Chinese resources for the study of Latin

As readers of this site will know, the study of Latin attracts considerable interest in China, and many Chinese students studying abroad are learning the language as well. Until recently this had to be done almost entirely through English. An incoming first year student to Dickinson from Guangzhou is being forced to defer college for one year thanks to the pandemic. She asked me if I knew of any resources through which she could get started with her Latin during her unexpected downtime. I put out some feelers and received an excellent response. Here are some resources, some of them older and well known, others brand new.

Professor Li Hui (Rosina) at Beijing Foreign Studies University has translated Oerberg’s Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata:

  1. Familia Romana (《拉丁语综合教程1·课本》) in which all the contents of the original book have been conserved. For the convenience of Chinese students, we added the recording of text reading and the Key to Exercises.
  2. Latine Disco (《拉丁语综合教程1·学生用书》)contains Colloquia personarum, Enchiridion discipulorum, Exercitia Latina, Phonetica Latina, Syntaxis etc. 

Grammars: Gu Zhiyin has translated Allen & Greenough.

Cicero dixit, written by Liu Xun is also a very useful grammar book.

All of these books are available on and Taobao.

Shanghai Normal University is offering a summer Latin course in Late August:  (Application deadline: July 15)

Of course the DCC core Greek and Latin vocabularies exist in Chinese translation. More advanced students will want to visit Dickinson Classics Online, which contains various resources for Chinese speaking students of the Greco-Roman classics.

Please let us know in the comments if you are aware of other things. Thanks!


2020 Ovid Heroides Online Workshop Announcement

Dickinson Latin Workshop: Ovid’s Heroides

July 16–20, 2020

The Dickinson Summer Latin Workshop will move online this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath. While this situation is far from ideal, we hope it will allow those who could not normally travel to Carlisle to participate. We are privileged to have Prof. Chun Liu of Peking University with us this year as guest instructor. Prof. Liu earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in English literature from Peking University, and received a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of California Riverside in 2010. She has written widely on Ovid and Greek epic and tragedy and is currently completing the first ever complete translation of Ovid’s Heroides into Chinese.

photo of Chun Liu outside at some kind of lake


  • Online meetings will take place daily 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon, Eastern time US, with a break in the middle. Group translation will be carried on in two sections, one for the more confident (affectionately known as “the sharks”), one for the less confident (even more affectionately known as “the dolphins”) led on alternating days by Prof. Liu and Prof. Chris Francese (Dickinson College).
  • Optional daily discussion sections will happen 2:00–3:00 p.m. Eastern time, led by Chris Francese.

Resources provided

  • Latin text
  • Running vocabulary lists of all words not in the DCC Core Latin Vocabulary
  • Commentaries with notes on the Latin text
  • English translations
  • Certificate of completion for professional development hours

Reading Schedule

Thursday, July 16: Heroides 1 (Penelope Ulixi, 116 lines) and 2 (Phyllis Demophoonti, 148 lines)

Friday, July 17: Heroides 3 (Briseis Achilli, 154 lines) and 4 (Phaedra Hippolyto, 1–100)

Saturday, July 18: Heroides 4 (Phaedra Hippolyto, 101–176) and 7 (Dido Aeneae 196 lines)

Sunday, July 19: Heroides 10 (Ariadne Theseo, 150 lines) and 12 (Medea Iasoni 1–100)

Monday, July 20 Heroides 12 (Medea Iasoni 101-212)

Registration and Fee

To register, please email Mrs. Terri Blumenthal, The fee of $200 is due by check on or before July 1, 2020. Make checks payable to Dickinson College and mail them to Department of Classical Studies, Dickinson College, c/o Terri Blumenthal, Carlisle, PA 17013

We hope you can join us!

A new Chinese translation of Aeneid 4

Over at Dickinson Classics Online, the sister site of DCC serving Chinese-speaking readers, we have a new translation of Book 4 of Vergil’s Aeneid. The translator, Wentao Zhai, was kind enough to answer my questions about his approach to translating Vergil’s Latin. 

Christopher Francese, Dec. 20, 2019

What audience do you have in mind?

Mostly Chinese students of Latin. There has been growing interest in the study of classical languages in China, hence the need for good translations of original works directly from Latin. I hope my translation can function as a handy reference for Latin students in China, regardless of their proficiency, and also fill in a gap in the study of Roman literature.

