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Feb. 25, 2004

CONTACT: Dr. George Baloglou, 312-2755


    OSWEGO -- An allegorical poem written more than six centuries ago in vernacular Greek is now available in English for the first time, thanks to 13 years of devoted attention from a math professor at SUNY Oswego.

    Columbia University Press recently published "An Entertaining Tale of Quadrupeds: Translation and Commentary" by Oswego's Dr. George Baloglou and his partner in the project for the last eight years, Dr. Nick Nicholas of the University of Melbourne in Australia.

    The poem was written around 1370 in the waning era of the Byzantine Empire, probably in Constantinople. "Behind the Quadrupeds' coarse dialogues and self-exalting monologues, one can observe the poet looking decline and death in the eye," Baloglou has written.

    Baloglou's engagement in the project began when he happened upon an anthology of medieval Greek poetry in 1990 in a used bookstore on the island of Crete, where he had attended a computer science conference.

    In the anthology, this "strange, allegorical poem about a certain animal conference stood out thanks to an obliquely subversive style of writing blended with sarcasm and a powerful language combining elements of both ancient and modern Greek," Baloglou explains on his Web site.

    The Internet was to play a notable role in the journey of the medieval Greek work to its publication in English. By 1994, Baloglou, who is a native speaker of Greek, had made a stab at a complete English translation and posted it on usenet online, welcoming comments.

    That is how he found Nicholas in 1995. A linguist in Australia, Nicholas helped transform Baloglou's rough translation into the blank verse translation with extensive introduction and commentary that is now in print. Much of their work was done online or by telephone at odd hours. They didn't meet in person until 1996, in Greece.

    "It was a huge job," Baloglou said of the joint project. During three years of the collaboration, he was also writing a book in his acknowledged field of mathematics. 

    The two debated the anonymous author's point in writing the work, which ends in a fierce battle in which the herbivores overthrow their carnivore oppressors. "Was he just writing a funny story or sending a political message?" Baloglou said. "We lean toward the latter possibility. He probably needed to protest something."

    Over the years, Baloglou and Nicholas presented aspects of their work at scholarly conferences on three continents, including the 26th Byzantine Studies Conference at Harvard University in 2000. 

    Still, publication "was an uphill battle," Baloglou said. As a mathematician and a linguist, "we were outsiders," he explained.

    A professor at King's College London, Roderick Beaton, "was foremost among the few specialists who trusted us initially," he said. Beaton wrote a lengthy promotional blurb for the book praising the "wonderful job" and "stupendous labour of love" that it represents.

    The book is available at the River's End Bookstore in Oswego and online from Columbia University Press for $54.50 in hardcover and $27.50 in trade paperback. Excerpts are available through Baloglou's Web site, Support from Oswego's Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, the Australian Academy of the Humanities, and the Kalypso and Grigorios Grigoriadis Foundation assisted in publication.

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Baloglou peruses his book

BYZANTINE ALLEGORY -- "An Entertaining Tale of Quadrupeds: Translation and Commentary" by Dr. George Baloglou (above), associate professor of mathematics at SUNY Oswego, and Dr. Nick Nicholas of the University of Melbourne is one of dozens of scholarly and creative works in the current Penfield Library display on campus.

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