot, and I felt really at home. This book would be great for a kid (or adult!) going on a trip to a new country or new immigrants.

The limited palette of mostly browns and greys is really stylish and makes me think of Scandinavia. There are a lot of little details that make these illustrations, like Easter eggs in a video game. Engman has coloured sketches of tiny animals doing cute things on each spread, like the ant going sailing in a lake of tears.

An adorable book great for kids who feel out-of-place.

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7. A New Anthology of Russia's Greatest Gothic Writers

Muireann Maguire's Red Spectres: Russian Gothic Tales from the Twentieth Century, a new collection of supernatural fiction featuring eleven short stories from both classic and lesser known Russian writers, is out later this week. Featuring nine pieces never before translated into English, the anthology combines many of the best-loved aspects of the traditional ghost story with the full Gothic

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8. Gained in translation - Lily Hyde

The first I knew was when I got an e-mail from someone called Leila. She wrote that she had translated my novel, Dream Land, and wanted to publish it.

With someone else, my pleased but surprised response would have been to refer her straight away to my agent to deal with permissions and fees. But Leila is different.

'Like the heroine of your book, I was born in Samarkand in exile’ she wrote. ‘My childhood was often darkened by shadows, because of the deportation of our people. In 1989 we were able to return to our homeland. I lived through everything that you describe in your book. You’ve managed to perceive and impart the reality… I want to tell you that I’ve translated it into Crimean Tatar. I thought that this novel about our tragic fate should be read by every Crimean Tatar.’

The English Edition of Dream Land (Walker) 

Dream Land is about the ethnic group Leila belongs to: the Crimean Tatars, who inhabited Crimea (now part of Ukraine) until 1944, when the entire nation was forcibly deported. It is estimated that up to 46 percent died on the way to labour camps in Central Asia and the Urals. Those that survived had to rebuild their lives from scratch. They were banned from speaking their own language. They were discriminated against in education, employment, housing. And they were not permitted to return home to Crimea until fifty years later, when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Dream Land is based very closely on the stories people told me; what happened to them before, during, and after the deportation; their sufferings and struggles and dreams. The book is fiction in that I made up most of the characters. But their fictional lives are an amalgam of the many real ones I encountered. I tried to imagine myself into the lives of the Crimean Tatars, to understand how they feel and where they come from, to be as true as possible to what they told me.

I was aware, though, that not only do I myself not speak the Crimean Tatar language, I was writing this book in English, for a British young adult audience who in all likelihood have never heard of the people it is about.

Moreover, I realised that the majority of Crimean Tatar young adults would not be able to read it. I don’t know what percentage speak English well enough to read a novel, but in my experience it is fairly small.

I do know how many Crimean Tatar children are estimated to speak their own language of Crimean Tatar. It is five percent.

Crimean Tatar is recognised by UNESCO as a ‘severely endangered’ language. During their fifty years of exile, the Crimean Tatars fought ceaselessly to keep their identity alive. It is a sad irony that now the central right for which they fought – to live once again in their own country – has been won, something else is being lost. A physical home gained at the cost of a mental home, perhaps.

If only five percent of Tatar children speak their native tongue, is there any point in publishing Dream Land in Crimean Tatar? I believe so, and want to support the campaign to keep Crimean Tatar alive. Barbara, a volunteer at the Gasprinskiy Library in Simferopol, writes here about what the loss of a language means. She sums up:

Their songs would go unsung, their poetry only read by language scholars, the wealth of their literary heritage only known in translated form. As my counterpart at the library, Nadjie Yagya, said to me when I first came to the library: “If a person does not know the language of his ancestors, the spiritual losses are irreplaceable, and he cannot fully understand the culture of his people.” 

The French edition of Dream Land (Naive Livres)

Leila, and everyone else informed about the situation, agrees that ultimately, Dream Land should be translated into Russian, to reach not only more Crimean Tatars but also the Ukrainians and Russians who now make up the vast majority of the Crimean population. As Barbara wrote to me:
The longer I live here [in Crimea], the more I am aware of the tremendous discrimination the Crimean Tatars face and the undercurrent of ignorance and prejudice from much of the Russian speaking population. Having a Russian version of Dream Land available to school children would give them another side of a story they perhaps hear in a twisted version.  
We’re looking for funding for a small print run of Хаял Мекяны – the Crimean Tatar title – and then, we hope, for Земля Мечты, in Russian. But I want to say thank you to Leila, for translating this book. And to Taner, who is translating it into Romanian, so that the Crimean Tatar Diaspora there can share the story with their Romanian neighbours and perhaps through it more understanding and tolerance can be built.

