The 1584 translation in French verse of Homer’s Iliad, printed in Paris by the publisher Abel L’Angelier, is a compilation of the works of Hugues Salel and Amadis Jamyn. Hugues Salel (1504–53), “humanist, poet, translator, lay abbot, courtier, patron and protector of men of letters, chamberlain-in-ordinary, and royal almoner,” was valet de chambre of King Francis I, who commissioned the translation of the Iliad; the first ten books were published in Paris in 1545. Nearly three decades later, Amadis Jamyn (1540?–93) took over this task. By 1577, all twenty-four books of the Iliad were available in French verse. This complete Salel-Jamyn translation of the Iliad, later revised and corrected by Jamyn, saw republication in 1580. Two years later, in 1582, Jamyn published his translation of the first three books of the Odyssey. He then added these books to the previously edited Salel-Jamyn Iliad and integrated them into one volume that saw subsequent publication in 1584, 1599 and 1605. The 1584 edition, which was the last Homer edition published during Jamyn’s lifetime, is perhaps the most interesting one to discuss given its context of French nationalism and the ways in which it was translated. In the light of the methods of translation, the translators and their literary circles, as well as the context of French nationalism, this article aims to offer a detailed study of the edition’s cultural, historical and political background in order to fully appreciate the specificity of this volume.
The 1584 Homer edition is referred to as a “compilation” because it marks a very clear distinction between the three major parts: Salel’s translation of the Iliad’s first eleven books, Jamyn’s translation of its remaining thirteen books, and the first three books of the Odyssey. Between them are inserted prefaces and poems written either by Salel and Jamyn or by other men of letters, notably by Pierre de Ronsard (1524–85), all of which provide us with useful information on their purpose and method of translation as well as on their reception within the literary circle. To facilitate the reader’s understanding of the story’s outline, there is an “argument” or a brief summary of the plot, before each book. In addition, for the three books of the Odyssey, there is the occasional insertion of notes in the margins, which resulted in the significantly smaller size of the font of the main text. These details are an indication of the translator and editor’s efforts to make the edition more accessible to readers. The difference in method and style between the two translators will allow for further analysis in the subsequent parts of this essay.
France saw the publication of numerous Homeric translations in the sixteenth century. The Parisian publishers Chrétien Wechel and his son André printed partial or complete versions of Homer in the 1530s and 1550s, and the complete translations of the Odyssey and the Iliad came to be available respectively in 1541 and 1554. Salel’s partial translation of the Iliad, published in 1545, was nevertheless highly significant as it was the very first in French verse. Due to the enormous difference between the Greek and French languages, such an undertaking was for Salel both courageous and risky, as a clumsy rendering of Homeric verse alongside existing Latin and French translations could possibly ruin the translator’s reputation. Ultimately, it turned out that the quality of Salel’s verse earned widespread praise from the king and the literary circle, and contributed greatly to the influence of Homer in the French Renaissance. The reputation of Salel’s translation also explained why his master Pierre de Ronsard urged Jamyn to continue Salel’s translation instead of starting a new version.
Methods of Translation
In this 1584 edition, Salel’s translation of the Iliad is preceded by a long poem entitled “Epistre de Dame Poesie, Au Treschrestien Roy François, premier de ce nom: Sur la traduction d’Homere, par SALEL.” This epistle, written by Salel himself in 1544, appeared in each of the eleven French editions of Salel’s translation (including those combined with Jamyn) from 1545 to 1605, with the exception of the 1554 edition. The speaker in the poem is the fictive Dame Poesie (Lady Poetry). Through her voice, Salel, when speaking to the king, tries to praise his own translation and to reaffirm three propositions as well. First, King Francis I is a powerful protector of letters, second, Homer is the source of all knowledge and all poetic grace, third, that the slanderers are wrong to blame Salel’s translation because it laudably makes the knowledge of antiquity accessible to the reader. While fully recognizing the difficulty of the translation by offering the comparison: “Tirer des mains d’Herculés invincible / La grand’ massue, encore plus d’oster / L’horrible fouldre au grand Dieu Juppiter,” Salel proposes his own method of translation, “non vers pour vers,” but “Il souffist des poëtes / La volunté ester bien entendue / Et la sentence avec grace rendue.” Arguably, Salel, in his translation of Homeric verse, opts for a more flexible approach.
