Latin and German Speakers: Here is Your Chance to Translate Blumenbach’s Writings

If I had a lots of spare money or access to a grant, I would commission a modern translation of Blumenbach’s writings on human variation. But I don’t, so I will post his writings here in the hope that some skilled Latin and German speakers will translate it for me. If this works, I’ll post more text.  The big question is this: Does Blumenbach say that Caucasians are THE most beautiful people, or that Georgians are A most lovely people ( or something else all together)?

Here is his famous description of a skull from Georgia:

Blum Latin 1





Blum Latin 2

And here it is in the first German translation (not translated by Blumenbach) of his Latin text:

Blum Germ 1






Blum Germ 2

8 thoughts on “Latin and German Speakers: Here is Your Chance to Translate Blumenbach’s Writings

  1. John,

    As far as I can see, Blumenbach was the one who wrote the English edition of his work “De Generis Humani Varietate Nativa = On the Natural Variety of Mankind.” There is no foreword by a translator, as would normally be the case. Nor do I see any mention of a translator. My impression is that he himself wrote the English edition, and this impression is supported by the errors in syntax that occur here and there in the text.

    Furthermore, Blumenbach corresponded extensively with British and American naturalists. He also travelled to London and worked at great length with Sir Joseph Banks. He certainly had more real-life exposure to English than to Latin.

    Given all this, I have trouble believing that there might be an error in translation. Even if he had asked someone to translate his work, he would have still checked the translation.

    • I agree he had a lot of contact with the English and I suspect he spoke it. But I have never seen an English translation other than the 1865 one by Bendyshe. And every book or article, and I mean every one, that I have ever read about Blumenbach quotes Bendyshe’s translation. You can find it on Google books under “the Works of Blumenbach and Hunter.” If you can point me to another translation, or show me a publication that refers to one other than Bendyshe, I’d be happy to track it down. What I did not put in the article is that I found the meeting minutes from the society that Bendyshe was a member of and they actively were pursuing an efforts to translated an number of text about race into English. So I’ve got a good bit of evidence that it was definitely translated in 1865, but it is still quite possible it was translated before then. I would think that it would have been, but I can’t find it! So, I’m putting the ball in your court. If you can point me to another translation, I will be all over it because I’d love to see how it compares with Bendyshe.

  2. John,

    This is the edition that I consulted:
    De Generis Humani Varietate Nativa = On the Natural Variety of Mankind, third ed. 1795 by Blumenbach, Johann Friedrich
    in: The Anthropological Treatises of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, London; 1865

    It’s available on the web site of the Gottingen University Library:

    The wiki page for Blumenbach mentions translators for his later works, but none for this one. My impression is that he probably wrote the English edition and asked his colleagues to read it and offer suggestions. Even if he had it translated, he would have been sufficiently proficient in English to catch any errors in translation.

  3. John,

    There’s no need for a duel. It’s the same book and Bendyshe is clearly mentioned as the translator, so you’re right and I’m wrong. This text is a translation.

    Nonetheless, the preface (page ix) mentions an essay that Blumenbach wrote in English for the journal Philosphical Transactions (1794). So I’m still skeptical about the possibility that the English edition of De Generis deviates from the original. He would have surely noticed any substantial errors.

    I hope others will notice your blog, and I will certainly follow this topic for further developments.

    Best wishes, Peter

  4. I’m a native speaker of German. I assume you’re talking about this:
    “… hat dieser Stamm, wie wir gesehen haben (p. 62) die schönste Schädelform”
    It’s ambiguous. It’s a superlative, but that may also be used as emphasis in German. It may be translated to both “the most beautiful skull shape of all”, or “an exceptionally beautiful skull shape”. I could guess what precisely he meant, but it would not be anything but a guess.

    It’s very similar to English, where you could also use “the most beautiful skull shape” to mean “… of all” or “a very beautiful one”.

    • That is good to know. Clearly the German text is not going to be a key to resolving the Latin. FYI, my dad went to your university for a year. I spent a summer in Marbug as a boy. It’s a small world. Do you know what “bildshoen” means, or meant back then? Blumenbach used that word and I can’t find it in a modern dictionary. I presume it means picture perfect.

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