Dream Land is just a novel, and one I had many fears about writing – that I would get it wrong, that I was appropriating a culture and story in a crass act of cultural imperialism. But I’m so excited and humbled by these translations. It feels like the Crimean Tatars are taking the book back and making it into something bigger, and more important, and their own.


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9. I'M BORED Process: How a picture book is translated into other languages


 I was thrilled to find out that the French version of I'M BORED was available for ordering online, and then got curious about the process.

How does a picture book get translated? Are there any issues that children's book writers and illustrators need to be aware of, when working a project?

I interviewed Tracy Philips from the S&S UK Translation Rights team about the process, over the I'M BORED Scrapbook Blog.

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10. THE ISLAND OF SECOND SIGHT: New York Times Review + Translator Interview

Albert Vigoleis Thelen's The Island of Second Sight received a glowing review in last weekend's New York Times Sunday Book Review. Today, translator Donald White joins us on the blog for an interview to discuss the first English edition what Thomas Mann famously called "one of the greatest books of the twentieth century." How did you first come across A.V. Thelen’s Die Insel des zweiten

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11. An Order of Amelie, Hold the Fries

An Order of Amelie, Hold the Fries Nina Schindler, translated from the German by Rob Barrett

You gotta love a book that references Leonard Cohen on the second page. With a big ol' picture of him, too.

Tim's a student who sees the woman of his dreams. He doesn't know her, but her address falls out of her bag, so he takes a risk and emails her. Only... it wasn't her email address. Amelie is NOT the girl of Tim's dreams, but her reply charms him, so he writes back and writes back, until she caves. It's a very sweet relationship the develops as Amelia tries to figure out what to do about her new feelings for Tim and some negative feelings with her very serious long-distance boyfriend.

Format wise, this one's much closer to Middle School is Worse than Meatloaf as we get a much better visual on the notes, flowers that are also sent, phones used in text messages (you actually tell the who's texting who because their phones are different.)

Interestingly, even though this is a German book, it takes place in Canada.

It's a short, sweet read that's a great use of the stuff format.

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12. The Lily Pond

The Lily Pond Annika Thor, translated from the Swedish by Linda Schenck

In this sequel to A Faraway Island, Stephie is on the mainland, studying at school and lodging with Soderbergs. Unfortunately, the Soderbergs aren't as warm as Stephie expected. She's to eat her meals in the kitchen and once Mrs. Soderberg keeps her from going back to the island one weekend because she's throwing a big party. Stephie's excited to attend, until she discovers that she's to be hired help, not a guest.

The one highlight of the Soderberg home is Sven, on whom Stephie quickly develops a crush (oh, such a painful storyline to read.)

In addition, on the mainland, Stephie learns that the Nazi threat grows ever closer and even though Sweden is a neutral country, there are more than a few Nazi sympathizers. And, of course, letters from home show how desperate the situation is getting for her parents-- for modern readers who know what the truth ends up being about the fate of some many European Jews, it is heartbreaking to read, and rage-inducing to read the reactions of the Swedish adults Stephie tries to get to help her family.

There are four books in this series and I cannot wait for the next two to come out in the US. Sadly, there was a two-year lag between the first and second one. Maybe they'll speed up the publication cycle because the first two have both won awards? I don't want to wait until 2015 to see how it all turns out!!!

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13. Guest Columnists: Lucha Corpi And Nuria Brufau Alvira, From Eulogy To Loa. Banned Books. Carlos Fuentes Conference. On-Line Floricanto.

From Eulogy to Loa

Loa a un ángel de piel morena, NuriaBrufau Alvira’s translation into Spanish of my novel Eulogy for a Brown Angel, was released late in 2011 by theUniversity of Alcalá de Henares’ Instituto Franklin, to whom I am indebted for makingthis possible. I was thrilled, of course, and posted the news on my Facebookwall. Michael Sedano sent his enhorabuenato me. He commented that he was looking forward to reading the opening scene atthe National Chicano Moratorium march and riot in the novel in Spanish. He thenasked for my impressions, for my feelings when Gloria Damasco first “spoke” tome in Spanish. I had asked myself similar questions when I had read the firstand the final drafts of Nuria Brufau Alvira’s splendid translation of my GloriaDamasco mystery novel. Long before, I had also assisted Catherine Rodríguez-Nieto when she translated my poetry into English, and voice in translationbecame one of my concerns.
Of course,literary provocateur that he is —in the best of ways— Michael then invited Nuriaand me to write companion pieces about our respective experiences as author andtranslator for La Bloga. And here we are:
Oakland(California), 2012

