Het Romeinse leger — Handboek voor de generaal

By Flavius Vegetius Renatus

I’ve already done a review of the text of Vegetius Epitoma Rei Militaris, so this is merely a review of the Dutch translation by Fik Meijer, Professor Oude Geschiedenis at the University of Amsterdam.

  • Author: Flavius Vegetius Renatus
  • Title: Het Romeinse leger – Handboek voor de generaal
  • Pages: 175
  • Published: 2003
  • Publisher: Atheneum – Polak & Van Gennep
  • ISBN: 90 253 5880 2

The Epitoma Rei Militaris is almost an outline of the novel I am writing; and therefore pretty useful to me. But I didn’t need the Dutch translation at €19.95 (a price that used to command at least a hard-back only a year ago, instead of a flimsy paperback) for that. The English translation would have sufficed. And the Latin is sufficiently easy that I would have been able to use that, in a pinch.

However, the translation Fik Meijer has prepared is smooth, very smooth. Sometimes it does read as if Wilt Idema, a professor very infamous for his stilted, archaic Dutch, has translated it from Classical Chinese, but on the whole, the text just flows.

What’s more, sometimes (for instance with the translation of Gregory of Tours I’ve been reading recently, or the translation of Boethius I got as a birthday present in 2001 and still haven’t finished), you get the distinct impression that the translator Does Not Approve of the text and the author he’s working with. It’s perhaps difficult to grasp if you’ve never translated a text before, but sometimes that just happens: while working, you suddenly conceive of a distaste for the author. The trick is, of course, not to let that impair your translation. Anyway, what I wanted to say: Fik Meijer treats Vegetius with a lot of respect.

Vegetius might have been a hack, but he did care about what was happening to has country, his empire, and he did what he could to stem the tide. Throughout the book, you get the feeling that he has done his utter best to make as clear as possible the only way Rome could be saved.

And who knows? He might have been right. Of course, the economic circumstances had changed beyond recognition since the Punic wars, but the technology of war hadn’t. Not enough to matter anyway.

Anyway, this is an accurate and readable translation of an interesting book. It’s too expensive for its size and binding, but that cannot be helped. Damn the euro anyway. I wish we were still on the solidus.

There’s another review, by Maarten van der Werf that is pretty useful, if you can read Dutch.

The publisher, Atheneum — Polak & Van Gennep, operates a website on the classics: www.klassieken.nl with background information on the books they publish [ETA: sadly gone now]. But even though they advertise this website on the back-blurb, it hasn’t got information on Vegetius. Silly buggers. The other Dutch publisher of translations of the classics, Ambo, does not have a web presence. Indeed, I don’t know whether they still exist.