How do you handle proper names?

One of the biggest challenges when a Chinese reader first approaches classical epic is the abundance of proper names. I have tried my best to adhere to the standard practice of using a a one-to-one correspondence between each Latin syllable and a single (see note) Chinese character. This practice was established by the pioneering scholar and translator of Greek literature 罗念生 Luo Niansheng. His scheme has been influential, and many characters from his anthology of Greek myth have since become household names.

But there has also been criticism regarding his choice of unusual characters, and recently some have advocated for a departure from the standard practice toward more simplicity and readability. Doing so, however, would sometimes merge similar-sounding syllables and can create confusion when two or more distinct names are transcribed in the same way. In fact, the fine phonetic distinctions made by Luo (between -i and -y for example) are exactly its strength, because a reader can theoretically reconstruct the original name from the transliteration. Therefore, I have followed Luo’s table as much as possible, with a few exceptions which I will explain separately. The exceptions are justified by historical phonology, rather than ease and convenience, which to me is less important than accuracy and consistency.

In the Aeneid, it is not uncommon for one character, place, or group of people to be referred to by multiple names. Since my target audience consists of students of Latin, I have left the names unchanged in my translation, in order to produce faithfully the nuance and flavor of the original. Therefore, I have kept “Cyllenian god” rather than substituting it with the more familiar “Hermes.” Exceptions are patronymics: I typically translate their sense, hence “Alcides” becomes “the son of Alceus.” There are also borderline cases such as “Hesperides”: should I transliterate as a proper noun, or translate into “daughters of evening”? It’s often a discretionary matter for the translator to make these calls—and a rule of thumb I use is to recreate the name’s effect on a Greek-literate readership: since the name Hesperides is rather transparent to someone who is literate in Greek, I have opted to translate the sense. This also avoids unnecessarily long names (without sacrificing accuracy).

Another problem is when to use names that are conventionally in use but don’t follow stringent rules. Again, I have used discretion and am open to suggestions from the reader. Names like “Caesar” and “Jupiter” are straightforward cases where I simply followed conventions, because I see no need to invent a new name. It gets trickier with less familiar deities such as “Vulcan.” Should I faithfully reproduce the Latin “Vulcanus,” or use the shortened English name, like in Star Trek? In the end, I decided on the latter. My justification for using shortened names for all the Olympian gods is the fact that they are so frequently referenced in other fields of literature and art that it would be too burdensome for the reader to memorize another set of distinct names. Since an English reader can cope with the coexistence of Mercury (as opposed to Mercurius), I suppose a Chinese reader can too.

This brings me to the problem of foreign names: in general, I trace the etymology of a name to its source language and transliterate from there. Therefore, names from the Greek world are transliterated from Greek, but Italian names from Latin. There are a few cases where I deferred to other authorities. For example, for Tyre and Sidonia, I have adopted their names as appeared in the Bible, because they seem to be the most familiar.

How do you handle peculiar Roman concepts and terms?

Thankfully, most terms peculiar to Roman history and society already have Chinese translations, such as terms like consul or Lares. Specific concepts are actually easier to handle because the reader can be expected to pick up a dictionary or encyclopedia if something technical comes up. What is more difficult is in fact nouns that are common to Roman life but are much less current in Chinese. A prime example is the parts of a ship, because ancient China was not a sea-faring civilization. I try my best to use traditional nautical terms (even if they are rare and sometimes unintelligible to a non-specialist) with the hope that the study of Classics would revive an interest in the science of navigation in classical China as well.

To a lesser extent the same problem arises with regard to farming utensils. An urban boy through and through, I have minimal knowledge of this subject. This is complicated by the fact that Standard Mandarin is such a young and literary language that it simply does not have the vocabulary for rural life. Using dialectal terms, on the other hand, would create an additional cultural barrier and break with the usual style of my translation. This is a problem to which I have not yet found a satisfactory answer, and in the meanwhile I remain greatly relieved that I didn’t take up the Georgics.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of other Chinese versions you have examined?

As far as I know there are only two complete translations of the Aeneid into Chinese. One is the well-known translation by 杨周翰 Yang Zhouhan, and the other is the曹鸿昭 Cao Hongzhao (Ts’ao Hung-chao) edition from Taiwan. For the more casual reader, both versions would suffice. They both flow well and use language that is accessible and often lively and inspiring. To an extent, every modern translator stands on the shoulder of the past giants; likewise, I have benefited immensely from Yang’s translation. Given my different objectives and especially greater philological focus on the Latin text, I have also made a conscious effort to distance my versification from his prose rendering.