A translator´s account of the process

And onceagain, Lucha and I have intertwined our discourses in order to ease the access tothe translation chamber, that frontier space between languages and cultures,where we, as author and translator, have met. And it has been a real encounterbecause we were coming from different locations with dissimilar ways of lovingthe text we were going to work on.
Allowingsomeone to translate one’s text constitutes the maximum act of generosity, becausedespite the impossibility of having absolute control over the meaning of ourown words, we all write in the hope that we will be transmitting certain ideasand values, and that we will be stimulating certain senses in our readers. Honestlyspeaking, all writers aim at spreading a specific message, be it aesthetic or ofanother kind. By allowing someone who is alien to such a creative act torewrite our text we assume the risk of that someone not sharing or even misunderstandingits intended sense, or purpose. For that reason, having one’s text translated reallyis, as I see it, an act of bigheartedness and trust. On the translators’ part, acceptingsuch a task implies the need to welcome each new text with the open attitude ofsomeone that is willing not only to understand and feel, but also to helpothers to understand and feel too. After all, translating is allowingcommunication between those who are different.
Luckilyenough, in this case our efforts of generosity and warm welcome, as well as ofmutual trust, have been greatly and mutually corresponded. Lucha had writtenthe text thinking of an American audience who is more or less familiarized withthe Chicano movement and its claims, but who might als

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14. New books, old story?

By Natalia Nowakowska

As the Catholic Church embarked upon its observance of Lent last week, many congregations will be holding in their hands brand new, bright red liturgical books — copies of the new English translation of the Roman Missal (the service book for Catholic Mass), introduced throughout the English-speaking world at the end of 2011 on the instructions of the Vatican.

This is not a new experience for Catholic congregations and clergy. The rare book collections of the world’s research libraries are full of the ‘new’ liturgical books produced for European dioceses between 1478 and 1500, on the orders of bishops making enthusiastic use of the recently developed printing press. Some of these books, missals printed on vellum in full folio size, are too heavy for me to pick up. Others, tiny breviaries with heavily-thumbed pages, would fit in your pocket, or that of a late medieval priest. In their prefaces, bishops explained that the point of printing these new liturgical books was to reform the church. Their aim was to provide parishes with new liturgies which were an improvement upon the service-books already in use, both the “crumbling” liturgical manuscripts from which communities had been praying for centuries, and recent, pirated printed editions. This fifteenth-century initiative was reprised during the Counter Reformation; echoing the actions of late medieval North European bishops, Pope Pius V’s Breviarium Romanum (1568) and Missale Romanum (1570) provided the entire Catholic world with new liturgical editions in Europe and beyond. The printing of improved liturgical books was therefore at the forefront of many high clerical minds in Renaissance Europe, just as it is a priority for the Vatican today.

Pope Pius V by El Greco. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The links between these Renaissance-era projects and what is currently happening in English-speaking Catholic churches go beyond a general impulse by high clergy to roll out improved worship-books, however. I’ve been struck by how similar the language used by fifteenth-century bishops, Pius V, and the current Roman Catholic hierarchy is. Late medieval bishops, in their neatly printed prefaces, complained bitterly at the “corruption,” “distortion,” and “manifest errors” of old liturgical books. The provision of the 2011 Roman missal is, meanwhile, justified with reference to the oversimplified, “plain,” and possibly inauthentic words of the earlier translation. Fifteenth-century prelates stressed that an authorised, printed liturgy would ensure a “unanimity” in worship which symbolised the essential unity of the church; the modern Congregation of Rites states that the new missal translations will function as “an outstanding sign and instrument of… integrity and unity.” Late medieval bishops took care to stress the academic credentials of the clergy-scholars who had prepared the new editions; Benedict XVI has thanked the “expert assistants” who worked on the new missal, “offering the fruits of their scholarship.” The language of liturgical reform, corruption and renewal, unity and authenticity, which we hear today is also that of the sixteenth and fifteenth-century church, which had in turn inherited it from the early medieval church.

New books, same story. Yet the introduction of new books for worship is about power and authori

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15. Selling Books Overseas

I love seeing our titles translated into multiple foreign languages and enjoyed by children around the world.  While all our books are of high quality, not all of them will work in all countries. Here are a few interesting things I’ve learned about selling our titles at international book fairs:

  • Science and math titles always get the attention of both rights agents and distributors, especially in the East-Asian market.  All I need to do is flip to the catalog page featuring a new Robert E. Wells title and a contract will be signed within months.

    What's So Special about Planet Earth? in Spanish

  • American holiday titles and illustration styles considered “American”, however, generally do not stir interest overseas.
  • Surprisingly, we have some interest in the Korean market for African American titles for they see those as encouraging, obstacle-overcoming lessons.
  • Speaking of Korean market, our title of Princess K.I.M. and the Lie That Grew put a smile on all the Korean publishers’ faces when it was first presented.  Why?  Because Kim is a very popular surname in Korea!

