Reviews in BMCR have considerable weight with those like myself who have large classes and who have no easy access to large bookshops and libraries. Fall 2005 was the first time I taught a course on ancient sport. For the Roman part I obtained an examination copy of Anne Mahoney’s Roman Sports and Spectacles. A Sourcebook (Focus, 2001), looked at it quickly for lack of time, but knowing it had received a good review in this journal: “the quality of the translations is very good,” said Peter Aronoff (BMCR 2003.04.07). I also appreciated the fact that it was very cheap and decided to go for it.
However, as I started using this text, it quickly became obvious that the translations were often unreliable, careless, and throughout reflected a very poor knowledge of the technical vocabulary of the Roman games, and even of basic Latin grammar. The shortcomings are most obvious in the translation of the many inscriptions included by the author. It is important, I believe, that BMCR readers be informed of these shortcomings, especially since this book seems to have become a standard text on Roman sport in North American classrooms. What follows is only a very small selection of the innumerable howlers. For the ease of the reader, I provide the Latin original, followed by Mahoney’s translation:
— Laenatis gladiatorium munus (Petr. Sat. 29): “Laenatis’s [sic] gladiator munus” (17-18);
— D. Lucreti Satri Valentis, flaminis Neronis Caesaris Aug(usti) fili perpetui, gladiatorum paria XX, et D. Lucretio [sic] Valentis fili glad. paria X pug(nabunt) Pompeis VI, V, IV, III, pr. idus Apr.… ( ILS 5145 from Pompeii): “Decimus Lucretius Satrius Valentis [sic], permanent flamen of Nero Caesar, son of Augustus [sic], will have 20 pairs of gladiators fight, and his son Decimus Lucretius Valentis [sic] will exhibit 20 [sic] pairs, at Pompeii 8-12 September [sic]” (18-19); note that Augustus is translated throughout as “Augustus”; it does not suffice (especially in a text aimed at undergraduates) to explain in the glossary that this name comes to “refer to whoever is emperor at the time” (101);
— gladiatores isti famosae manus (Apuleius, Met. 4.13): “over here were gladiators famous for good hands” (45; famosae manus means “of a famous troupe”);
— D(is) M(anibus). Purricina Iuveni provocanti co(n)iuci ibenemerenti [sic] fecit … (ILS 5107 from Patavia): “Sacred to the memory of Purricina Iuvenus, provocator, erected by his wife for a well-deserving husband” (68; Purricina is the wife’s name);
— D. M. Urbico secutori primo palo nation(e) Florentin(o)… ( ILS 5115 from Milan): “Sacred to the memory of Urbicus, secutor, left handed [sic], from Florence” (68-69; the primus palus is a high-ranking gladiator, one who trains on the “first pale”);
— praepositus armamentario Ludi Magni ( ILS 5153 from Rome): “supervisor of arms for the great games” (69; the Ludus Magnus is, of course, the main gladiatorial school in Rome).
— Note also that “[a]nimals were exhibited in the amphitheater as early as the third century BC” (44, when no such building existed), and that Philippeville (now Skikda) is said to be in France (89; it is actually in Algeria).
Regrettably, this is only a very small selection of the innumerable blunders in this text. A reliable sourcebook on Roman sports and spectacles, comparable to Miller’s Arete, is still wanting. Meanwhile instructors will have to provide translations of their own for their students.