There are two weaknesses in existing translations that which I hope to remedy with my version. First, they are both in prose; and second, Cao (and Yang to a lesser extent) relied heavily on English translations as an intermediary. There is a strong formal element to Latin poetry. The placement and order of words, the rhythm and sound effects, and the ellipses and periphrases all serve a literary purpose. Oftentimes we find a contrast between different styles and registers, between a short, truncated speech and long, elaborate description. There are certain features that, due to the necessary restraint of working in a different language, cannot be reproduced, for example the interplay between ictus and word accent. But there are many others, especially relating to diction and rhetorical devices, that can be emulated in translation. These features tend to be lost if the translation is second-hand, and a prose translation, as Wei Zhang argues elsewhere with regard to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, would even further flatten the linguistic peculiarities for the sake of clarity.

Are there any Chinese literary models you have in mind?

My immediate models are existing translations of great narrative poetry, most notably of Homer by Luo Niansheng and 王焕生 Wang Huansheng. I have also consulted the Chinese translations of Shakespeare by 卞之琳 Bian Zhilin and Dante by 王维克 Wang Weike. Since modern Chinese (I write in literary Mandarin, the national standard language) does not have a poetic tradition comparable to western epics, I relied primarily on translations. I have noted how existing translations of the Aeneid are in prose. Now, it is of course possible to produce refined and highly stylized prose (the renowned prose version of Shakespeare by 朱生豪 Zhu Shenghao immediately comes to mind). But I have found Bian’s verse translations of four great Shakespearean tragedies a more appropriate model. Being a much lesser versifier myself, of course, I can only do my best to follow his example and hope that the reader does not find my translation completely without literary merit.

What kind of tone are you going for (poetic? contemporary? direct? other?)

Poetic meter in Chinese is almost always linked with classical poetry, and its application in modern poetry is still debated. Following precedents in translating Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare, I have decided to eschew minute, technical rules, and adopt a more liberal approach. I have imposed three general limitations: (1) each line must have roughly the same number of syllables, (2) substitute metrical “foot” with “phrase” or its equivalent dun, and (3) keep an elevated register and avoid overly prosaic or informal language.

The concept of dun of is explained by Bian Zhilin in the preface to his Shakespeare translation:

In blank verse, end-rhyme is avoided, but each line consists of five dun (alternatively called morae or phrases, distinct from the caesura in Western poetry) …. Following the pronunciation and sense of modern Chinese, each dun comprises of two or three characters, and rarely after one or four. Four-character dun must end with a grammatical particle (such as dele, or ma). When a one-character dun is followed by a two-character dun, it ceases to be independent and merges into a three-character dun. In verse contexts, I have employed two- and three-character dun more regularly in order to distinguish from prose. Foreign names are usually read faster than usual… and are counted according to their original pronunciation, for example ‘Ophelia’ (three syllables) and ‘Oswald’ (two syllables) can both be scanned as one dun.

In my translation of Vergil, every proper noun is one phrase or dun regardless of its length.

I have two excuses for not trying to domesticate Vergil’s language using “poetic” conventions indigenous to Chinese. First, I am no expert in traditional Chinese verse composition, and straining my abilities would hardly be productive, let alone appreciated by the modern reader. Second, I fear such conceits would distract from my objective to render the original Latin accurately, in a natural and not overwrought manner. That said, what is the right tone to use when translating epic poetry is still an open question: it is work in progress and will probably take the collective effort of several generations of scholars and translators to settle. In making my own meager contribution to this endeavor, I hope my translation can speak for itself.

The Epitaph of Joachim Alphonse Gonçalves (1781-1841)

Latinitas Sinica: Journal of Latin Language and Culture is published in Hong Kong by Michele Ferrero as part of the activities of the Latinitas Sinica foundation, whose mission is the support of the learning and teaching of Latin Language in China. I was pleased to find in Issue 6, published in 2018, an article by Leopold Leeb, the distinguished Austrian Sinologist and professor at Renmin University in Beijing, called “Latin Tombstones in China and the History of Cultural Exchange” (pp. 41-106). It includes the epitaph of the Portuguese missionary and lexicographer Joachim Alphonse Gonçalves (1781-1841), who is close to my heart because I am overseeing a project to digitize his large Latin-Chinese dictionary. The goal of the project is to turn it into a mobile application and publish it on DCC’s sister site, Dickinson Classics Online, which is aimed at a Chinese-speaking audience.  A group of students from Wyoming Seminary (an independent private school here in Pennsylvania) has recently come on to help in the editing of the data, supervised by their teacher Liz Pendland. I thought they in particular might like to learn a little more about the man behind the dictionary.