    Princess K.I.M. and the Lie That Grew in Korean

  • New born babies and titles on siblings are generally not too popular in China due to the One Child Policy.
  • Muslim regions do not accept any stories with pigs in them.
  • In general, illustrated animal characters sell.  The cuter they are, the more sample review copies are requested. 

    When I Feel Sad in Chinese

  • We also learned throughout the years that bunnies do particularly well in Germany.

Do you know of any other fun facts that I missed?  Feel free to share them with us!

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16. "The reader is the ghost": The Rider on the White Horse by Theodor Storm


A letter from the editor of NYRB Classics
The Rider on the White Horse is currently available from www.nyrb.com at 30% off the cover price.

Everything's up in the air at the start of Theodor Storm's novella The Rider on the White Horse, written in 1888 when Storm, who was not only a celebrated author but also a distinguished jurist, was on his deathbed. The story begins—begins almost reluctantly—with a strange confusion of voices. First we hear what we take to be the author—only he disclaims authorship. He tells us that we are about to read a story that he read maybe a half century ago in a magazine, a magazine that in the years since he has never been able to track down, a story, he somewhat puzzlingly adds, of which "nothing external" has ever reminded him. The story follows: its narrator, traveling along the coast of the North Sea, is caught in a terrible storm; battered by wind and waves, he repeatedly glimpses a spectral horseman galloping furiously and soundlessly past him. Taking shelter at an inn, the traveler mentions the apparition, and now the local schoolmaster steps in. It is he who tells what you might call the story proper—a ghost story, yes, but also, as these overlapping voices might suggest, a story that has a ghostly life of its own.

At first, however, there is nothing uncanny about the story the schoolmaster tells, about a young man making his way in the world sometime in the middle of the eighteenth century. Hauke Heien is a boy from a modest farming background who, with a talent for numbers and a fascination with the ways of water, apprentices himself to the local dikemaster and soon makes himself indispensable. When the dikemaster dies, his mantle falls upon Hauke, who also marries, very happily, his daughter. It is a success story.

Hauke's story is set, as I mentioned, on the edge of the North Sea, in Frisia, where the proper construction and maintenance of dikes is crucial not only to the safety but also to the well-being of the community: as the network of dikes expands, so does the availability of land for grazing or cultivation. To open new fields, Hauke orders the construction of a new dike, built on new principles. Content with things as they are, the villagers grumble about the project. The dikemaster, however, is not lightly disobeyed, and they undertake it. They are—and this is where the story begins to grow unsettling—truly horrified when, after two years, the work approaches conclusion, and the dikemaster intervenes to prevent a step without which it will all have been in vain. "Something living has got to go into it," one man tells Hauke, "Even our grandfathers knew that much...."

Hauke ordains that no sacrifice will take place. The dike is built and holds. The new land is cleared. Reason trumps superstition. Progress is made. So it appears, and yet Hauke remains a lonely figure, with only wife and child for company, distrusted by the larger community. He has done his job, neglecting nothing, except perhaps something about the human. He rides on his white horse along his dike and feels himself to be "at the center of all the Frisians alive and dead....[towering] above them all."

There is an extraordinary moment in The Rider on the White Horse when Hauke's wife is sick, and Hauke, unusually, prays:

O God, don't take her away from me! I can't do without her and You know it!... I know You can't always do just what You want to do—not even You.... Speak to me! Just a breath!

Silence. A silence that is at the heart of Storm's story, where the natural world is prowled by supernatural apparitions, while the supernatural itself, the divine—even the poignantly limited God, able only to help a bit, that Hauke addresses—never appears. A world in which you cannot trust your eyes or anything, much less—Hauke will discover—know yourself.

I'm not going to reveal the end—you'll want to find it out yourself, I hope—and ruin the suspense, which mounts powerfully as the story proceeds. I will say that by the end we have been returned, in richer and stranger ways than we might have ever imagined, to the beginning: we are up in the air again. I began by noting the author's odd disclaimer about "nothing external" having ever reminded him of the story he happened upon long ago and now intends to tell again, and one thing that becomes clear in the course of that telling is that the landscape of the story is an interior landscape—the landscape of conscience, say, where the real and the unreal exist under continual threat of confusion, kept apart by only the most fragile and provisional barriers—though Storm's mud slicks, icy marshes, fog banks, crashing waves, and vulnerable dikes, not to mention Hauke and the villagers, never strike us as anything but unforgettably real.