This rationale of Salel could be reformulated as such: first, translation is more an interpretation of the general meaning than a meticulous rendering of the minute details; second, that the translator ought to place more emphasis on the grace of the result than on the fidelity to the original. These principles of translation were by no means uncommon at that time. In La Maniere de bien traduire d’une langue en aultre (The Way to Translate Well from One Language to Another), published in 1540, Etienne Dolet also suggested that “en traduisant il ne se fault pas asservir jusques à là que l’on rende mot pour mot.” There had been doubts, due to the rather loose rendering of details in the translation and the fact that Salel went to school when Greek education was not yet popular, as to whether Salel based his translation on a Greek version, or whether he relied on various Latin translations readily available in his time. It has since been proven by Valentin Burger that Salel had indeed relied primarily on an original Greek text.
In Jamyn’s time, there came to be a greater demand for fidelity in content and style among the humanists. As a result, Jamyn’s translation presents characteristics different from those of Salel. Salel chose to translate Homer in decasyllabic couplets, “the French meter still associated with noble undertakings at mid-century,” according to Rothstein, which wereale less capable of faithfully rendering Homer’s hexameters. Whereas Jamyn opted for the alexandrine verse that had found acceptance in the 1570s, that Ronsard regretted not using in La Franciade and that, along with his supreme command of Greek and his attention to exactness, allowed more space for the rendering of descriptive elements. Unlike Salel, who aimed at the overall meaning and stylistic effect in French verse, Jamyn, who learned Greek as a child, sought in most cases to be as literal and accurate as possible. He strived to render Homeric images vividly, yet this emphasis on accuracy, as shown by Graur, has also made some parts of his translation redundant. In all, as Graur concludes, the overall quality of Jamyn’s translation is clearly superior to that of his predecessor.
The 1584 edition is thus the curious combination of the works of two radically different translators, which allows us to observe the stark contrast, both in poetic style and translation method, between the first and second halves of the century. While Jamyn has demonstrated his talents in brilliantly completing the endeavor and carefully reviewing the entire volume, it should also be acknowledged that the great reputation of Salel’s earlier translation contributed to the overall popularity of the edition, which would see many reprints until 1605.
Salel, Jamyn, and the Literary Circle
In the 1584 edition of Homer, a poem written by Ronsard under the large letters “Pierre de Ronsard aux manes de Salel” comes immediately after Salel’s epistle and before the text. “Manes” or in later orthography “mânes” designate in ancient Roman religion the souls of the deceased loved ones, considered as divinities. In Ronsard’s Oeuvres complètes, this poem appears as “Epitaphe de Hugues Salel.” With a detailed commentary by Ronsard on Salel’s life and work, this poem provides us with a clear indication of Ronsard’s attitude towards this forerunner of the Pléiade.
In the poem, besides the habitual abundance of mythological references, Ronsard dedicates the most essential part of the poem to the description of Salel’s translation of the Iliad under the patronage of the King Francis I. This translation, for Salel who, in the eyes of Ronsard, would “t’en allas joyeux / Rencontrer ton Homere es champs delicieux,” is presented as the greatest achievement of the translator. We could easily tell from Ronsard’s appreciation that the Iliad of Salel was for him “un de ses livres de chevet,” a book that Ronsard had read or perhaps re-read and was highly familiar with.
In the volume that is scrutinized in our study there follows after Ronsard’s poem a very brief à la mémoire written by Etienne Jodelle (1532–73), poet and playwright of the French Renaissance, signed “Est. Iodelle,” which relates how much of his life he owes to Salel and the Iliad translation. With “Quercy m’a engendré” and “Homere m’eternise,” Jodelle placed a great deal of importance on the influence that Salel (who was born in Cazals-en-Quercy) and his translation had on him. Such an attitude is hardly surprising. In another sonnet addressed to Salel, Jodelle referred to Salel, “qui tant par ses vers me peult plaire,” as the person who plucked and spread “le beau fruyt” from the “jardin Grec” and who virtually made himself “un Homère second.” The praise for Salel here is the highest that a literary figure can ever hope to earn.
