Sunday, November 13, 2011


A Modest Proposal

Arnaldo Momigliano, Essays on Ancient and Modern Judaism. Edited and with an Introduction by Silvia Berti. Translated by Maura Masella-Gayley (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), p. 54, n. 9, in a review of E.R. Goodenough, Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period (square brackets in the footnote):
When it comes to details, Goodenough is at times naive. See, for example, his interpretation of a grotesque lamp from Naples (4:1 144, fig. 112). He also believes that πίε ζήσαις ἀεὶ ἐν ἀγαθοῖς [pie tessis sei eu agatois] on a glass means "drink and thou shalt live forever among the good" (that is, "among the saints"), and he comments, "the phrase is definitely eschatological" (2:117).
The transliteration of the Greek occurs only in the English translation, not in the original Italian, Pagine ebraiche (Torino: Einaudi, 1987), p. 59, which didn't appear in print until after Momigliano's death. As it stands, the transliteration is complete gibberish. It should be pie zēsais aei en agathois.

This is just one of many misprints in the English translation. Several involve improper English equivalents for names in the original Italian. For example, on p. 12 there is a citation of "Geronymus, Chronica," and on p. 89 we read about "St. Girolamo"—in both places read "Jerome." In an essay on Leo Strauss, mention is made of "Xenophon's Hyeron" and (three times) of someone named "Gerone" (p. 182)—these are garbled references to the Syracusan tyrant Hiero. On p. 22 there is a citation to Babilonese Sotah, i.e. tractate Sotah in the Babylonian Talmud (missing from the "Index to Biblical and Talmudic References" on p. 241). In the index on p. 242 there is an entry for "Manius Sergius of Polybius," as if Polybius were a place name, rather than the name of a Greek historian. On p. 43:
One of the most respected pupils of Callimachus Istro of Paphos wrote at least two books on the epiphaneiai of Appollos (A. Tresp, Griech. Kultschriftsteller, p. 198).
Change this to:
One of the most respected pupils of Callimachus, Istrus of Paphos, wrote at least two books on the epiphaneiai of Apollo (A. Tresp, Griech. Kultschriftsteller, p. 198).
On p. 80, n. 1, read "Du bon usage de la trahison," not "Du bon usage de la trabison." These are just a few of the misprints disfiguring this book, issued by a "respected" university press.

Donald E. Knuth, The Art of Computer Programming, Vol. 2: Seminumerical Algorithms, 3rd ed. (Reading: Addison-Wesley, 1998), p. vii:
I have corrected every error that alert readers detected in the second edition (as well as some mistakes that, alas, nobody noticed); and I have tried to avoid introducing new errors in the new material. However, I suppose some defects still remain, and I want to fix them as soon as possible. Therefore I will cheerfully pay $2.56 to the first finder of each technical, typographical, or historical error.
Knuth makes the same offer in other books, e.g. in Ronald L. Graham, Donald E. Knuth, and Oren Patashnik, Concrete Mathematics, 2nd ed. (Boston: Addison-Wesley, 1994), p. ix:
We have tried to produce a perfect book, but we are imperfect authors. Therefore we solicit help in correcting any mistakes that we've made. A reward of $2.56 will gratefully be paid to the first finder of any error, whether it is mathematical, historical, or typographical.
In the event that there aren't new editions, Knuth posts corrections on his web site. I doubt that Knuth's bank account suffers much by payment of these rewards. First, he is so careful and painstaking that he makes few mistakes. Second, I suspect that most of those lucky enough to receive a $2.56 check from Knuth don't cash it, but rather save it as a prized possession.

Knuth's passion for accuracy is admirable and worthy of imitation. My modest proposal is that university presses make similar offers to readers who find mistakes. But I doubt that any publisher would dare to follow Knuth's example. Some might go bankrupt if they did.


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