And as to what I also mentioned to begin with, the strangely layered voices by which the story is relayed, by the end it is clear, I think, that the story we have heard is essentially choral: the story of any community and the sacrifices by which it ensures its survival; the story of the isolated souls that constitute all communities and of their deaths. Storm, as I said, was unsure he would live to complete it, and in the background of the story you can hear something like the dead saying to the living (as the living suppose), You are who we were and will be who we are. One of the mysterious effects of this extraordinary work is that at some point the modern reader realizes with a shock that he too is included—included already—in this ghostly chorus. It is ghost story in which, you could say, the reader is brought up short by his own apparition. The reader is the ghost.

The Rider on the White Horse is the title story and masterpiece in a selection of Storm's novellas and stories translated by the very fine American poet James Wright for the Signet Classics series, when it was edited by E.L. Doctorow. If I see a book from that series that I haven't read, I always pick it up, and in this case I was especially interested because of Wright's involvement. I'd always meant to read Storm, though more as a matter of duty, I suppose, than anticipated delight. It's not often that one starts a long story, finds oneself pulled irresistibly along through it, and finishes it both astonished and convinced that it is, in the strongest sense of the word, great—a work that will deepen with rereading, that matters. That was my experience with The Rider on the White Horse.

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17. On Douglas Parmée

Scholar and translator Douglas Parmée—who translated two NYRB Classics, The Child by Jules Vallès and Afloat by Guy de Maupassant—died last August. What follows is an expanded version of the obituary that ran in the London Times.

Douglas Parmée in 1971 Douglas Parmée was a lecturer in modern languages at Cambridge—and a fellow of Queens’ College for sixty years— who also became known for the number and quality of his translations. These included Effi Briest (Theodor Fontane) and Bel-Ami (Guy de Maupassant) for Penguin Classics; A Sentimental Education (Gustave Flaubert), Nana (Emile Zola) and Les Liaisons dangereuses (Choderlos de Laclos) for the Oxford University Press World’s Classics series; and, for Short Books, a selection from the aphorist and epigrammatist Nicolas Chamfort. He also published two anthologies, Twelve French Poets (Longman 1957), which became for some years an A-level textbook, and its successor Fifteen French Poets (Longman 1974), which did not.

As well as being Director of Studies in French and having various other college jobs in the pluralistic Cambridge way, he spent time at the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica and in Barbados and at the University of Western Australia in Perth.

The style of his work can be judged from a review of Liaisons, which praised a racy, colloquial and accurate translation, a concise, well-honed, elegant introduction and helpful and informative notes. It was this raciness, allied to his remarkable facility with languages and a relish for the unconventional – perhaps a distaste for the conventional as well – that led him into some of the byways of Francophone literature, including the crique-craque tradition of Haitian folk fables, which he would assert were superior to those of La Fontaine, especially to anyone who expressed the opposite view. He went to Papa Doc’s Haiti from Jamaica and became the English expert on Haitian literature, giving talks on the Third Programme. This feeling for négritude, though not assumed, gave him further pleasure by the irritation it caused to some. Symbolism and Surrealism were also among his interests, but his true forte was a deep knowledge of and admiration for French novelists of the nineteenth century.

He was born in West Dean in Sussex in 1914 – despite the name, there is no French blood in the family for at least the preceding three hundred years – and was at Simon Langton Boys’ School in Canterbury before his father, an Inspector of Schools, moved to Cambridge and his son entered the Perse School. There he thrived, leaving in 1933 to go up to Trinity College, Cambridge as a teacher training college student, a now non-existent category, spurning an exhibition offered by Downing College. At Trinity he took a first in both parts of the Modern and Medieval Languages Tripos – a starred first in Part II - becoming an exhibitioner in 1934 and a senior scholar in 1935. He left in 1936 to do post-graduate work at the University of Bonn and a doctorate at the Sorbonne. During this time he received various scholarships and studentships from Trinity, including the Dunning in 1938 and the Rouse Ball in 1940.

Although his doctoral thesis—on the symbolist Henri de Régnier—had been completed and indeed published, as was then the rule, he never took the degree, either because the war intervened or, as was sometimes said, in a fit of pique on his part at some Sorbonne functionary's trying to charge a fee which he felt he had already paid. He certainly owned the academic hood.

Back in England, he became Secretary of the Students’ Department in the London office of the British Council from 1939 to 1941. It was in this capacity that he found himself at a lunch for another symbolist poet, Paul Valéry, whose description of the inadequate wine he was offered – “Mais, c’est curieux” – he treasured.