A two-fold interpretation could be made of this. On the one hand, these laudatory texts of Ronsard, Jodelle, as well as of other men of letters of the same period are certainly an unequivocal indication of how Salel’s translation was widely acclaimed within the literary circle and how it contributed to Homer’s prominent role in the French Renaissance. On the other hand, by inserting such texts between the various translations, the publisher consciously had in mind marketing purposes that consist of using the recommendation of these renowned literary figures to promote the volume, the small in-12 format of which allowed it to be widely circulated.
In the study of Salel and the literary circle, we should also take into consideration Salel’s friendship with several poets of the group called “La Pléiade” (The Pleiades). In a sonnet addressed to Ronsard and Joachim du Bellay (1522–60), Salel expressed his admiration for their poetic talent, and invites them to help him: “Et de vos vers dignes d’estre adoréz / Vostre Salel à present secourez, / Chantant pour luy ce qu’il ne pourroit dire.” As Salel, who was almost twenty years older than Ronsard and Du Bellay and who lived to see his reputation well established, had no reason to request help from these young men who were only starting their career, these lines are not a sign of false modesty but most likely mark a sincere and genuine appreciation for their talents. We might thus say that on the one hand, Salel, being a forerunner of the Pléiade, had considerable influence on poets of the younger generation thanks to his translation of the Iliad. Yet on the other hand, Salel recognized in the young poets promising literary qualities superior to those of his own, and was more than willing to maintain a cordial relationship with them.
This was however not the case for Jamyn. A generation younger than the poets of the Pléiade, we know that Jamyn served in his adolescence as the young servant boy of Ronsard in 1554 at the latest, when Ronsard mentioned in his Bocage a certain “Corydon,” who was none other than Jamyn. Although it is not clear whether it was he himself or Ronsard who first took the initiative in continuing the verse translation of Homer, it was nevertheless certain that Ronsard had been a life-long master and mentor for Jamyn and had exerted a huge influence on his literary career. Thus it is not at all surprising to find in the 1584 edition an ode written by Ronsard that precedes the text of the thirteen books translated by Jamyn.
This “Ode par Monsieur de Ronsard” is essentially a warm praise offered to Homer, whom he calls “Poete des Dieux,” and to the translator Jamyn, whom Ronsard puts in juxtaposition with Homer himself as “deux soleils / Patrons des Muses sans pareils.” Although this ode might seem exaggerated and pompous to the modern reader, it nevertheless reveals the increasingly fervent admiration that Ronsard and his generation had for Homer, as well as their eagerness for a high-quality translation in French verse. It is worth emphasizing that in this gradual process of bringing Homer to preeminence in the age of the French Renaissance, in addition to Jean Dorat’s significant contribution as teacher and mentor of the early Pléiade poets, Salel’s translation had played a crucial role, without which Jamyn’s continuation would have been inconceivable.
Another noteworthy point is that towards the end of the “Ode,” Ronsard explicitly said that what he admired most about Homer were his representations of wars against foreigners, which Ronsard, who thought of himself as a contemporary Homer, was also probably interested in. In this context, Ronsard was clearly referring to the devastating religious warfare between Catholics and Huguenots that was then ravaging France. While expressing his admiration for Homer, Ronsard naturally projected his own aspirations onto the past.
