Monday, December 16, 2019

The Secrets of Gilgamesh

I watched a video lecture about the Epic of Gilgamesh over the weekend, as well as a handful of different other videos over the last few weeks about ancient cultures, certain passages of the Bible, how to build an ark according to the Sumerian story, etc., and I've got all of this stuff in my head, along with the lyrics to The Mesopotamians by They Might Be Giants, which takes four of the more famous names from ancient Mesopotamian cultures -- Sargon, Hammurabi, Asherbanipal, and Gilgamesh -- and places them in some kind of "Hey, Hey, We're the Monkees" song about being in a band.

Who are these people?  Completely off the top of my head, Sargon was one of the earliest known Sumerian kings.  Gilgamesh (or Bilgamesh in Sumerian) was also an ancient Sumerian king, who somehow wound up being a hero figure in a lot of mythological poems, culminating in a poet from a different future society weaving many of these stories together into an epic poem, the Epic of Gilgamesh, which influence later epics such as the Illiad and the Odyssey.  Hammurabi is a famous king from... Akkad or Babylon, I forget, who created a set of laws that later scholars decided were the first such laws ever set down, although subsequently we've realized he was borrowing from kings who came before him.  And Asherbanipal... all I know is he had a library where the clay tablets with the Epic of Gilgamesh were found.  He was an Akkadian or Babylonian king.

I find all of this stuff fascinating.  I find ancient history fascinating.  It's pretty amazing to think that ancient Rome and the time of Christ was 2,000 years ago, an almost unimaginable span of time, and yet recorded history goes back nearly 4,000 years beyond that.  We think our country has existed a long time, but some of these ancient empires lasted hundreds of years, over a thousand years.  We think Shakespeare lived a long time ago and his English is difficult to understand, but stories about Gilgamesh survived in the Middle East for well over a thousand years, through several successive empires.

What fascinates me even more is what we don't know.  Stories were told before the advent of writing.  Stories were written down, then lost.  The stories which we have -- even as popular a story as that of Gilgamesh -- is still fragmentary, assembled from many sources.  We've never deciphered the ancient writing of the Minoan civilization, so we only know about them from excavation and from Mycenean/Greek writers.  The Phoenecians dominated trade in the Mediterranean for hundreds of years, but we know little of their own writing.  What scrolls existed at the library at Alexandria?  We'll never know.  There are hundreds of carbonized scrolls found at the Roman city of Herculaneum which were all but destroyed by mount Vesuvius, and yet we are still trying to figure out how to unroll them and read them.  What heroes existed in myths told for hundreds of years that no modern person knows anything about?

A lot of my fantasies from when I was young until now involve imagining ways such history could have been preserved.  I imagine I'm a part of some ancient alien race, some elf-like beings, shapeshifters or godlike creatures who have dwelt among humans since ancient times and recorded what society was like, what tribes moved where, how people lived, what their music and stories were.  They have some hidden fortress or perhaps a base on another world where all of this information is kept, and if you wish to know what life in a Mayan city was really like, or what tales people told each other 10,000 years ago, you could find out.

I also used to imagine that once you reach heaven, you could learn all of the secrets to the mysteries that you'd read about that were never solved -- like what happened to the crew of the Mary Celeste, who was Jack the Ripper really, or what happened to the lost colony of Roanoke Island?  I guess I've always been really big on the idea that somehow we could learn all of the things we want to know, even though the truth is that we not only will never know most of these things, but in many cases the truth is likely much less interesting than the mystery that surrounds it.  Not to mention, there are many more mysteries and histories that are so forgotten that we don't even know to ponder over them.

On the flip side, we know so much more about some of this stuff today than we did even a hundred or two hundred years ago.  Two or three hundred years ago, experts imagined that written history began with the Greeks.  Slowly people learned of forgotten ancient cultures much older -- ancient Egypt, the Hittite Empire, ancient Assyria, Babylon, Sumeria, the Minoans, etc.  In 1853 the Epic of Gilgamesh was first discovered, but translations in English did not appear until much later.  So from one viewpoint I'm living in a pretty amazing time where we know much, much more about the ancient world than we did only a few generations ago.  I have the opportunity to read about things that people of past generations could only dream about.

I'm not sure there's a point to this post, other than all of these things have been bouncing around in my mind over the last few days.  ^_^

The Epic of Gilgamesh poem is framed by a description of the city he ruled.  It begins the poem, and at the end when Gilgamesh returns, having learned that his quest for immortality is in vain, it ends the poem, as if to say everyone dies, but look at the city!  Life goes on.

Climb Uruk's wall and walk back and forth!
Survey its foundations, examine the brickwork!
Were its bricks not fired in an oven?
Did the Seven Sages not lay its foundation?