Douglas Parmée (center) with John Cairncros (right) In 1941 he was claimed by RAF Intelligence and then, very naturally, the Government Code & Cypher School at Bletchley Park, where he worked in Hut 3 as part of the team, eventually nearly 600 strong, that translated, analysed and interpreted the decrypts from Hut 6. It was while there that he met and married in 1944 Gwen Hepworth (“Wendy”—he had a habit of using his own versions of names and places), on secondment to Hut 6 from the Foreign Office; his best man was the irascible Glaswegian John Cairncross, later exposed as a spy for the Soviet Union and dubbed the Fifth Man by the press.

After VE Day he was sent to Berlin; he was horrified not only by the condition of the defeated Germans, but by some of their conquerors’ behaviour to them, in particular that of a brother officer who, having agreed the price of a pleasure-boat with its owner’s widow in cigarettes, paid her in Woodbines.

Once again back in England, in 1946 he joined the French department at Cambridge, not long thereafter becoming a fellow of Queens’ College, where he remained until he retired. After the enormous success, noted above, of his anthology Twelve French Poets, he turned to translation. Some indication of his output’s range and extent can be had from observing that, as well as the classics already mentioned, it included Sons of Kings (Les Pléiades) by Joseph-Arthur de Gobineau, the thriller Dossier 51 by Gilles Perrault, eight of the articles in Italian Fascisms from Pareto to Gentile (from the Italian), Rosa Luxemberg, a reappraisal, by Lelio Basso, also from the Italian, The Second World War by Henri Michel (co-awarded the Scott Moncrieff Prize) and An Exemplary Life (Das Vorbild) by Siegfried Lenz, which won an award from the PEN Club of New York.

He enjoyed giving lectures, despite modestly having described that activity as casting false pearls before real swine; his became very popular: perhaps the undergraduates who liked his irreverence and wit were hoping for a repeat of the legendary if not mythical occasion he lectured on Surrealism dressed only in cap, gown and black tights. He was also Steward of his college and on the wine committee, duties from which he derived much pleasure.

He was divorced from his first wife in the early Seventies, soon marrying Meg—Margaret Clarke, then a research student - with whom he went to live in Adelaide, South Australia, after his retirement in 1981, when he was made a life fellow of Queens’. The location, with a very good library and no more than an hour or two’s drive from three significant wine-producing areas, was carefully chosen.

In retirement, with no academic distractions, he worked on his translations harder than ever; with no need for income from them, his tastes for the recondite or undervalued as well as for the classics could be expressed. The new selection from Chamfort gave him particular pleasure, with its uncynical and humorous appreciation of human nature comparable, he felt, with Montaigne; he also gained great satisfaction from The Child by Jules Vallès, an autobiographical novel dedicated to everyone who was bored at school.

Outside his pursuit of literature as a professional he had an abiding interest in all the arts, being a keen concert-, gallery- and filmgoer. In earlier days he had been fond of the company of convivial wits, having been well-acquainted with, among others, the belligerent critic and boozer John Davenport; Kingsley Amis’s horror when told he would have to teach Conrad amused him particularly. His interest in wine has been mentioned; he had a good palate and was both knowledgeable and experienced. He was widely travelled, both in Europe and outside; in the Fifties and Sixties, the Long Vacation usually saw him leaving Grantchester Meadows to cross the Channel en famille, first in a Vauxhall Velox, then with a Berkeley Cavalier caravan behind his short wheelbase Land Rover or, later, his Austin Westminster. He was not a good driver—and a worse back-seat driver: his adjurations to “keep the revs up” have passed into the family language. He had also been a reckonable tennis and squash player; at school, though not having an especially large or powerful physique, he had set a shot-putting record which stood for many years.

The geographical position of Australia in the Far East led to the development of an interest in the Dao that reflected his own quietist and patient approach to life. As, though tended devotedly by Meg, his health began slowly to decline, this attitude allowed the departure of successive physical faculties to be met not with resignation but with resolution to make the best of what remained.

He is survived by two sons and a daughter of his first marriage and by his second wife and their son.

Douglas Parmée, translator and academic, was born on June 6, 1914. He died in his sleep on August 11, 2008, aged 94.

© Nicholas Parmée 2008

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18. A Poem by Hungarian Writer Tibor Déry


In getting together our edition of Tibor Déry's (that's Déry Tibor to you Magyarphiles) novel Niki we came across some poems of his, published in the short-lived Dokumentum, a journal he helped edit. After dropping some not-so-subtle hints to poet and translator George Szirtes (who has written the introduction to Niki) that it would be wonderful to read the poetry in English, he graciously had a go at translating one or two. We should mention that the poems would not have been found had they not been digitized by the New York Public Library.

