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Montaigne's Traduction of Sebond: A Comparison of the Prologus of the Liber creaturarum with the Preface of the Theologie Naturelle Edward Tilson Yale University "It nigrum campis agmen" -AeneidN There is a great deal at stake in the longstanding critical debate surrounding the Theologie Naturelle, Montaigne's 1569 translation of Raimond Sebond's Liber creaturarum (The Book of the Creatures) . On the interpretation of Montaigne's intent in his translation hinge arguments about the meaning of his most important essay, the Apologie de Raimond Sebond. Moreover, as this central essay is a microcosm of the Essais, these arguments concern the nature of Montaigne's project in them. To define Montaigne's relation to Sebond at the outset of his literary career is, in some degree, to define what it is that he will go on to assay. Sebond, or Sebeydem, or Sibiude, was a professor of theology, the arts and medicine at the University of Toulouse, where he composed, between 1434 and 1436, a manuscript that was originally entitled Scientia libri creaturarum seu naturae et de homine . In this work, the study of the Book of Nature, understood to be a hierarchical reflection of the divine will, leads to a proper understanding of the nature of man as the capital letter of the book, and from there, by analogy, to the understanding of God. Montaigne undertook the translation of this work at the behest of his father. He claims to have tossed it off in a matter of months but can be shown to have been interested in Sebond, if not in translating him, as early as 1562 (Coppin 1925, 37). The great question about the translation is whether Montaigne deliberately undermined the thesis ofthe Catalan theologian or, 192 THE POLITICS OF TRANSLATION as Donald Frame put it in his 1947 article "Did Montaigne Betray Sebond?" Modern critical attention to the question of Montaigne' s translation really begins with the abbe Reulet's 1875 study, Un inconnu celebre. Recherches historiques et critiques sur Raymond de Sebonde. Reulet considered the Theologie Naturelle to be primarily an exercise in style, a view which has been largely, though undeservedly, overlooked in later criticism.) Reulet was succeeded by Joseph Coppin, whose claim that Montaigne's translation was essentially faithful to the text of Sebond but that Montaigne had gradually grown away from his medieval predecessor defined the debate in tenns that persist to this day.2 This evolutive thesis was flatly contradicted by Annaingaud, who asserted that the skeptical and libertine hand of the 1588 Essais had been at work already in the early translation (Montaigne 1932). The controversy continued to simmer, with articles in support of both camps appearing regularly. Recently, it has again been the subject of a great deal of critical attention in which an effort is being made to go beyond the construction of scenarios that feature Montaigne either as the faithful disciple or as the treacherous villain, as a catholic or as a skeptic, and to focus on the detailed comparative analysis of the two texts. 3 A corollary of this new textual emphasis has been the realization of the need to establish which Latin text Montaigne worked from. 4 The first known edition of the theologian's work came from the presses of Guillaume Balsarin between 1487 and 1492. It was entitled Liber creaturarum sive de homine, and the author was given as Raymundo Sebeydem (Rigolot 1995). These are crucial details since they formed the basis for Coppin's judgment that the Balsarin edition could not have been the text used for Montaigne's translation (Coppin 1925, 26) and for his consequent decision to use a text based on the Deventer edition entitled Theologia naturalis sive liber creaturarum, specialiter de homine as the basis for his comparative analysis (Coppin 1925, 69), a judgment and a decision that have been accepted by successive critics. 5 As Rigolot has recently shown, however, Coppin's decision to exclude the Balsarin text was a hasty and possibly mistaken one (Rigolot 1995, 63-64). Sebond's work had been put on the Index in 1558-9, with a renewal of the condemnation for the Prologus only in 1564. Since Coppin, it has been widely held that Montaigne knew of the prohibition and deliberately altered the ideas of the Prologue to bring it more into line with Catholic orthodoxy/' Thus some critics exculpate Montaigne from the charge of perverting Sebond's text on the grounds that it was a necessary expedient and take...


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