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  • Latin Translation in the Renaissance: The Theory and Practice of Leonardo Bruni, Giannozzo Manetti and Desiderius Erasmus
  • Marianne Pade
Paul Botley . Latin Translation in the Renaissance: The Theory and Practice of Leonardo Bruni, Giannozzo Manetti and Desiderius Erasmus. Cambridge Classical Studies. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004. x + 208 pp. index. append. illus. tbls. bibl. $70. ISBN: 0-521-83717-0.

Leonardo Bruni, Giannozzo Manetti, and Desiderius Erasmus all produced Latin versions of Greek works and wrote in defence of their chosen method of translation. Paul Botley's principal aim in this book is to study their attitude, as eminent examples of Renaissance translators, to the work of their predecessors, and how it informed their own work. To deal with these questions, Botley gathers material from a wide variety of sources.

The versions of Aristotle made by Bruni were highly controversial, and he defended them in the first modern treatise on translation, De interpretatione recta. As Botley rightly points out, the translations of Bruni and his contemporaries mark the start not only of the "reconquering" of large parts of Greek literature for the [End Page 686] Latin world, but also of a novel practice of translation that is still in vogue today. It spite of this, there is still no scholarly assessment of most Renaissance translation nor, to some degree, of the theoretical writings produced in connection with them, a lack which Botley tries to remedy.

Manetti's translations of Aristotle's Libri morales reveal his awareness of Bruni's Ethics-controversy, and he worked on a new translation of the Bible while Lorenzo Valla was preparing his influential annotations on the New Testament. Botley attempts to clarify the obscure history of Manetti's translations and discusses the substantial Apologeticus, written to propound Manetti's view on translation.

Erasmus chose to defend his controversial translation of the New Testament with a large volume of annotations. While Erasmus himself advertised his debt to Valla, Botley adds to our understanding of Erasmus's use of him, when he demonstrates that citations of Valla's work in the Annotationes often are tactical, intended to make his own work appear more conservative than it really is.

In the final chapter of the book, Botley suggests a categorization of Renaissance Latin translations from the Greek. He distinguishes between translations produced in schools to help students of Greek and the kind of translation practised by Bruni which was intended as a literary work in its own right. This method was most appropriate for works of Greek rhetoric and poetry, and Bruni defended its application to the works of Aristotle by maintaining that Aristotle was a rhetorical writer. Influenced by Bruni, Manetti (and, later, Erasmus) justified new translations of scriptural texts by maintaining that they could be created to serve a different purpose than the old one, and that it was better to have several versions of a difficult text than to have a single authoritative translation.

Botley credits Bruni with reviving the ancient, Ciceronian, concept of stylistic translation, perhaps under the influence of Coluccio Salutati, who had criticized medieval techniques of translation. But Salutati was not the first to do that, and it is strange that Botley completely ignores the role of Petrarch and Manuel Chrysoloras in the development of Renaissance translation. When Petrarch saw Leontius Pilatus's Homeric versions, he was taken aback, quoting (in a letter to Boccaccio) St. Jerome, who had said the even the most eloquent poet would seem to stammer when rendered by too faithful a translator, a critique he elaborated in the Letter to Homer. Petrarch never formulated a method of translation, but Chrysoloras, Bruni's teacher, did. It is described by Cencio de' Rustici, according to whom Chrysoloras distinguished between literal translation, translation of sense, and free translation. Of these he preferred the second, insisting that the translator should be faithful to both the sense and the style of the original while avoiding excessive freedom. Bruni's De recta interpretatione is in a way an exposition of Chrysoloras's method.

This minor point apart, Botley provides a valuable overview of method and theory of humanist Renaissance translation. His succinct analyses of central texts show how...


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