While at the Florovsky Symposium, I took advantage of the SVS Press discount to pick up a copy of Fr John Behr’s new translation of On the Incarnation. It prominently advertises the “Introduction by C.S. Lewis” (which is actually then set as the preface in this edition!), with all the problems that piece still has. My favorite is the, “This is a very good translation of a great book” line (which SVS Press then has the boldness to say, “this is speaking of the former edition, but applies to this one as well!) which is then contrasted with the later, “The translator knows so much more Christian Greek than I that it would be out of place for me to praise her version.” Oh well.
The actual introduction, by Fr Behr, is fine for what it is, mostly a summary of the book’s contents along with some context for St Athanasius’s theology through Against the Gentiles and The Life of Anthony. Those familiar with the texts will not find it very useful, but the list of secondary sources attached to it may be fruitful; I don’t know.
Like most recent SVS Press titles, the binding is good for a paperback, though I’m still not entirely fond of the somewhat sticky finish on the cover. The random italicizing of the Hoefler Text (this time thankfully only on the title page, rather than the cover) is a typographic habit of recent titles from the publisher I find obnoxious, but likely no one else cares about this. (In this case, it’s just the “I” in “Incarnation”.)
The text itself is good. I appreciate the facing Greek, a format SVS Press has promised to include in future installments of the Popular Patristics series. The Greek font is good enough for a reading font, but there are clearer options out there. The translation itself is of better absolute quality than the former one SVS Press used, but it’s often awkward, sometimes for the sake of literalness, sometimes just because. “Ἔπειτα καὶ τούων ἄν τις εὐλόγος ἴδοι τὸ τοιοῦτοντέλος ἐσχηκέναι τὸ κυριακὸν σῶμα.”, is rendered, “Again, from the following one might see the lordly body having such an end as consistent.” (I had to read that twice to figure out what it was supposed to mean.) I did not pick this item as particularly egregious, either, I simply opened up the book to a (more or less) random page near the middle and picked an example from it. Words are frequently bracketed against the text proper, and then Greek words (in Roman transliteration) are bracketed against English ones. If the point of the Greek text is to provide a working apparatus, while the English text is for popular readers, what’s the point? Conventions of additional words in the text simply being italicized are less disruptive to readers, and those using the Greek text as well would not be confused. Rhetorical conjunctions and such common to Greek and best omitted in English are included. Behr’s Greek scholarship is not at question, here (as if I was in a place to question it!), but his ear as a translator is. Obviously, there is a struggle between literal meaning and euphony in translation, but if the SVS Press line is going to continue to be “popular patristics”, it should err towards the latter.
Athanasius’s rhetoric can be thrilling in places, and I think this should be represented.