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Angelo Poliziano and the Renaissance invention of Greek-to-Latin verse translation, 1430-1589.



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Hess, Nathaniel 


Greek-to-Latin verse translation is a phenomenon entirely absent from the Middle Ages, and which appears only fitfully and tardily in the 15th century, some decades after prose translation becomes a staple of humanist practice. By the end of the 16th century, however, almost the entire corpus of Ancient Greek poetry had been translated into Latin verse, often several times. This dissertation proceeds from the premise that this remarkable phenomenon merits more direct and specific attention than scholarship has hitherto given it. It seeks to define, in literary and historical terms, the characteristics of this development across the geographical and institutional breadth of the European Renaissance. The argument, broadly speaking, is that Renaissance Greek-to-Latin verse translation develops according to a norm of responsion: though not exclusive, the defining tendency is towards a strict identity – of words, sense, character, and meter – between original text and translation. This tendency runs counter to the theory and practice of translation in Roman antiquity, which generally aspires to creative deformation and appropriation, and it is insufficient to see the Renaissance phenomenon as a mere rediscovery of the ancient one. To understand why discourses and practices of translation develop askance from those around creative imitation, this dissertation takes humanist commerce with antiquity as only one of several crucial determinants, the others including the relationship between humanism and scholasticism, the uses of translation in an education system newly accustomed to Greek, and the impetus and effect of the printing industry. These determinants are instantiated through a particular chain of influence, to which Angelo Poliziano is central. The importance of Poliziano’s 1489 Miscellanea in the history of scholarship is widely acknowledged. The “pene ad uerbum” verse translations contained in this work present a similar picture, and were widely read, imitated, and disputed by his successors; the earliest example of a substantial Greek poem’s being printed alongside its Latin translation, they did much to disseminate a responsion model of verse translation. This thesis outlines the development of Poliziano’s thought and practice in relation to earlier 15th- century attempts at translating verse, and explores the wide ramifications of his example in the following century. To demonstrate this, it directs its attention to a corpus of translators who, like Poliziano, tried their hand at translating Callimachus, whilst also arguing for Poliziano’s influence on important figures such as Erasmus, Melanchthon, and Dorat.





Butterfield, David


Angelo Poliziano, Translation history, History of scholarship, Renaissance, Humanism, Desiderius Erasmus, Henri Estienne, Callimachus, Greek, Latin, Giovanni Battista Pio, Gianfrancesco Pico della Mirandola, Francesco Florido Sabino, Francesco Robortello, Petrus Nannius, Charles Utenhove, Helius Eobanus Hessus, Johannes Oporinus, Bonaventura Vulcanius, Nicodemus Frischlin


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Trinity College, Cambridge