Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.10.13

Marcello Marinucci, Batracomiomachia. Volgarizzamento del 1456 di Aurelio Simmaco de Iacobiti.   Padova:  Esedra Editrice, 2001.  Pp. 139.  ISBN 88-86413-50-5.  €18.07.  

Reviewed by Federico Condello, Università di Bologna (
Word count: 1618 words

The list of Italian translators of the pseudo-Homeric Batrachomyomachia is a very long one: the most famous of them, Giacomo Leopardi, in his 'Discorso sopra la Batracomiomachia' (1815), appears to know no fewer than 12 translators from 1470 (Giorgio Summariva) to 1763 (Antonio Migliarese), and many others should be added -- as many as the lines of the poem, according to a famous boutade of Antonio Lavagnoli.1 But, unknown to Leopardi, as to Lavagnoli, was the obscure beginner of this enduring tradition: the humanist Aurelio Simmaco de Iacobiti from Tossicia (a little town close to Teramo, in Abruzzo), who lived in the 15th century between Aragonese Naples and the court of prince Antonio del Balzo degli Orsini in Taranto. His date of birth is unknown; the terminus post quem for his death is year 1499. His translation of Batrachomyomachia is included, among other works of the same author, in a 15th-c. MS, possibly autograph, now in Paris (BNF Ital. 1097, cart., 67ff., 1r.-13v.). Simmaco's translation consists of 624 lines, divided into 84 octaves, the first six of which furnish a prologue of a pronounced autobiographic nature. It was written in Naples and is dated August 1456 by the author himself, in a kind of final metrical subscriptio (ll. 617-620). Thus the work predates the editio princeps of the Batrachomyomachia by Carlo Marsuppini (Brescia, probably 1474) by eighteen years, and it follows that Simmaco's is the earliest vernacular translation of a poem in the Homeric corpus; and this, in fact, is not a small title of honour.

Marcello Marinucci's (= M.) book is at present the most reliable critical edition of this important translation. A previous edition -- not always rigorous in transcribing the manuscript, according to M. (8) -- was published by Emanuele Antonio Giordano in 1999, and a proekdosis by M. came out in 2000, when the study of the text was not yet completed.2 The volume includes an introduction with an overview of the author, his works and cultural background (9-16); an extensive treatment of 'La lingua di Simmaco' (17-24); an interesting chapter on the probable Latin sources of the translation (25-31: see below); the edition of the text (35-62); a line by line commentary (63-92); an essential bibliography (93-102); and finally a useful 'Indice-Glossario' (103-139).

M. is especially interested in the history of the Italian literary language in the humanistic age, and Simmaco's Batracomiomachia is undoubtedly an important document as regards the transition between regional vernaculars and Italian literary vulgar, which came to definitive canonization during the 16th century. Simmaco's language is an odd mixture of northern and southern idiomatic elements, with many Latinizing hypercorrect forms, Dantean coinages and Virgilian calques; it is, of course, an entirely artificial language, the intricate texture of which is outlined in detail (esp. 17ff. and commentary ad ll.). The translation is also a remarkable document of southern humanism in the Aragonese age, although M.'s brief discussion of this point is somewhat schematic (13-16), and his bibliography is lacking in many important titles about the rediscovery of Greek literature in the Humanism and Renaissance (e.g., Nigel Wilson).

Despite his prominent linguistic concern, M. raises many issues which will not fail to arouse Greek scholars' interest. There is irrefutable evidence that Simmaco translated the Batrachomyomachia not directly from a Greek original, but through the Latin translations by Carlo Marsuppini, published in 1474 but written probably in 1429, and M. proves with certainty the dependence of Simmaco on this model (30-31). Specifically, Simmaco used both of Marsuppini's Latin translations, the hexametric one and the interlinear one, and M. plausibly argues that a copy of the still unpublished work, sent by Marsuppini to Giovanni Marrasio, arrived in Naples through Leonardo Bruni and the Panormita, who were in touch with Marrasio during their stay in Siena. This fact does not exclude the possibility that Simmaco may have used some Greek source -- M. is regrettably unclear on this point -- because there are a few mistakes which seem to derive from the misreading of Greek letters, e.g., the name Σευτλαῖος (Batr. 209) transcribed 'Sentleo', with 'n' instead of Greek upsilon (v. 435), or traces of itacistic pronunciation of Greek names, e.g., Λειχομύλη (Batr. 29) transcribed 'Licomile' (v. 96).

