Annals of Scholarship

Love, Sex and Tragedy: How the ancient world shapes our lives.

by Simon Goldhill, University of Chicago Press.

On page 242 it says, and I quote (go see for yourself) “At the end of the combat, the victorious gladiator appealed to the man who had given the games. Was he to kill his opponent or spare him? The crowd yelled its view, and the emperor, signaling with his hand, thumbs up for death, thumbs down for mercy, decided the fate of the defeated man. This repeated performance visibly demonstrated the emperor’s power over life and death.”

Uh—beg pardon?  Thumbs up for death? You sure about that? Your editor queried you? You do have an editor, right? You don’t know what editors employed by unversity presses are supposed to be doing with their time?

Has there ever been a more otiose, awkward blooper of a translation by an academic than  “Il faut d’abord durer,” the maxim Carlos Baker attributed to Hemingway and used to adorn the final pages of his “acclaimed” 1969 biography of the writer. No, it does not mean “last things first” nor would it make any sense if it did. So come on, smart guy, how would you do it better? No alternatives present themselves with the snap of the original, but “First, you have to outlast [adversity]” might be pointing in the right direction. If you ask me.

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