Introduction: The Renaissance
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Introduction: The Renaissance Daniel Russell University ofPittsburgh Translation during the Renaissance was an extremely important activity, but it was an activity much different from translation as we understand it today. As in ancient Rome, the goal of the translation was not to replicate, with as much reproductive accuracy as possible, the original text and the intent with which the author had produced it. On the contrary, the goal was usually to appropriate the text being translated for the needs of the target culture, and sometimes this goal was aggressively expressed in military metaphors (Friedrich 1992, passim; Heidegger 1975, 23). This activity of appropriation was best expressed, however, in the term translatio, which did not necessarily mean "translation" but the transfer of a text, a tradition or a right from one society or culture to another. In fact, as we see in Oumelbanine Zhiri' s study of Leo Africanus' Description ofAfrica (1550), translatio did not even need to involve translation in the modem sense at all: It could remain at the level of editorial intervention .' Zhiri studies G. B. Ramusio's edited version of Leo's geographical and historical account to demonstrate how the act of translatio could have far-reaching political and cultural consequences. In this case, the political aim was, at least implicitly, or perhaps even subconsciously , to reaffirm European cultural hegemony. It also made Leo's text more familiar, and hence acceptable, to its target audience by accommodating it to the cultural habits of the intended audience at that time; this was another aim of much Renaissance translation. In cases like this one, editorial practice erased the anomalies of foreign cultures until such a time as philology finally made this rather cavalier practice intellectually unacceptable. Then, theories of cultural relativity had to be developed to account for such discrepancies; a primitive stage in this process is evident in Montaigne's essay "Des cannibales," and it reaches full maturity in eighteenth-century relativism. The techniques and political implications of such "editing" or "intralingual translating" were perfectly clear to Renaissance humanists, as Kenneth Lloyd-Jones demonstrates in his discussion of Erasmus' 30 THE POLITICS OF TRANSLATION exercise in his dialogue known as the Ciceronianus of "translating" a religious text from "Christian" Latin to the "Ciceronian" Latin of Nosoponus. The exercise, as Lloyd-Jones shows, turns a Christian text into a pagan one, and in Erasmus' times this was a dangerous political act, as Etienne Dolet, one of Erasmus' Ciceronian opponents, was soon to discover. And Dolet, for one, must have used the practice in an aggressively self-conscious way. Such appropriation continued unabated from antiquity to the Renaissance, and its implications, as Erasmus' text reveals, were often religious and thus had far-reaching political implications . Vergil's fourth eclogue is a case in point. As Edwin D. Floyd shows so interestingly, the process by which later Christians saw and understood this text as a prophecy of the coming of Christ probably began in late antiquity with interpretations like the Greek translation that Floyd discusses. Translation was absolutely essential in determining the way a text was received, and translations like this one suggest why Vergil's eclogue was viewed in the Renaissance as a text to be revered, used as a text for divination, and, finally, one to be parodied as such by Rabelais (Tiers Livre, chaps. 10-12). Sometimes, as with Montaigne's translation of Raimond Sebond's Theologia Naturalis, the translation edited out theological points and positions no longer acceptable to an audience whose view of the Christian world had changed since its composition some two hundred years earlier in a somewhat different culture. This is the kind of work that Philip Hendrick and Edward Tilson highlight in their complementary studies of Montaigne 's translation of this work that is so central to our understanding the longest and one of the most important chapters in his Essais. Ramusio's modifications to his edited version of Leo's text, or, indeed, the changes in any other text submitted to the same process, bring to light two problems that determined the way translation was understood, and the purposes to which it was put, in the Renaissance . First, it is clear that the author did not, in this system, possess the kind of authority that he or she would have in the post-Romantic world of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Hence, translators obviously felt it less imperative to attempt to replicate the style and intentions of the author in the "translated...


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Subject Headings

  • Translating and interpreting--Europe--History--To 1500.
  • Translating and interpreting--Europe--History--16th century.
  • Civilization, Medieval.
  • Renaissance.
  • Literature, Medieval--Translations--History and criticism.
  • European literature--Renaissance, 1450-1600--Translations--History and criticism.
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