Jamyn first published the translation of five books, from the twelfth to the sixteenth, in 1574. Curiously enough, despite the fact that Salel had already translated the eleventh and twelfth books in the 1550s shortly before his death, Jamyn chose to re-translate the twelfth book. Was it meant to demonstrate the superiority of his translation? Was it due to certain flaws of the twelfth book? The reason for this deliberate choice remains unclear, although, as demonstrated earlier, a comparison between the different renderings of the twelfth book allows us to notice that its version of the young translator is in general more brilliant in its accuracy and its loyalty to the original Greek verse. What is known for sure, however, is that these five books, published under the title of La Continuation de l’Iliade d’Homere, were then extremely well received within the literary circle, and this encouraged Jamyn to translate the remaining part and to publish Les XXIII Livres de l’Iliade d’Homere Prince des Poetes Grecs in 1577. Through a careful examination of the various texts inserted between the translations, it is evident that both Salel and Jamyn were closely associated with major literary figures in the Renaissance, notably with Ronsard.
Homer and French Nationalism in the Renaissance
It is well known that King Francis I commissioned Salel’s translation of Homer, and that Salel, upon finishing each book (chant) of the epic, would send “a carefully executed manuscript” to the king. By the time Salel’s translation was published in 1545, the king, having already read or probably re-read the translation, offered his praise of the work in the privilege:
L’utilité, richesse, et decoration que nostre langue Francoise
recoit aujourdh’huy, par ceste traduction de laquelle nous a ja
este presentez les neuf premiers livres; don’t la lecture nous a
este si agreeable, et nous a tant delecté.
It is clearly shown here that the king himself sincerely appreciated the stylistic qualities of the language used in Salel’s translation. Behind the celebration of the French language and the active royal support, there is in the translation of Homer an additional political dimension—a sense of French nationalism.
In the case of the Iliad, this nationalist sentiment was inextricably related to the myth of Trojan origins, a myth highly popular in medieval and Renaissance France, according to which the Franks were distant yet direct descendants of the Trojans. This particular use of antiquity, although certainly a pure invention of scholars, found many firm believers in the sixteenth century, as it corresponded perfectly to the increasing need for national pride. The powerful influence of Italian culture and the anti-Italian sentiment in France made it even more urgent to establish a French national identity independent from Rome and thus from Italy. In such a context, there appeared works like Illustrations de Gaule et singularitez de Troye by Jean Lemaire de Belges (1473-1514?) or, later on, Ronsard’s La Franciade, which, among many others, consciously referred to this legend.
Salel was of course perfectly aware of the Trojan mythos. In his opening “Epistle” in the 1584 edition, while speaking through Dame Poesie, he made sure to suggest this French-Trojan connection:
Je m’abstiendray pour l’heure à declairer,
Comme les dieux l’ont voulut decorer
De prophetie, en ce qu’il a predit
L’autorité, le regne, et le credit
Que les Troiens, apres leurs grans dangers,
Auroyent ung jour ès païs estrangers.
While in the 1540s, the Trojan myth, although still extremely popular, began to be understood in an increasingly figurative manner, Salel, by this passing reference, seemed to demonstrate to the king his familiarity with the Trojan myth, as if it were a recognition of the French royal legitimacy. Three decades later, while people generally no longer took the Trojan myth literally, Jamyn nevertheless continued to refer to it. In our volume, after the cover page of his translation of the Iliad and before Ronsard’s ode, there is a short epigram written in Latin followed by a French translation, in which Jamyn, in explaining the purpose of his translation, explicitly referred to “la race troyenne, qui fut de / la Françoise origine ancienne.” It is difficult to imagine that Jamyn, writing in the 1570s, firmly believed in the Trojan myth in a strictly literal manner. The almost simultaneous publication in 1572 of Ronsard’s La Franciade, an unfinished epic poem by which the poet intended to “give birth to France,” showed that the Trojan myth, either held to be factual or not, became an integral part of the nationalist discourse, and that the writing of epic in the Renaissance was in itself a national project. In this light, Salel and Jamyn’s translations of Homer both had a strong nationalist signification, and the inclusion of the Trojan myth seemed a clear nod to the political climate of their time.
