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  • Possibilities for Reading:Classical Translations in Parallel Texts ca. 1520-1558
  • Daniel Wakelin

I haue taken payne in studye to translate thre bokes of the sayde Seneca. The fyrst of maners, Seconde of the fourme of honest lyfe, Thyrde of remedyes of all casuall chaunces and haue adioyned the texte of the latin, with the translacion in Englysshe, to the entent that nat onely scole maysters, teachers, and reders folowynge the olde tradicion of expart and excellent lerned men, maye instructe theyr scolers in good and honest maners in bothe tongues Englysshe and latin, but also all other that be lettred (whiche in thys oure tyme be verye studyous of knowlege) by of [sic] redynge of these vertuous workes: maye folowe the trade of morall wysedome, whiche is the nexte meane to amplyfye and encrease commen welthes.1

In the 1540s Robert Whittinton (ca. 1480-ca. 1553), a schoolmaster and the author of many grammars and textbooks, translated three works then thought to be by Seneca. In a preface to one of them he tells his dedicatee that he has "adioyned the texte of the latin" to all tells his dedicatee that he has "adioyned the texte of the latin" to all three. All three are printed in parallel texts, with English and Latin on facing pages. Why is that? Whittinton gives two intentions. The second intent is that some people would learn from the works how to serve the commonwealth. This seems a familiar Tudor platitude, and the use of English to instil it is familiar too. The first intent, though, seems more [End Page 463] teasing. The first is that schoolmasters and others would follow some "olde tradicion" kept by "lerned men" and teach their scholars "in bothe tongues" English and Latin. What was this "olde tradicion"? Was there an "olde tradicion" of using English to teach Latin? And was there an "olde tradicion" of books just like Whittinton's, with English translations of the classics and the Latin "adioyned"?

Firstly, it is well known that grammarians had long used one language to teach the other, at least from the fourteenth century to the days of John Palsgrave.2 Secondly, it is well known that English printers had long printed many translations of the classics, by Whittinton and others. Unlike their peers overseas, they had always put out a higher proportion of books in English than in Latin, even when printing classical literature.3 It is instructive simply to tally the number of classical editions made in early Tudor England. Table 1, at the end of this essay, does so, with figures from The Revised Short Title Catalogue and the database Early English Books Online.4 For completeness the tally begins when printing does in England in 1476. It stops at 1558 because from the 1550s the number of translations escalated, and the type of translations expanded-notably to Ovid and the plays of Seneca, choices earlier neglected but that later shaped English verse and drama.5

Of course, a tally can only count what has survived. But, conceding this limit, for the years 1476 to 1558 the tally reveals two striking trends. The first is how rarely printers in England printed classical literature in Latin alone, almost never doing so from the 1540s to the later Elizabethan [End Page 464] period. This trend surely reflects the volume and quality of the imported Latin trade, with which printers in England-often also working as importers-perhaps chose not to compete.6 The more striking trend is that nearly a quarter of the classical books printed in early Tudor England "adioyned the texte of the latin, with the translacion in Englysshe," as Whittinton puts it; that is, a quarter of the classical editions made in England offered the text in two languages. There were two ways to do so: in an alternating text, with one language after the other on the page,7 or in a parallel text. And there was a shift between these methods around 1520: until then printers only alternated the Latin and English, but from 1520 there appeared, as well, a series of parallel texts; in fact, it was then slightly more common to print...


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