Dery Verseibol


born into sunlight
they swam around her silent
one spring night they entered my heart

the well of resurrection!
their golden ferries glittered through my breast
look at them dancing!
years march on monotonous in the garden greenhouse
here and there a face leans towards me
and sheds its tears

feed my goldfish
the wind moans outside
day’s leaden back casts its shadow across us
days pass
who will unearth time’s infinite gifts from my body?

in the dust of the street…
there sprawl the lost nights
gilded wooden statues of beggars march along the boulevard
everywhere darkness
the stars above them: the purple-scaled highway of my fish

George Szirtes webpage and blog

Niki Dery Niki: The Story of a Dog
Tibor Déry

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19. Translation awards season

Photo: Caitlin Burke, via flickr

We haven't shared the good news, of which there is quite a bit:

Po girl Joel Rotenberg's translation of Stefan Zweig's Post-Office Girl is a finalist for the 2009 PEN Translation Prize

Maupassant afloat The late Douglas Parmée's translation of Guy de Maupassant's Afloat is a runner up for the French-American Foundation's Translation Prize

Sorokin ice And Jamey Gambrell's translation of Vladimir Sorokin's Ice has been shortlisted for the Rossica Translation Prize, which honors excellence in translations from Russian

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20. Foreign Language Fiasco


Some have suggested that we translate our stories into multiple languages to expand our market.  This is a fantastic idea and we’d love to try, but we are wary of the perils of mistranslation.


As an opera singer, I do a lot of translation of song texts, and I know very well how easy it is to make a mistake.  Sometimes one letter is all the difference between what you mean to say, and a dirty word.  Other times, a colloquial phrase that is popular in the States might transform into a hideous insult in another culture.


Just for fun, we plugged a few of our books’ phrases into Translation Party, a fun site that will translate any given English phrase into Japanese, then back to English, then back to Japanese, etc. until the phrase reaches “Equilibrium” (meaning the software is finally able to accurately reproduce the exact same phrase in both languages).  The results are fun and exactly what we don’t want to happen when we finally do translate our books.


First, a line from “What Animal Are You?”:


Roar, you great lizard and stomp through the floor.


Roar, to the floor and trample lizards.


Trample lizards are rumbling and the floor.


Final: There are sound and floor-stomping lizards.


The next phrase from “If I Were Big” took a little longer to reach equilibrium:


She’d have long legs and go anywhere


She has long legs I have, go anywhere


She will go anywhere to have my long legs


She will move to any location on my long legs and a


She moved to any location of my long legs


Her to move anywhere in my long legs


I long to move the legs of her everywhere


I have to move to where her legs are long


You must move the length of her legs I


Final: I need to move the length of her legs


Ours were fun, but my favorite came from the lyrics to Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl”:


Start – Hey where did we go, days when the rains came, down in the hollow, playing a new game.


Final: Or here is a small hole in the rain, I, or, if necessary, you must create a new game.

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21. Flaky Preparations and Discharge Systems

One of the weird things about publishing a novel is it thrusts you into a public position even if you resist it. This never happened when I published poetry or parenting essays. Then I was just an anonymous mom who wrote for a little extra diaper money. Every once in a while, I would get a letter (the stamped kind in the mailbox) from someone who liked what I had written: always a mom, always with kids the same ages.

Now I get regular emails about writing or comments on the book, and teenage girls write to me pretty often. I get requests to read and "fix" manuscripts or I am asked to pass them along to my editor or agent. Kids ask me questions to get extra points on their book reports.

I was asked to speak at a luncheon the other day. The median age at that luncheon is around 78 -- I'm going to stand there and talk about an angsty girl who sets fires in the woods and speaks to fish that reside in her head?

The other day I got some books in the mail. At first, I couldn't figure out why anyone would send me books in French. I teach Spanish now and then, but French? Then I looked closer. This was MY book, in translation. (Seeing my own name gave it away...duh)

I forgot they might translate it. I was feeling very international when Emma walked up and looked at the cover.

"You wrote a book about a pink mermaid?" She was very excited.

"No. This is The Shape of Water. Only in French."

"The same book?" (disgusted, disappointed) "I thought you finally wrote something I would like."

So much for feeling international and writerly. This morning, someone found it and sent me the page review in French. I put it into the Google translator and this is what I got:

See availability in branch Flaky preparation nonavailable Summarized more The mother of Magda had always said that the world was filled with strange secrecies and marvellous qu' they only could see. But now qu' it n' was there, the world of Magda found itself bathed d' distresses and of loneliness, even of madness. When an imaginary family of fish quarreling started to torment it, the only discharge system of Magda was to cause splendid but destroying fires in the surroundings of the marshes, close to the house. The form of l' water draws a picture sinisterly lyric and surprising daily newspaper and of l' unreal, in which Magda starts to disentangle the secrecies of its family and to seek a stable place in the world.