This is better understood if with the royal patronage taken into consideration. Jamyn, like Salel, had a royal patron in mind— King Henri III. Following the epigram in the 1584 volume is an “ode du traducteur au roi,” ode from the translator to the king, in which Jamyn, while addressing to the king, underlined Homer’s importance with: “Il faut Homere aprendre / Qui pour sa belle voix / Fut chevet autrefois / Du monarque Alexandre.” Jamyn made the recommendation of Homer to Henri III by explaining that it was the favorite book of Alexander the Great, as if the reading of Homer would be helpful for the French king to become a great monarch. Again, the value of Homer is closely associated with its political implications. Due to the specificity of the Trojan myth and its relationship with French royal power, it’s possible the revival of Homer accompanied the rise of French nationalism and in fact became a certain vehicle of the latter.
I’m choosing to underline the specificities of the 1584 Homer edition by interpreting it from the perspectives of the translation method, the translators and their literary circle, as well as French nationalism. Through a close study of the translators’ rendition of Homer, and especially of the various texts related to their translations, we have attempted to trace the outline of the historic background in which they presented their work. It could be seen, from the example of this single volume, how translation methods, poetic style and Greek education varied in the first and second halves of the sixteenth century, how the translation of Homer, being a major event in introducing Homer to Renaissance France, provoked multiple and diverse reactions within the French literary circle, and moreover, how the translation of the Homeric epic Iliad, being a national project closely related to royal power, also constituted an integral part of the discourse of nationalism, prevalent at that time.
Keywords: Alexander the great, Catholicism, Christianity, Valentin Burger, Etienne Dolet, Jean Dorat, Joachim Du Bellay, Philip Ford, France, Paris, King Francis I, French, epic genre, Theodosia Graur, Greek, King Henri III, Interpretation, Italy, Rome, Amadis Jamyn, Etienne Jodelle, Abel L’Angelier, Latin, Jean Lemaire de Belges, orthography (spelling), paratext, commentary, dedicatory epistles, prefatory material, patron, patronage, philology, Pierre de Ronsard, Marian Rothstein, Hugues Salel, Chrétien Wechel
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- Howard H. Kalwies, Hugues Salel: His Life and Works (Normal, IL: Applied Literature Press, 1979), 1. ↵
- Hugues Salel, Les Dix premiers livres de l’Iliade d’Homere, Prince des Poetes: Traduicts en vers Francois, par M. Hugues Salel . . . (Paris: Vincent Sertenas, 1545). ↵
- Theodosia Graur, Un disciple de Ronsard Amadis Jamyn, 1540(?)–1593: Sa vie, son œuvre, son temps (Paris: Honoré Champion, 1929), 217–19. ↵
- For a detailed list of Jamyn’s translations, see Graur, Disciple de Ronsard Amadis Jamyn, xi–xiv. ↵
- Philip Ford, “Homer in the French Renaissance,” Renaissance Quarterly 59, no. 3 (2006): 1–28. ↵
- Ford, “Homer in the French Renaissance,” 4–5. ↵
- Howard H. Kalwies, “The First Verse Translation of the Iliad in Renaissance France,” Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance 40, no. 3 (1978): 597–607. ↵
- “Epistle of Lady Poetry, To the Very Christian King Francis, first of this name: On the translation of Homer, by Salel.” Hugues Salel and Amadis Jamyn trans., Les XXIIII Livres de l’Iliade d’Homere, Prince des Poëtes Grecs. Traduicts du Grec en vers François. Les XI premiers par M. Hugues Salel Abbé de Sainct Cheron, et les XIII derniers par Amadis Jamyn, Secretaire de la chambre du Roy: tous les XXIIII reveuz et corrigez par ledit Am. Jamyn avec les trois premiers Livres de l’Odyssee d’Homere Traduicts par ledit Jamyn. Plus une table bien ample sur l’Iliade d’Homere, (Paris, 1584), a ijr. All the references to Salel and Jamyn’s translation refer to this volume, and all translations are my own. ↵
