4/22/2019 Peter Durantine

Chinese Student Wins Classics Sight-Translation Contest

In Manchuria, Jinrui Zhang pursued an interest in Buddhism and Sanskrit, prominent subjects in that region of China. At Franklin & Marshall College, the first-year student has embraced the classics curriculum.

“I like classics because it’s the study of the ancient world. Trying to connect with people of two millenniums ago is a very interesting process,” he said. 

Zhang, who is studying intermediate Latin, won this year’s Sight Translation Award, named for F&M Emeritus Professor of Classics Robert Barnett. Every year, the department offers a sight-translation exam in Latin poetry.  

  • Zhang pursued an interest in Buddhism and Sanskrit, prominent subjects in his Manchurian home, but at F&M, the first-year student found his passion in the Classics. Zhang pursued an interest in Buddhism and Sanskrit, prominent subjects in his Manchurian home, but at F&M, the first-year student found his passion in the Classics. Image Credit: Deb Grove

“This year, we had a fairly large number of students take the test, and most of them did really well,” Professor of Classics Shawn O’Bryhim said. “The winner comes from China. This is a first for us.”

O’Bryhim chose a passage from a Roman poem unfamiliar to the students. To translate, the students cannot use any outside resources, including a dictionary. The students know Latin, but they still face challenges. 

“Every author is different and has different vocabulary and different peculiarities so it’s not an easy thing,” the professor said.  

The passage is generally 15 lines, perhaps 65 words. Students have one hour to complete it and to come as close as possible to what the author is saying.The poem chosen is the story of Orpheus. His wife, Eurydice, dies and he goes to the underworld to try and bring her back. 

Zhang’s translation was the most precise, O’Bryhim said.

“As a major, classics is seeing an increase in number with a more diverse group of students, including an increasing number of Chinse students,” said Visiting Professor of Classics Ryan Fowler. 

While he has another year before he declares his major, Zhang intends to choose classics with an eye on postgraduate studies in comparative linguistics. 

“Jinrui has noticed the increased interest in classics in China and he told me that’s why he came in wanting to take all these classes,” Fowler said. “He’s also interested in the challenges of translating Greek and Latin texts into Chinese.”

For Zhang, “The classical world intrigues me with its languages and customs,“ he said. “I found that Latin is a similar language to Sanskrit, which makes them very interesting.”

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