Translating in Renaissance Europe
Translation plays a fundamental role in the history of the transformations, re-modellings, and intertextual relations that characterize European culture. What ECO writes in 2008 is true, if paradoxical (though see ECO 2003): the language of Europe is translation. This is true as long as it is nuanced with what we read in MESCHONNIC 1999: according to the latter, the history of translation and the history of Europe are inseparable: “l’Europe ne s’est fondée que sur des traductions”, adding that “elle ne s’est constituée que de l’effacement de cette origine toute de traduction”. In Meschonnic’s words we may read an invitation not only to take translations into consideration, but also to consider the process according to which they were subordinated or were conceived of as “handmaids” to literature, not to be studied for their own worth. Yet, paradoxically, such a process has not produced (or has not produced only) a forgetfulness about translations and translators; it has also generated a tendency to treat translations more and more as autonomous texts, contributions to the enrichment of the target language. By the same token, the target language is no longer secondary, at least in chronological terms; it does not depend on the input of the source language. Whether an explicit or implicit homage to, or a denial of the original text, translations in this perspective acquire the status of “new” texts, new and protective walls for new and fragile languages, walls, as it were, without any scaffolding, since the translator’s work is no longer plainly visible.
Over the last century the research that has been undertaken has concerned both individual texts and individual translators, together with the phenomenon of translation and its role in European cultures, in politics and ideology, in the construction of the great nation-states or of the imperial institutions. We may, indeed, say that the birth of the modern idea of nation, the creation of the modern state, coincided with a renewal of attention towards translation; which was not simply an effort to adapt the languages to the new nations. Translations, in fact, can be seen as both bulwarks in the construction of an individual culture, and bridges uniting different cultures. In the nineteenth century such an intellectual attitude played its part in the construction of the specific field of literature (as opposed to rhetoric) and of the figure of the modern auctor, whose universality was no longer founded on the presumed universality of his/her linguistic tools.
The insertion and/or appropriation of a text on the part of a different culture has relevant cultural consequences. Whether or not it is a literary text, a canonical text in one of the classical languages or in a vernacular, a contemporary or ancient work, its translation in the end will connote the national culture of the target language and should thus be studied as an instance of Übersetzungskultur, to use the term coined by Frank in 1988. Frank, in fact, defines translation no longer simply as a homage to an original that is considered worthy of being read or imitated, but a conscious transposition into a new context. Knowledge no longer has a determined origin: it is part of a polycentric process, continually evolving. As nations construct their identity through language and political power, they also experience the need of a myth of origin, a cultural foundation supported by an intellectual library able to integrate and assimilate different or alien cultures. The creation of the myth of origin is thus accompanied by a process of transmission of texts that resolves itself into cultural appropriation. The paradox is only apparent: one nation builds part of its cultural identity through an act of translation.
Only through the analysis, individual and parallel, of single linguistic identities, of individual national cultures, against the background of the shared, multilingual European context, can we assess and give a wider meaning to the cultural consequences of translations.
Our research objects are, therefore, not the thirteenth- or fourteenth-century vernacularisations of Latin or Greek texts (which have been extensively studied, as shown by LUBELLO 2011, FROSINI 2014 and, for the Italian Area, the corpus of the vernacular collected by the research team DiVo at the Accademia della Crusca in Florence), or humanistic translations (cf. BERNARD-PRADELLE, LECHEVALIER 2012), presupposing a non-negotiable hierarchy relegating vernacular texts in a secondary position. The PI is interested in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century translations, linking them with the spread of the printing press and the acquired autonomy of vernacular languages. The moment in cultural history we are interested in sees, at its start, the decline of vernacularisation and the overcoming of the crisis of Latin Humanism, based on the recovery of a lost conceptual and lexical heritage, thanks to Greek-to-Latin translation; and at its completion, the flourishing seventeenth-century debate on “belles infidèles”, starting with Gilles Ménage.
The theoretical basis of the project is the conviction that the European cultural unity is constructed over the early-modern period, founded on the circulation, in translation, of a well-defined, far from small but not huge, corpus of “great works” from every nation. To give a few samples: works by Cervantes, Lope, Calderon; Castiglione, Machiavelli – see the project http://hyperprince.ens-lyon.fr/hypermachiavel –, Ariosto, Guicciardini, Tasso; Shakespeare, Milton; Commynes, Bodin, Montaigne; Lipsius; and a number of texts which would not be considered strictly literary by modern standards – by historians, philosophers, artists, art theorists, jurists, scientists: see for instance Albrecht Dürer’s Von menschlicher Proportion (1528), translated into Latin, then from Latin to Italian, and printed in Venice in 1591). Such works constituted the canon of the various European nations and languages in the Renaissance, if by Renaissance we mean a wide cultural period starting in Italy in the mid-fifteenth century and continuing, for instance in England, until the mid-seventeenth. In this corpus we also insert works written in the vernacular in the fourteenth century, thus preceding Humanism proper but enjoying great popularity in the Renaissance; for examples belonging to the Italian cultural milieu, we might mention Petrarch, or the Decameron (already translated into French in 1414, 1485, and in 1545 in Le Maçon).
Various long-range phenomena may help explain why translation is such a specific issue in the Renaissance, influencing its very nature.
