Translating and Retranslating

 Today I had a conversation with a bright undergrad at University of Pittsburgh who is working on a research project and wanted to know about the translation of a passage from the sourcebook. Here it is, Manilius Astronomica 4.711-730:

For that reason, humankind is arranged by various standards and physical qualities, and peoples are fashioned with their own complexion, indicating through their physical appearance, as if by private treaty with nature, the shared society and similar substance of their people. Germany stands tall, with its towering offspring, all of it blonde, while Gaul is slightly dyed with a redness akin to Germans. Hardier Spain is an assemblage of compact, sturdy limbs. Romulus endows the Romans with the face of Mars and, through the union of Mars and Venus, well-balanced proportion of limbs, while clever Greece announces through its well-tanned people [720] their preference for athletics, especially manly wrestling. Curly hair at the temples reveals the Syrian.

The Ethiopians defile the earth and form a people drenched in shadows, while India bears people less burnt. Egypt, flooded by the Nile, darkens its people more gently because of the well-watered fields nearby and makes their complexions only moderately dark by its mild climate. Apollo, the sun god, dries out the people of Africa with dust in their desert sands, and Mauretania contains its name in the peoples’ faces, [730] the title “mauretania” being one with the color itself.

The part he was asking about is: "The Ethiopians defile the earth and form a people drenched in shadows..." and the question was about the translation of maculare as "defile". Welp, I am here to tell you that the translation is wrong. Given the context, it should be "darkens" or "marks". What we have is a gradation of colors: from the darkest to the lightest shades of black/brown. 

The word maculare has lots of figurative pejorative uses, which I imported into this translation, but I don't think it belongs. Instead, I assumed a prejudice by Manilius that he likely did not have and then put it in a translation, which will be read by lots of people who don't know Latin and will go around thinking that ancient Romans had the same sort of prejudice we do in the modern world. Some will think that justifies their own anti-blackness. Others will then be turned way from Latin authors thinking this is a norm for them, too. 

Anyway, this is just another reason to say no to any new projects and hit the ground running in the next couple of years on a revision and expansion of the Sourcebook. There are numerous things in it that I would no longer do today and we really need to update and fix the errors.