Translation Practices

Goda Thangada

No two words are synonyms and no translation can be truly literal. The four translators—Lorenzo Valla, Lodovico Dolce, George Chapman, and Thomas Bridges—discussed in this section unabashedly represented their work as creative rather than mechanical. At times, they argued that taking liberties with Homer’s language allowed them to remain faithful to his force and meaning. At others, they consciously imbued the epics with a new orientation appropriate to the conditions of their own time and place.

Manipulations of the translation followed not only from aesthetic preference, but the translator’s ideological program and sensitivity to the audience’s affective relations to classical myth. Both the Florentine Valla and Venetian Dolce laid emphasis on the role of the Trojans, who were regarded as the legendary ancestors of the Romans by the Italian public. Beatrice Bradley studies such distortions in both Valla’s Latin translation of the Iliad, first printed in 1474, and in a later edition’s printed marginalia and index, appended by an anonymous editor in 1522. Not only does Valla shift emphases in the epic, he goes so far as to craft new verses without Homeric equivalents. Bradley argues that the paratextual materials work in concert with Valla’s translation to draw attention to the Trojan heroes. Moreover, Valla and the editor do not conceal their agency, but foreground their creative translation practices and editorial interventions.

Translation practices were shaped by trends in vernacular literature and the artistic taste of the audience. Although classical literature often guided vernacular style and subject matter, the influence was not unidirectional. Elizabeth Tavella demonstrates that Dolce attempted to assimilate his 1570 L’Achille et l’Enea, an abridged synthesis of the Iliad and Aeneid, with the vernacular chivalric romance Orlando Furioso by using the same format, including allegorical paratexts and woodcuts, for the editions of both works printed under his supervision. Through a combination of visual and verbal techniques, Dolce advanced a new vision of the epic genre.

Indeed, the license granted to the translator was such that it was not essential to be fluent in Greek. As Jo Nixon discusses, the paratextual materials included with George Chapman’s 1611 translation reveal that he in fact relied on Latin versions. Chapman claimed that he endeavored to capture the spirit rather than precise language of Homer, given the linguistic distance between English and Greek. Nixon examines at length Chapman’s mistranslation of the noun σφενδόνη as a scarf repurposed as surgical sling rather than the correct translation of the word as a stone-sling, a weapon. Chapman fancifully concocts the explanation that a squire had carried his lover’s scarf into battle, which he then used to suspend the wounded warrior’s arm. Despite the weakness of his Greek, Chapman directs vitriol at other translators, with whom he had become well-acquainted by virtue of his dependence on them.

The most radical translation examined in this section is Thomas Bridges’ 1772 burlesque rendition of Homer. Angela Parkinson situates this work in the context of the period’s satirical literature and high-brow translations of Homer, including those of John Dryden and Alexander Pope. Parkinson’s principal interest, however, is in what she calls Bridges’ use of the paratexts as metafictional parody. She argues that Bridges anticipates postmodern metafiction by claiming in his preface that he considers his work faithful to Homer, who, he insists, intended his epics to be burlesque. Such a proclamation before such an irreverent translation satirizes the pose of those translators who would profess their loyalty to the original.

The four papers in this section are unified not only by their focus on translations, but also by their attention to issues of language and literary style. They offer examples of the forms and degrees of translational innovation and interference across Italy and England, from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century.


Keywords: George Chapman, Thomas Bridges, University of Chicago, Lodovico Dolce, John Dryden, England, genre, epic genre, parody, Greek, Italian, Italy, Latin, paratext, index, marginalia, Alexander Pope, Lorenzo Valla, Aeneid, woodcuts