However, it is very difficult to establish which Greek source Simmaco used -- probably via Marsuppini -- and M.'s results are interesting but, so it seems to me, still provisional and requiring closer investigation. M. depends entirely on the reconstruction of the manuscript tradition offered by R. Glei3 and confines himself to speaking about 'due famiglie diverse, etichettate dai filologi a and l' (25). M. concludes that Simmaco used a 'codice misto', i.e., contaminated, and nevertheless 'molto vicino' to Laur. Gr. 32,3 (L3, in Allen's sigla: M. erroneously writes 'Laurentianus Gr. 33,3'). The inference is quite vague, given the widespread contamination to which the codices of the short poem are exposed, and we ought to examine the text more meticulously. In fact, the data scrutinized by M. are too few, and some of them are described or interpreted in a questionable way. For example: at line 60 'garula' (= 'garrula') may presuppose both πολύφωνος or πολύφημος (Batr. 12), as opposed to what M. says (26); at line 80 'oceano' (adj.) presupposes the v.l. ὠκεανοῖο (Batr. 20), which is absent from Laur. Gr. 32,3 but present in other Florentine manuscripts (see Allen's app. cr. on the passage); at line 200 'affando' (= 'affanno') seems sufficiently justified by βάρος (Batr. 91), probably interpreted in a metaphorical way, and there is no need to speculate about missing manuscripts (so M. on 27); at line 216 'con ingando' (= 'inganno') presupposes perhaps the v.l. ἀπατήσας (Batr. 96), which is, among other manuscripts, in the 'l' family (in Allen's sigla), on which lines 217-222 (Batr. 97-98) also seem to depend; lines 283-285 (Batr. 119) follow, apparently, the same family: see especially the translations 'rane' and 'morto me ll'ha' ('l' only offers the v.l. ἀπέκτεινε; 'morto me ll'ha', however, may be a generalization of the widespread v.l. ἀπέπνιξεν); ibid., it is difficult to imagine that Simmaco did not know line 121 of the poem (so M. on 27: but see l. 286); at line 376 (Batr. 176), there is no reason to assume that 'singulari' translates the v.l. παντοδαποῖσιν (so M. on 27, without explanation); at lines 428-432 the translation, according to M., should follow 'il testo di a', but the statement remains unsupported; at lines 435-436 (Batr. 209) 'Sentleo' kills 'Abachitro', and not vice versa: the translation presupposes the vv.ll. which we find in many Florentine manuscripts, but not in Laur. Gr. 32,3 nor in the 'l' family (in Allen's sigla); in a similar way, lines 437-440 translate Batr. 210-211, which are omitted by Laur. Gr. 32,3 and by the whole 'l' family, but are present in other Florentine manuscripts. Such and similar data deserve more scrupulous examination before one can speak of a 'codice misto' or infer that Simmaco's source 'non coincide con alcuno dei codici sinora in nostro possesso' (28): which is certainly possible, but inadequately demonstrated. Simmaco's free paraphrase recommends caution, but the impression is that we have to look for Simmaco's direct or probably indirect source among Allen's 'i', 'k' and 'l' families, rather than in the super-family marked 'l' by Glei. Furthermore, according to the demonstrations given by M. himself, it is necessary to include in the field of analysis Marsuppini's Latin translations: the limited check of this intermediary deprives the reader of very important data, and weakens M.'s argument, which otherwise makes a significant contribution to the inquiry. Renata Fabbri, in a short yet very useful analysis of Marsuppini's translations,4 points to Laur. Gr. 31,20 (L1, in Allen's sigla) as his probable source: and this is perhaps the correct line of inquiry.