I like it; I think it's sinisterly lyrical in its own Gallic way.

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22. Translations

I recently got interested in translating a middle-grade novel written by a well-known and long-dead foreign author. Do I have to get some sort of permission from his estate? Also, once I translate it, what's the next step? Are agents open to translations?

I love questions like this. It’s not something I ever would have thought of myself.

Yes, absolutely, you must get permission from either the author’s estate or the author’s publisher. That would depend on who holds the rights for foreign translations. My suggestion is to start with the publisher, who will probably direct you to the agent for the author or the author’s estate.

Before you do that, though, let me explain a little about how selling foreign rights typically works. When a book is sold to a foreign publisher to be translated, the publisher has it translated using their own people. Very rarely is a book translated and then sold to that country. In the case of Stieg Larsson, for example, the book was sold to the U.S. publisher and then the publisher brought in a translator to translate the book. My guess is that the agent or the publisher has worked to get this book published in many other countries, but because of low sales or lack of interest they never got a buyer.

All that being said, it can never hurt to contact them to see what they say.


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23. reading in new ways at Three Percent

Surprise is surely one of narrative’s virtues, but do Americans overlook, in its favor, other narrative rewards and satisfactions, other priorities and uses? Pop and pulp especially, by standardizing story forms and making, so to speak, formula racers—sleek, streamlined thrill machines capable of hugging hairpin plot reversals and sudden narrative curves—have made us canny consumers of plot.

Edward Gauvin is guest blogging at Three Percent, a blog run by the translation program and publishers at the University of Rochester to promote the art of translation. I enjoyed his post about the challenges of reading translations, and thought this marriage of formulaic narrative to its image was...well, rather sleek and streamlined too.

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24. Talking permaculture and the Russian soul with nyrb classics contributors

Every now and then our translators manage to shut down their computers, put the dust-cover on the typewriter, and talk about their work in the wild.

First, Larry Korn—who lived on Masanobu Fukuoka's farm in Japan in the 1970s and returned to the US, where he translated The One Straw Revolution and spread his sensei's teachings—will co-teach a two-week intensive permaculture design course at Restoration Farm in Oregon, beginning June 13.

Next, Robert Chandler, who has been translating the work of Vasily Grossman since the 1980s and who is very much responsible for the author's acclaim as one of the most important Soviet writers, has three events in London this month. The first is taking place tonight at the Free Word Center. And in the upcoming two, he'll be discussing Grossman's recently released novel Everything Flows and talking with Grossman's daughter, Yekaterina Korotkova-Grossman:

June 15, 7.30pm, Pushkin House
June 20, 2pm, British Museum, Stevenson Room

(thanks to Sarah J. Young for rounding up these Grossman-related events, as well as for linking some recent press in praise of Vasily Grossman, on her blog)

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25. Antiquity Corner: V-Mail from Rome's Northern Frontier

For those of you not old enough to recall aspects of life on the home front during World War II, the families of GIs waited eagerly for the arrival of V-mail from their loved ones. These were letters, usually handwritten, from armed forces personnel overseas, which had been reviewed by military censors who often blacked out anything they thought might be of value to the enemy if intercepted. (No e-mail, texting, or Twitter in the 1940s, but plenty of signs with warnings such as LOOSE LIPS SINK SHIPS).

Katherine Hoare’s lovely little book, V-Mail: Letters from the Romans at Vindolanda Fort Near Hadrian’s Wall, was published in 2008 by the British Museum Press. It is a selection of documents written by Roman military personnel in the late first and early second centuries. Written in vegetable dye on thin pieces of wood, these writing tablets were preserved by the anaerobic soil of northern England. Commencing in the 1970s, more than two thousand of these writing tablets were discovered by archeologist Robin Birley and his staff in the course of the excavation of the Romano-British fort of Vindolanda.

Today, the writing tablets are on display in the British Museum. Vindolanda remains a permanent excavation and research center in northern England at which new discoveries about life on a Roman frontier continue to be made.

Let’s read what the soldiers and vicani (residents of the vicus, or village outside the walls of the fort) had to say:

First, the famous birthday invitation, the earliest known example of handwriting in Latin by a woman:
Claudia Severa to her Lepidina greetings. On 11 September, for the day of the celebration of my birthday, I give you a warm invitation to make sure that you come to us, it will make the day more enjoyable for me if you are present. Give my greeting to your Cerialis. My Aelius and little son send him their greetings. I shall expect you.

Sulpicia Lepidina was the wife of Flavius Cerialis, commander of the gar

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