First, a bit of context from Prof. Leeb (p. 43):

The tombstones of Catholic missionaries were usually written in Latin. They are precious historical documents. Famous cemeteries are the ones in Beijing. In 1610,
after the death of Ricci, a piece of ground was given to the Church, located outside the Fuchengmen, the so-called „Tenggong Zhalan“滕公栅栏 (or “Chala“), where Ricci,
Schall, Verbiest and many others are buried. The cemetery was enlarged in 1654, but the French Jesuits (Bouvet, Regis and others) were buried at a new site after 1732,
namely at the Zhengfusi 正福寺, a few miles to the west. These cemeteries were destroyed in 1900, but restored thereafter. More than 800 missionaries had tombs and
steles at Zhalan, before the Zhalan area was confiscated and the tombs were ordered to be moved to Xibeiwang 西北汪, Beijing. However, many steles are lost, and only
63 have been preserved. These 63, among them the tomb-stones of Ricci, Schall, Verbiest, and Buglio, are still at Zhalan. The stones from Zhengfusi have been moved
to the Stone Museum at Wutasi 五塔寺. Other Catholic cemeteries are the Dafangjing 大方井 cemetery at Hangzhou 杭州, where Yang Tingyun’s 杨廷筠 son erected a
cemetery for the foreigners. In 1676, Fr. Intorcetta 殷 enlarged that cemetery. Aleni’s tomb is at the “Cross Mountain”“十字山”near Fuzhou. Jesuits from Shandong are
buried at Chenjialou 陈家楼, west of Ji’nan. Some Franciscans are buried at a cemetery near Linqing 临清 (here also della Chiesa’s tomb was found). At
Huangshakeng 黄沙坑, west of Canton, some Franciscan missionaries are buried. Bishop Luo Wenzao and some foreign missionaries were buried at Yuhuata 雨花台
outside the Jubao Gate 聚宝门 of Nanjing, but this cemetery was destroyed by the Taipings. Xu Guangqi 徐光启 has his tomb in a park at Xujiahui 徐家汇, Shanghai.  The different mission societies had cemeteries in their respective areas of work.

And now, the Latin text of Goncalves’ tombstone, as edited and translated into English by Prof. Leeb:

[my emphasis]

“Here lies the Reverend Father Joachim Alphonsus Gonsalves, from Portugal, a priest
of the Congregation of the Missions professor in the royal College of St. Joseph in
Macao, also a member of the Royal Asiatic Society, who composed and published
many very useful works for the missions, works in the Chinese, Portuguese, and Latin
language. He was a very gentle teacher and a man of integrity, who died in the age of
65 and rests now in the Lord. He died on 9 October 1841. In the memory of such a
great man his friends and students have consecrated this stele.”
Leeb provides the following note:

Gonsalves, Joachim Alphonse, CM 江沙维, 1781-1841, Portuguese Lazarist, who joined the Lazarist seminary in Rihafoles, Portugal, in 1799. In 1801 he professed vows, came to Macau in 1813. He was appointed to go to Beijing, but did not get permission, due to the strict policies of Jiaqing Emperor. He taught for many years at the Sao José (St. Joseph) Seminary in Macau, where he trained young priests. He became a linguist and encyclopedist and compiled at least six bilingual dictionaries, a Chinese-Portuguese Dictionary 《 汉 葡 字 典》 , a Vocabularium
Latino-Sinicum《拉汉辞汇》(1836), a Lexicon magnum Latino-Sinicum(《拉丁-汉 语大词典》 (1841) etc. He died 3 October 1841 in Macau. Since 1872 his tomb is in the church of the San Jose Seminary, where the tombstone inscription has been preserved. 

As we work on bringing Goncalves’ perutila opera to a new generation, it is pleasing to read of a tangible memorial to his life. If you are interested in Latin in China, please check out Latinitas Sinica and their interesting journal!