A square mile is the city, a square mile the date-grove, a square mile is the clay-pit, half a square mile the temple of Ishtar:  three square miles and a half is Uruk's expanse.

See the tablet-box of cedar,
release its clasp of bronze!
Lift the lid of its secret,
pick up the tablet of lapiz lazuli and read out
the travails of Gilgamesh, all that he went through.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Fan vs. Pro Translations

I read a lot of fan translated manga.  While not legal, it's often the only version of a given manga available in English.

For example, although anime exists for Birdy the Mighty, nobody except fans have ever translated the long-running manga (which has more than one incarnation, even in Japan it moved from one publisher to another.  The current version is Tetsuwan Birdy Evolution.)  I could argue that the series gets bogged down in minor details and plot points and never seems to go anywhere... which might be a reason why it hasn't been translated.  But I still like reading it.

Another manga that's internet-popular but unlikely to be worth a professional translation is Only Sense Online.  It's a slice-of-life kind of story that deals with the minutiae of crafting in an online world -- so similarly to Birdy, it gets bogged down in details a lot.  The plot, what little there is, advances very slowly.  It's not earth-shattering stuff, but it's still entertaining to read.

There are a lot of smaller manga that I really like that would never make financial sense to translate:  Tadashi Ore wa Heroine Toshite, Hungry Marie, Cylcia = Code, and Magical Trans! just to name a few.  I don't expect to ever see a professional translation of these, but I've been able to read them because fans translated them.

When it comes to more popular series however, there's usually a professional translation, and you're supposed to support the company doing the translating and buy the volumes they publish.  After all, the only thing that guarantees new stuff will be translated and published is if they make money at what they do.  I feel like I'm increasingly in the minority when it comes to wanting physical books in my hands -- and I admit, my house is crammed full of books, and I don't need more (I'll have to move them all about this time next year), but even though I've more-or-less converted to digital when it comes to music, I resist buying digital books.

(Even when most of my friends who had Amazon lists requested them this year.)

For me, having a physical manga volume is one of the main reasons to buy the professionally-translated book in the first place.  If I bought a digital version then the only difference between that and the fan version is the quality of the translation.

Sometimes, however, that quality makes a big difference.  Fan translations can vary wildly.  In some cases the translator opts for a literal word-for-word translation, either because of principals (not all fans agree with a non-literal interpretation), or because their grasp of both languages is less than perfect.  But the results can be difficult to read.  The meaning of the words is there, but the text hardly flows well in English.  Dialog is stilted, concepts get repeated, the deeper meaning of what is being said is obscured.  It takes a talented translator to not only translate the meaning of the words but also to make sure it flows well in English and that the concepts being discussed are clear.

I've been comparing chapters of That time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime.  The fan translation is by Shurim, who does everything, and eventually stopped translating this after someone complained, and then another translator picked it up.  The professional translation is by Stephen Paul for Kodansha Comics.  I'm not trying to attack Shurim here, just wanted to point out the difference that buying a professionally-translated manga can provide.  This is all from chapter 18, the start of book 4:

Fan Translation:

The existence that brings disaster to the world, Orc Lord
The skill that is in-born when the Orc Lord appears is a skill that effects all his subordinates:  Unique Skill [Starving Ones].

Pro Translation:

A beast descending upon the world, bringing disaster and chaos.  The Orc Lord.
His terrifying innate skill affects all those under his rule.  The Unique Skill, "Starved".


Rumuru:  Suppress the Orc Lord?  That's... asking me to enter this battle?  [What is this big sister talking about]
Dryad:  That's of course, Rimuru Tempest-Sama
Benimaru:  For you to appear out of no where and just start talking, Dryad that's called Layato correct, Why come to this village, There's races that are stronger than the goblins correct
Dryad:  You're right.  If the ogre village did not fall... I might have went to the ogre's village instead.  Mah, even so I couldn't ignore the existence of this master.


Rimuru:  Vanquish the Orc Lord?  Umm... me?  [What is this lady saying?]
Dryad:  That is correct, Lord Rimuru Tempest.
Benimaru:  That's quite a demand, coming from someone who just waltzed in out of nowhere, "Treyni the Dryad" or so you call yourself.  Why have you come here?  There must be other races that would be better suited than the goblins.
Dryad:  It is a good question.  If your ogre village were still standing now, I might have come to you for help instead.  But even if that were the case, I do not think I could ignore the presence of the one who now stands before me.

Rimuru:  But whether the Orc  Lord has been born is still a question...
Dryad:  We dryads are able to gain many information as long as it's inside the Jura Forest.  The Orc Lord?  His already born.
Rimuru:  Layato Please allow me to reply after a few days.