The idea of Europe was built between 1494 and 1648 (see Chabod 1959 and Hale 1993), to begin with the very name of the continent (Piccolomini) and with the enhanced awareness of its specificity in comparison with the rest of the world. The Renaissance introduces a new criterion: cultural, moral, and spiritual affinity, a common denominator which transcends religious differences, overcomes the purely geographic definition and is characterized by its secular nature: Europe is constituted by the cultural network of its universitates, according to Erasmus, and by political institutions and organizations, as well as by the necessary multiplicity of its nation-states, a necessary condition of maintaining political balance and ensuring freedom for its citizens (as Machiavelli writes, “l’Europa solamente ha avuto qualche regno e infinite repubbliche”).
The Protestant Reformation, postulating the universal accessibility of the language of divine truth, required a scaling down of the role of Latin as the former unique and exclusive repository and guarantor of the sacred text. It thus radically changed the reflections and the practices accompanying the language of faith as language of truth, but also the languages of non-theological truths: if we can, indeed we must, use the vernacular for faith, then we can use it on an even larger scale for philosophical or scientific truths.
The development of printing throughout Europe, with its almost industrial scale and characteristics (especially as concerns Venice, Frankfurt, Lyon, even Antwerp and Paris) triggers a wider and accelerated dissemination of books and writers, which has inevitable consequences for translation. Almost as an inevitable corollary, we see at this point the institution of a unitary model for the vernaculars, the stabilization of their spelling system for the printing presses, and the creation of grammars of modern languages. Another effect of printing and of printed translations is the potential creation of new texts: not simply new versions of books that are already well-known, but autonomous texts, given their independence by their original linguistic setting.
Over the fifteenth and sixteenth century (taking into account that individual nations such as England or Spain may modify this chronology) there emerges a new system of vernacular languages; this approach makes use of the humanist heritage, especially as concerns its method of textual analysis, linked to a new conception of philology as history; it also overcomes the traditional dichotomy between “dead” and “living” languages, by appealing to the autonomy of individual languages and the multicentric relations among the various European vernaculars. Each vernacular is the language of literature, of science, of religion, of politics; it is a written as well as a spoken language, the competitor and rival of every other vernacular, setting up a confrontation with other vernaculars on the level of translation. The languages of Renaissance Europe are all to a certain extent “new”: ancient, “dead” languages, no longer used for writing, such as Greek, Syrian, Hebrew or Aramaic, are now confined to the realm of ancient heritage.
The Ciceronian/Virgilian classicism, upheld by Pietro Bembo and dominant in Europe in the early sixteenth century), guaranteed formal control over an exemplary, closed corpus; given these characteristics, such a corpus could be imitated and reproduced. It ensured formal stability for Latin, reproduced its purer form as opposed to the medieval variant(s); Latin thus was no longer simply a dead language, but in some measure a contemporary language. An instance is Erasmus’ lively Latin, as well as experimental texts such as the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (translated into French in 1546, Le songe de Poliphile), up to Galilei’s Sidereus nuncius (1610): such texts exhibited a Latin that could no longer be constrained within classical forms. A new issue was being open to discussion: the question of a scientific language that could be connected to spoken language, and no longer be linked to the Greek/Latin lexicon.
The relation between Latin and the vernacular languages could no longer be limited to the alternative between Latinization or exclusion. The growing autonomy of the vernaculars triggered a fruitful, polymorphous collaboration between ancient and modern languages, according to the rule of diglossia, of a bilingualism that works ever more on the same level as it is ever more influenced by the various forms of multilingualism developing in Europe.
This plurality allows a plurality of uses and effects in translation, making a multidisciplinary or even transdisciplinary approach a necessary clause. The case studies-based approach should be abandoned in favour of an approach that privileges the study of issues or problems. A radically European perspective is also necessary: it is not simply an a priori methodological choice, but an inevitability, since the binary logic of an analysis between source and target language is clearly insufficient: what should be privileged is a multilingual vision, one of whose collateral effects is the highlighting of the autonomy, individuality and cultural productivity of the translated text.
A study of translations published in the sixteenth century must be based on the analysis of the system of languages, the sociology and history of printed texts, the practice of translation and the material form of the book. These are connected phases in the construction of writing and printing.
In short: we are studying a system of languages setting into close relation translated vernaculars, original languages, and even Latin as a language of modern translation (since texts are also translated into Latin, as a relay-language, as in the case of the German version of Guicciardini’s Storia d’Italia undertaken by Georg Forberger, and perhaps even in the case of the French version by Jérôme Chomedey).
As concerns the bibliography on material history (textual history and bibliography, history of writing, history of publishing), our main problems will concern the connection between translations and their identifiable readership. The readership can be reconstructed, for instance from paratexts – dedications, advice to readers changing from language to another – or from partial translations, extrapolated from the original text because of censorship. A further issue is the specificity of the publishing process in relation to translations that enjoy only a limited, scribal circulation.
As concerns the practice of translations and the material forms of printing, the fundamental problems concern the precision (not to say faithfulness) of translations, the comparison between translations (whether translations of the same text in different languages, or of different translations in the same language), the degree of autonomy of each translated text, that is the issue of the relationship of a translated text with the original and with other translations of the same original. A specific case is constituted by multilingual editions – for instance, Guicciardini’s Loci duo printed in Basel in 1569 are in French, Latin and Italian; the 1595 London edition adds English, in a facing-text layout that creates almost one, multilingual text.