Against the Galileans – notice on text and translation

All the sections taken from Flavius Claudius Julianus’s Against the Galileans are historically edited through comments by Cyril of Alexandria. We do not hold any piece from the original work written by Julian the philosopher – or Julian the apostate. Scholars believe that his writings have been censored and destroyed by ecclesiastic authorities when the Imperium fell again in the Christians leadership. Here is what French philosopher Voltaire wrote about this, in his Examination on Julian the emperor’s speech [1]:

“We don’t know the time when Julian the emperor devised this work, which was very popular in the whole empire because of the matter’s nature and the author’s social rank. Such a writing could have overthrown the Christian religion, which had been established by Constantine, if Julian had lived longer for the world’s sake; but after him, fanaticism stroke back, and since books were quite uncommon objects, those written by philosophers were kept in very few hands, and especially in foes hands. Following, Christians believed their duty was to eliminate, to burn all the books which had been written against them. This is why we do not have any original writing by Plotinus, Iamblichus, Celsus, or Libanius; and Julian’s precious work would have been unknown if Cyril the bishop, who answered him fourty years later, wouldn’t have kept lots of pieces from it in his own refutation.”

We may easily imagine how many literature monuments have disappeared in complete oblivion until today, because of Christian authorities censorship. One of their representative, Cyril of Alexandria, reproduces – or pretends to reproduce – a part of the original work from Julian, to comment it and give it a response. They are all the pieces we have left. For this reason, translating them cannot be a work of restitution on Julian’s main thought, but the awakening of themes and topics which were targets for public debates in times of intellectual conflict between hellenism and christianity. It seems to me reasonable to think that the Doctor of the Church who had been able to approve the philosopher Hypatia’s murder by a group of mad Christians, could have also retained only the pieces from Julian’s work that he thought he could easily contradict, and left eternally forgotten, those he was unable to answer.

For my translation, I deliberately chose to avoid the classical approach since my main goal was to look for a more literal meaning in the original text, thus more concretely related to the Greek original words, with suggestions for each one’s possible connotations. This is not either a type of translation such as the biblical translation by André Chouraqui, but our motivations for more literal meaning are not so far from each other. In order to give an idea of my translation trial, due proportion being observed, I refer to François-René Chateaubriand’s example given in a historical essay on traductology, by Inès Oséki-Dépré – whose course I had the honor to assist in Aix-en-Provence – in her article called “Theories and practice of literary translation in France”. [2]:

“Chateaubriand estimates that he completely changed the translation fashion, but what was more important for him is describing procedures that he activated to do it. We may count among these procedures, the respect, or even the loan translation of English syntax against the rules of standard French, enforcement of intertextuality […], coinage of new terms, respect for ‘horrible words’ and ‘common words’ […]. Chateaubriand is the first modern translator to acknowledge a word-for-word translation, that a child could follow with the finger on the line, and he is regarded by A. Berman, renowned contemporaneous translation researcher, as the ‘model translator’.”

Many editions give perfect literary translations for Julian’s Against the Galileans. The word-by-word translation and the respect for the Greek syntax and vocabulary are not meant to confuse the modern reader. They are supposed to open new readings and interpretations, sometimes closer to the original culture, and sometimes more mystical, while breaking the intellectual frame given by the classical understanding of the text.

Regarding the presentation and numbers for the sections, I decided to keep the traditional order given by Cyril of Alexandria’s text structure.

Finally, the Greek text format that I copied for reference is not classical at all. It is willingly differentiated from modern hellenists traditional format. This choice is mine. It follows practical and convenient reasons of spelling and reading easiness. Thus smooth breathings are not given [3]. However rough breathings are written down with a heta (ͱ) and treated as a full letter. The polytonic system is anyway respected.

J-S Desnanot


[1] Voltaire, Examination on Julian the emperor’s speech. French edition: Discours de l’empereur Julien, Édition Garnier (https://fr.wikisource.org/wiki/Discours_de_l%E2%80%99empereur_Julien/%C3%89dition_Garnier)

[2] Inès Oseki-Dépré, “Theories and practice of literary translation in France”. French original: “Théories et pratiques de la traduction littéraire en France”, in Le français aujourd’hui, 2003/3 (n° 142) (https://www.cairn.info/revue-le-francais-aujourd-hui-2003-3-page-5.htm)

[3] Except on uppercase letters bearing a circumflex, for technical ease with the unicode source and its keyboards.

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