I’m currently reading A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle for the first time. This is considered a YA classic, and for a good reason: it’s awesome. For reasons which could be the subject of their own post I was never able to read it in childhood, which might be just as well because now I get to puzzle over a curious multilingual typo in the book.

I’m reading the 1979 Dell edition, the one with this cover:

A Wrinke In Time Cover
This is the edition that I grew up seeing as a kid; all of the other cover images that the book has sported seem like pretenders to me.

I mention this only because it’s possible that later printings have corrected the errors I’m about to discuss.

There is a character, Mrs. Who, who frequently speaks in quotations. At one point she quotes Euripides in the original Greek. The quotation is printed thus (printed large to make the accents clearer):

“Αεηπου οὐδὲν, πὰντα δ’ εηπἰζειυ χρωετ.

Translation (from the book): Nothing is hopeless; we must hope for everything.

Now anyone with a little Classical Greek (which I minored in) could tell you that this is nonsense. Three of the words are nonexistent, and the diacritics are placed in violation of every rule of Greek accentuation. However, with the help of the translation I was able to guess what went wrong and reconstruct the original.

There are two simple letter mistakes: lambda (λ) has been replaced with eta (η) in every instance, and nu (ν) has been replaced with ypsilon (υ) in two places. The latter mistake is quite easy to make; the former is a bit more puzzling, but we’ll let it go. The final word stumped me until I realized that someone had substituted tau (τ) for iota-with-circumflex (ῖ). Making those substitutions, we arrive at this:

Ἄελπον οὐδὲν, πάντα δ’ ἐλπίζειν χρωεῖ.

(You’ll notice that I’ve corrected all of the accents, too. The errors here are very comprehensible and easy to make–and let us take a moment to pity the poor typesetter who was tasked with setting this line, based on a probably handwritten fragment in a language he didn’t know. He had probably never ever heard of a smooth-breathing-with-acute-accent mark, and so may be forgiven for using a double-quote in its place. Alongside the numerous other errors.)

This matches the translation given, and satisfies me. Only two questions remain:

  1. Why Ἄελπον and not Ἄνελπον?
  2. Whence the omega in χρωεῖ? The word that I know is χρεῖ; but perhaps the long form is a poetic variant that I’m not aware of.

Of course, both of these things could also be typesetting errors, but they don’t seem easy to explain in the way that the other substitutions are.

Update: My erudite friend Brett sent me the following in private correspondence:

The TLG says it’s Euripides Trag., Fragmenta (Nauck) 761.1:

Ἅελπτον οὐδέν, πάντα δ’ ἐλπίζειν χρηῶν

lit. ‘nothing hopeless/unhoped, it’s necessary to hope for everything.’ L’Engle’s source translator took the first clause as “nothing is hopeless” which seems fine. An Italian on the single google result I got (http://spazioinwind.libero.it/gattonero/index5_RCol.htm) apparently takes it as “nothing [can happen] unhoped for” or “[if the thing is] unhoped for [then it doesn’t get achieved].” Ἅελπον doesn’t seem to be a word, and it looks like the last word’s typo may be switching ω and η, and replacing _ν with τ for whatever reason. I wonder in a positive, respectful, evocative sort of way what the draft the typesetter was going off of looked like. Finally, a-elp- rather than *_an-elp-_ is the privativized stem of ‘hope’ because _elp-_ originally started with digamma (http://www.aoidoi.org/articles/epic/digamma.html), indicating (with asterisks now meaning prehistoric rather than incorrect) *_n-welp-to-_ > *_awelpto-_ > _aelpto-_. If you have a different edition of the book see if they’ve corrected any typos