Dickinson Classics China-related activities

The Dickinson Classical Studies department has been privileged to be involved with a number of interesting initiatives related to the now flourishing study of the Greco-Roman classics in China. People sometimes ask me what all is going on, so I thought I would summarize where we are at this point, and think about what is coming next.

Dickinson and Columbia University co-sponsored a conference at the Columbia Center in Beijing in May, 2019.  Full program. It was organized primarily by Gareth Williams at Columbia. Their classics program (and the university as a whole) has a long history of sponsoring Chinese scholars. Jinyu Liu (DePauw U., pictured bottom right in the first link above) is in many ways the linchpin. She’s the leader on the large grant-funded project to translate all of Ovid into Chinese. This project was the subject of the conference.

This summer I made contact with two dynamic Latin teachers at Beijing Foreign Studies University, Li Hui (Rosina) and Luciano Romano. They teach entirely in Latin, using Oerberg’s textbook and techniques honed in Italy, where Rosina and Luciano were trained. I also made contact with and visited the classroom of Dr. Hendrikus A.M. van Wijlick (Rik), who teaches in a more traditional (English) mode at Peking University.

Dickinson Classics Online presents resources for Chinese readers of Greek and Latin. This is hosted at Dickinson with a far-flung editorial board. The officers are myself, Marc Mastrangelo (Dickinson), and Jinyu Liu (DePauw). This developed starting in 2015. The idea was Marc’s and mine (after seeing Jinyu and Harvard’s Michael Puett give talks at the 2014 APA). Jinyu is again the key connecting figure acquiring content, whereas I take care of the web development.

Dr. Elizabeth Penland, Upper School Latin Teacher, Wyoming Seminary, Kingston, PA, has been organizing her students to translate DCC Caesar and Vergil commentaries into Chinese. The Caesar is already published (actually made when Liz was at Concord Academy), and the Vergil is in process. The SCS published a blog post by her about forging connections between the ancient Mediterranean and modern Chinese culture. One of her students, Lixiang (Andy) Lin, also helping this summer with the following related project.

Digitization of Goncalves’ Lexicon Magnum Latino-Sinicum. I have a recent blog post about that. I have been leading this effort since 2016, but have had help from a number of students, some Chinese, some not. A preliminary test version is already up on DCO, and a mobile app is ready to launch as soon as we have the data cleaned. Hoping to be done by the end of this calendar year.

Digitization of the Cursus Litteraturae Sinicae (1879-1882) by Angelo Zottoli. This four-thousand page work, presented as a Latin introduction to the written Chinese language, is actually a synoptic guide to the Chinese tradition, encompassing a vast range of texts from the Shijing 詩經(Book of Songs) to Qing-era examination essays, poetry, and letters. See Nicholas Morrow Williams, “Angelo Zottoli’s Cursus Litteraturae Sinicae as Propaedeutic to Chinese Classical Tradition.” Journal of Oriental Studies 63.2 (2015), pp. 327–359. I am collaborating in the long-term endeavor of publishing this on DCO with Chinese scholars, especially Kang Kai and Wang Chen (both from Shanghai). Work is in early stages.

My main base in Shanghai is Shanghai Normal University, and the Guangqi International Center for Scholars, where Marc Mastrangelo and I are honorary fellows, and Jinyu has a regular appointment. This research institute is headed by Heng Chen, a dean at SHNU, and sponsors an active series of lectures and seminars in classical studies, organized by Jinyu.

Once I write it all out like that, I see there is a lot going on. The publishing projects alone could occupy me full time from here on out. I am finally learning Chinese myself, partly to be able to cope with Zottoli, which is a truly amazing work. Check out the Williams article cited above if you have the chance. For my own teaching, my goal is to take better account of comparative perspectives and read some Chinese and Latin classics in tandem. I’ve got an idea for a course on writing about war, with Homer, Sun Tzu, and Julius Caesar.

My contacts in China are at the university level, but I can see there is a lot of potential to promote Latin for high schoolers as well. I had a conversation at the Conventiculum Dickinsoniense with David Bonagura of Regis High School, who went on a mini-tour of a number of high schools in China promoting Latin, a tour initiated by one of his Chinese-born students and his family. There is real potential for establishing summer Latin programs in Beijing and/or Shanghai to further promote the subject. Conventiculum Pekinense, anybody?