Bryn Mawr Classical Review 96.12.14


[[Another review of this book was published earlier this year, as BMCR 96.8.14.]]

John O'Brien, Anacreon Redivivus: A Study of Anacreontic Translation in Mid-Sixteenth-Century France. Recentiores: Later Latin Texts and Contexts. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995. Pp. x + 276. $44.50 (hb). ISBN 0-472-10617-1.


Reviewed by Janet Levarie Smarr, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, j-smarr@uiuc.edu.

When Henri Estienne published the first edition of Anacreon's poetry in 1554, it had already begun to influence the writing of Ronsard, who seems to have gotten an early glimpse of at least a few poems. Within a couple of years, translations and imitations by various writers were appearing in both Latin and French. O'Brien asks not why these poems aroused such immediate excitement, but how the early translators found different ways to re-present Anacreon's work.

The book begins rather slowly with some general discussions, first of the edition itself, Estienne's occasionally capricious methods contrasted with those of Italian philologists such as Robortello, who criticized Estienne's work. Estienne's accompanying commentary emphasized the echoes or analogies of Anacreon's verses in Latin poetry, e.g. by Horace, Ovid, and Catullus, and therefore used the Latin poets to suggest readings of difficult places in the Greek text. Anacreon was thus presented from the start as familiar rather than completely new, and was placed in an ahistorical context of Latin and Alexandrian elegy and epigram. The moderns thus already had a classical model in the Latin poets for the assimilation of Anacreon's verse. They also had from Estienne a method for reading, which is the discovery of allusions and imitations. Estienne's attempts to find an appropriate critical vocabulary are traced through the changing editions of the 1550's and 1560's.

The second general and introductory topic is the state of translation theory during these same decades. There is an unfortunately tedious emphasis on the difficulty of distinguishing cleanly between translation and imitation, a point obvious enough at first mention, but recurring as one of the binding threads of the book. O'Brien covers the standard issues of imitating res rather than verba and of choosing an appropriate level of style. Anacreon's verses offered the possibility of both a florid middle style supported by its Alexandrian connections and a low comic or simple style reinforced by the noting of analogous or borrowed verses in Plautus. O'Brien addresses also the issue of translation as rival composition and not just humble transmission, the translator sometimes seeking to amplify or improve upon his source or to play variations on its original theme. The question of whether translation was even possible or worthwhile was debated among Dolet, Peletier, Du Bellay, et al.

Chapters 3 through 6 then take up particular translations, first two into Latin, by Henri Estienne and Elie Andre, and then two into French, by Ronsard and Belleau. Estienne's translations collaborate with his commentary to enforce certain readings, although they cannot capture all the possibilities laid out by variants in the commentary. A practice of contaminatio, picking up the echoes of Latin imitators, focuses the translation process on the "microcontext" of particular phrases without much concern for overall unity of effect. Andre is even more obvious in his allusions to intermediate texts, while Estienne's principle of altering his borrowings hides them. The chapter on Andre is excellent in tracing in detail the combined and thus inconsistent dictions resulting from his pursuit of Latin lyric and comic resonances, and the multiple determination of some of his word choices. The making and reading of this kind of translation clearly required an intense humanist learnedness, which O'Brien seems to share. It involves not only recognizing that a word comes from Horace, for example, but also that it is a hapax and therefore of special interest. O'Brien does not attend, however, to musical reasons for word choice; thus he expresses puzzlement over the translation of "egkatheudein" by "facili fruens sopore" rather than the simpler "indormire;" but the sounds of "facili fruens" pick up the sounds of the Greek.

The chapter on Ronsard is also first rate, and worth reading all by itself for those whose interests lie more in Ronsard than in Anacreon. Ronsard's various approaches to the Greek odes are traced through four volumes of his poetry, showing how Ronsard continually experiments with combining materials not only from different Anacreontic odes but also from analogous classical and modern materials. Mining Anacreon as a source for his own poetic renewal, he assimilates the Greek poet into a broader body of sources for a new "beau style bas." O'Brien does not comment on the possible relation of Ronsard's seeking to join the "doux" with the "bas" to the Italian emphases by Bembo, Dolci, et al. on a style that would combine the sweet ("dolce") with the higher register of the serious ("grave"), a combination for which Petrarch was their preferred model. The rivalry of French with Italians, and of Ronsard with Petrarch -- especially in Ronsard's fusion of Anacreontics with love sonnets -- might well have been a factor in Ronsard's interest in developing his own loosely Anacreontic poetry.

Direct interconnections between Ronsard and Belleau encourage O'Brien to offer more comparative discussion of the French translators than he did of the Latin. French lacked the allusive resources of Latin, and therefore tended to focus less on recapturing the fragmentary resonances of Latin mediators than on creating a unified feel or character for Anacreontic verse with French resources. For Belleau this is done stylistically via "mignardise" as well as thematically through an emphasis -- linked to neoplatonism -- on the association of drunkenness with poetic inspiration. However, even within a very short timespan, French allusiveness was possible: Belleau's ambivalence toward Ronsard appears in his adaptation of particular phrases from Ronsard's Anacreontics.

The conclusion sums up differences both between the Neo-Latin and French and also between translators' efforts within the same language. Besides these differences, however, all four translators share an awareness of the impossibility of strict translation and a willingness to blur the boundaries of translation and imitation.

O'Brien acknowledges a considerable debt to Thomas Greene, to whom he is close in both methods and concerns, and whose terminology he adopts. He is also trained in rhetorical analysis, and likes to point out examples of "hypotyposis," "metalepsis," "isocola" and the like. Although the flyleaf offers this volume to both students and scholars, few and advanced are the students who will make it through this whole study. Not only will unexplained rhetorical and philological terms discourage them, including words such as "enallage [of the tenses]" (230) that I could not find in several dictionaries either English or French, but so will the rather long-worded and abstract style:

"Ovidian overtones suggest the centripetal convergence of the paradigmatic and the syntagmatic. On the other hand, this is to ignore the undeniable plurality of metonyms occupying the center of the poem,...". (98)
Latin and Greek are usually translated, but French and German are not. The volume ends with a useful appendix of Anacreontic odes as they are numbered variously in Estienne's first edition and the modern editions of Teubner and Loeb. The best feature of the study is its detailed analyses of particular texts, and the resultant panoply of approaches to Anacreon that they demonstrate even within the first few years and among translators who knew each other's work. The conclusion rightly ends with a triumphant expression of the energies of this Renaissance enterprise and of just how "redivivus" Anacreon really was.