The Most Extraordinary Feat Of British Scholarship Ever


Photo: Vivek Venkatesan

Professor Richard Sorabji, of King’s College London, has just completed the Herculean task of editing, translating and overseeing 100 volumes of translations of ancient commentaries on Aristotle, written from 200-600 AD.Professor Sorabji began the job in 1985 and, over the years, publication has speeded up. In the first two years, no volumes were translated; then the process picked up to two a year; in recent years, nine a year have appeared. Professor Sorabji is now 78 and, over the last 27 years, some of his assistants and fellow translators have died. Two of his assistants, still going strong, are 90 and 92.

The publication of the 100th volume also marks a great triumph of British scholarship. The commentaries were first published in the original Greek and Latin a century ago by the great German classical scholar, Hermann Diels. But any attempt at translation was stopped by the First World War – where many of his assistants were killed.

So, these millions of words lay gathering dust for almost a century until Professor Sorabji came along in 1985 and embarked on this Sisyphean task. It still hasn’t ended – in the New Year, with the help of a new co-editor, Professor Michael Griffin, Professor Sorabji is embarking on another 26 volumes…

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