Rimuru:  We had only hypothesized that the Orc Lord was roaming about.
Dryad:  Dryads are always aware of what occurs within the forest.  And there is most certainly an Orc Lord here.
Rimuru:  I must ask you to wait a bit for my final answer, Treyni...

Shuna:  Souei you've went back to our village right?
Souei:  Yes.
Shuna:  From your expression... It musts be not found?
Souei:  Yes... neither the orc's nor our own kind.  There was nothing.
Rimuru:  Nothing?  What are you guys talking about?
Souei:  Corpse.
Benimaru:  No wonder... I was wondering how they were able to feed 200,000 orcs.
Hakuro:  As they do not have any idea in war.
Dryad:  Unique Skill [Starved Ones].  A skill that the Orc Lord gains the moment it's born.  It allows the orcs to eat anything and everything.  This point is similar to your skill [Predator].  Though it's similar to [Predator] but it's success rate is not constant, but if there's many using the skill for consumption at the same time the rate rises.

Shuna:  Did you inspect the ruins of our village, Souei?
Souei:  I did.
Shuna:  And were they empty after all?
Souei:  They were.  I did not find a single one -- of ours or theirs.
Rimuru:  Pardon me, not a single what?
Souei:  Dead body.
Benimaru:  Ah, I see... I was wondering how they were getting enough food to support an army of 200,000.
Hakuro:  Indeed... they have no concept of supply-line logistics.
Dryad:  The Unique Skill:  Starved.  It is a skill that every Orc Lord is born with.  It allows him to absorb the properties of any monster he eats.  In that aspect, it is similar to your "Predator" skill.  Unlike "Predator", there is no guarantee of success in a single attempt, but as his ravenous hunger compels him to devour more and more, the odds will naturally increase.

As you can easily see, the professional translation is likely not quite as literal but feels like natural English, and communicates things clearly.  I think the decision that stands out the most to me is having Hakuro say "they have no concept of supply-line logistics".  That does not sound like a phrase that anyone in a medieval setting would use... but it communicates what he is trying to say much better than "they do not have any idea in war".  Maybe there's a third way to phrase that which doesn't sound as anachronistic, although I have to admit that I probably only focused on it because I was reading the text carefully to note how each translator phrased things.  If I had been reading normally it might not have jumped out at me.

The end result is that I can read the fan translation and understand most of the story, but I enjoy reading the professional translation more.  It feels more alive, the dialog feels more natural and real.  Whether that's worth the cost of a digital version of the comic, I'm not sure... for me, having a physical manga in my hands is still what makes it worth the price to purchase.


Monday, December 2, 2019

NaNoWriMo Wrapup 2019

I wrote 62,234 words for NaNoWriMo.  I didn't write anything after Thanksgiving.

What I accomplished:  For the second time I attempted to finish a "short" fanfiction story called Nerima All-Stars and I wrote more than 50,000 words and am still nowhere near finished.

My original idea was that several gods and one half-god and one demon decide to play a game.  They  transform the Nerima of Ranma 1/2 into a world where heros and villains exist, then they transform some of the main characters into heroes and villains.  I actually had this idea that I might do up to three separate arcs, each with a different villain... but of course the story spun way out of control and the first villain arc alone is still unfinished.

I wrote my original opening scenes for this story in 1999 or 2000, then set them aside for years.  Finally in 2016 I set out to complete the story during NaNoWriMo.  I wandered off on a tangent where Ranma winds up in the world of Lina Inverse (Slayers) in order to learn how to become a sorcerer, and that was a massive chapter that covered one single side plot before the big battle.

This time around I managed to finish up all of the scenes that lead up to the Ranma-in-Slayersville chapter, and then I launched into an Akane-in-heaven chapter.  I'm not sure how successful this was.   It felt like it was long and somewhat pointless, and I added some drama and weirdness that made it even longer, and... I don't know, the whole middle of my story involves two long side stories where characters go to other dimensions for long stretches of time.  By the end, everyone was back together again but I have yet to write the final chapter which figures to be a massive one since it's the final battle with the big bad villain.

I think my plan is to work on this for December.  I was working on some Grandpa Anarchy stories in September and October, and trying to get back to publishing stories on my Grandpa Anarchy blog site, and then in November I completely forgot about doing that.  December I usually try to write a Christmas ghost story for our December writer's night, but almost every year this means dropping whatever I was working on for NaNoWriMo and jumping on something completely different, and I really dislike doing that.  I want to finish this fanfiction story so that I can publish it, so screw the Christmas story, I won't do one this year.

That said, it's December 2nd and I've written virtually nothing in the last five days, just jotted down some half-scenes today.  It'll take at least another 50,000 words to finish this thing, so I need to get working on it.