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Latin Translation and Commentary Assignment: How to Write Commentaries

This guide is for the use of students enrolled in upper-level Latin courses. It provides assistance and resources for writing translation commentary papers.

How to Write Commentaries

This page is for students who wish to learn the basic process and tasks involved in writing translation commentaries.

Getting Started

Why write a commentary?

The purpose of translation commentaries is to help the translator understand the grammatical, literary, and historical elements of a text.  Commentaries may contain observations on unusual vocabulary, difficult grammar, cultural context, and relationships to other texts.  Commentaries sometimes contain translations of particularly tricky passages. 

Think about what you look for in commentaries as a translator.  What notes help you the most?  What notes confuse you?  A good commentary not only helps the reader to translate the text, but to understand the text's significance in the literature.

How to Write a Commentary

  1. Select a text and determine your passages.
  2. Research.  Look for the text’s historical significance, read other commentaries, and develop background knowledge about the writer and text.
  3. Read an English/native language translation to gain a basic understanding of the text.
  4. Translate.  Make notes of difficult passages, vocabulary, and grammar.  Cite dictionaries or reference books that correlate with your notes.
  5. Proofread and revise your translation so that it makes sense in plain language.
  6. Identify significant literary and historical elements of the text.  Note them, research the background, and explain why they are important. Cite your sources.
  7. Format notes from steps 4 and 6 by inserting footnotes in the text or indicating the line numbers that the notes reference.
  8. Proofread, proofread, proofread!

Helpful Examples and Articles


Haverford Digital Commentary Library - Latin Commentaries

Small library of commentary examples.


Writing a Commentary on a Passage of Prose, Poem, or Historical Document

Basic overview of approaches toward writing commentaries.

Translation Commentary Re-Examined in the Eyes of Translator Educators at British Universities

Focus on section 5.2 for tips on what makes a translation commentary successful or unsuccessful.