Simmaco's translation, as mentioned above, stands out among all others for the wide freedom with which the humanist treated the original text, often widening it as required by the ottava rima, sometimes shortening it, for no apparent reason. It would be very difficult to argue that the work is a masterpiece of Italian literature, and it is perhaps for this reason that M. refrains from comments on the literary peculiarities of the translation and restricts himself to dialectological and linguistic remarks. The evaluation of Simmaco's strange Kunstsprache offered by M. differs from Giordano's in that the latter speaks about a 'lingua superdialettale',5 while for M. 'il poeta non sembra orientato alla ricerca di un modello linguistico, ma appare attento a dare di sé l'immagine di una persona colta' (16). The epilogue which Simmaco appends to the translation (ll. 592-624) is worth mentioning, because the humanist, as M. rightly points out (31), defends the Homeric authorship of the poem against Ps.-Plutarch, with the same arguments employed by Carlo Marsuppini in his Epistula dedicatoria to Marrasio: being able to celebrate humble things, 'bassi cusi', in such an elevated style, as Virgil in the Culex, is a work of 'miro ingegno'. It could be added that this is a critical topos going back to Statius (Sylv. 1, praef.) and stretching out, through Poliziano, Erasmus and many others (e.g., Lope de Vega), to Leopardi.6

To sum up, M.'s book is undoubtedly valuable in that it makes available a text which is little known and yet remarkable in the modern history of Homerica and Pseudo-Homerica. Although the investigation of many controversial questions should have been more meticulous, M.'s work is a good starting point for further analysis. It is a pity that the book is inaccurately printed -- the misprints are too many to be listed, an annoying flaw which one hopes will be removed in a future reprint, in order to let the qualities of the book emerge.


1.   See La Batracomiomachia di Omero. Greca, Latina, e Italiana, Venezia: G.B. Albrizzi, 1744, 3.
2.   E.A. Giordano, 'Echi della tradizione omerica in Italia meridionale nel XV secolo: la Batrachomiomachia in ottave di Aurelio De Jacobictis da Tussicia', in Annali della Facoltà di Lettere e Filosofia. Università degli Studi della Basilicata 9, 1999, pp. 151-174; M. Marinucci, I rifacimenti volgari della Batracomiomachia e del VI libro dell'Eneide di Aurelio Simmaco de Iacobiti (Bibl. Nat. Paris cod. ital. 1097), Trieste: Università degli Studi di Trieste, 2000.
3.   R. Glei, Die Batrachomyomachie. Synoptische Edition und Kommentar, Frankfurt a. M.: Lang, 1984, about which see M.L. West, in CR 35, 1985, pp. 379-380 and H. Wölke, in Gnomon 63, 1991, pp. 196-200. M. quotes but fails to use the excellent work of H. Wölke, Untersuchungen zur Batrachomyomachie, Meisenheim a. G.: Hain, 1978, on which see E. Degani, in Gnomon 54, 1982, pp. 617-620.
4.   R. Fabbri, 'Carlo Marsuppini e la sua versione latina della 'Batrachomyomachia' pseudo-omerica', in AA.VV., Saggi di linguistica e di letteratura in memoria di Paolo Zolli, a c. di G. Borghello et al., Padova: Antenore, 1991. See also A. Rocco, Carlo Marsuppini traduttore d'Omero. La prima traduzione umanistica in versi dell'Iliade (primo e nono libro), Padova: Il Poligrafo, 2000, esp. 105-143.
5.   Giordano, op. cit., p. 154.
6.   The Fortleben of the pseudo-Homeric poem is a theme ignored by M.; one should mention at least Elisio Calenzio's Croacus vel De bello ranarum (edited by M. De Nichilo in Elisii Calentii poemata, Bari: Adriatica Editrice, 1981), which belongs to the same historical milieu as Simmaco's; there is a good outline in M. Fusillo, La battaglia delle rane e dei topi. Batrachomyomachia, Milano: Guerini, 1988.

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