- Hugues Salel, Œuvres poétiques completes, ed. Howard H. Kalwies (Geneva: Droz, 1987), 73. ↵
- Hope Glidden, “Hugues Salel, Dame Poésie, et la traduction d’Homère,” in La génération Marot – Poètes français et néo-latins (1515–1550): Actes du colloque international de Baltimore, 5–7 décembre 1996, ed. Gérard Defaux (Paris: Honoré Champion, 1997), 503. ↵
- “Pull from the hands of the invincible Hercules / The big club, moreover to take the horrible lightening from the great God Jupiter.” Glidden, “Hugues Salel,” 86. ↵
- “not verse for verse.” Ibid., 85. ↵
- “It is enough to hear the will of the poets well to render the maxim with grace.” Ibid., 86. ↵
- “while translating one should not subjugate to the point as to practice the word for word.” Etienne Dolet, La maniere de bien traduire d’une langue en aultre (Lyon: chez Dolet mesme, 1540), 13. ↵
- Valentin Burger, “Die französische Iliasübersetzung des Hugues Salel vom Jahre 1545, verglichen mit dem Original,” (Dissertation, University of Wützberg, 1926). ↵
- Marian Rothstein, “Homer for the Court of François I,” Renaissance Quarterly 59, no.3 (2006): 738. ↵
- Kalwies, “First Verse Translation of the Iliad,” 600. ↵
- Rothstein, “Homer for the Court of François I,” 740. ↵
- Pierre de Ronsard, “Preface sur la Franciade touchant le poeme heroique,” in Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, ed. Jean Céard, Daniel Ménager, and Michel Simonin (Paris: Gallimard, 1993), 1161–86. ↵
- Graur, Disciple de Ronsard Amadis Jamyn, 209–14. ↵
- Ibid., 211–16. ↵
- “you went joyfully / To meet your Homer of lovely fields.” Ronsard, Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, 983. ↵
- “one of his bedside books.” Hugues Vaganay, “Un ami de Ronsard: Hugues Salel. Son épitaphe par Ronsard,” Zeitschrift für französische Sprache und Literatur 28 (1905): 129. ↵
- “who by his verse could please me so much,” “the beautiful fruit,” “the Greek garden,” “a second Homer.” Louis-Alexandre Bergounioux, Un précurseur de la Pléiade - Hugues Salel de Cazals-en-Quercy (1504–1553) (Geneva: Editions Slatkine, 1969), 298. ↵
- Hélène J. Harvitt, “Hugues Salel, Poet and Translator,” Modern Philology 16, no. 11 (1919): 160–61. ↵
- “And be adored for your worthy lines / Help your Salel now / By singing for him what he could not say.” Bergounioux, Précurseur de la Pléiade, 323. ↵
- Graur, Disciple de Ronsard Amadis Jamyn, 13. ↵
- “Poet of gods.” 221r. ↵
- “two suns / Patrons of Muses without equal.” 221r. ↵
- Ford, “Homer in the French Renaissance,” 14–15. ↵
- Graur, Disciple de Ronsard Amadis Jamyn, 207–11. ↵
- Ibid., 217–18. ↵
- Kalwies, “First Verse Translation of the Iliad,” 598. ↵
- “the usefulness richness, and honor that our French language receives today by means of this translation, of which he has already presented the first nine books which we have read with such satisfaction and which so delighted us.” Rothstein, “Homer for the Court of François I,” 732. ↵
- R. E. Asher, National Myths in Renaissance France (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1993), 1–43. ↵
- “I will abstain for the moment from declaring / how the gods wanted to grant him / prophetic powers, by which he predicted / the authority, the reign, and the respect / that Trojans, having survived great dangers, / would one day have in foreign lands.” a ivv. See also Salel, Œuvres poétiques complètes, 79. ↵
- Rothstein, “Homer for the Court of François I,” 735. ↵
- “the Trojan race, that was the ancient origin of the French (race).” 219v. ↵
- François Rigolot, “Ronsard’s Pretext for Paratexts: The Case of the Franciade,” SubStance 17, no. 2 (1988): 33. ↵
- “One ought to learn from Homer / Who for his beautiful voice / Was in the past the bedside (book) / Of the monarch Alexander.” 223v. ↵