Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.07.53

John Glucker, Charles Burnett (ed.), Greek into Latin from Antiquity until the Nineteenth Century. Warburg Institute colloquia, 18.   London; Turin:  Nino Aragno Editore, 2012.  Pp. xiii, 226.  ISBN 9781908590411.  

Reviewed by Ioannis Deligiannis, Research Centre for Greek and Latin Literature of the Academy of Athens, Greece (

Table of Contents

The volume contains ten essays originally presented as papers at a 2005 conference (Greek into Latin) held at the Warburg Institute, London. It is addressed to readers familiar with both languages, but with interests covering many aspects of Greek and Latin literature in a period extending from classical Latin (Cicero in particular, Plautus, et al.) to Renaissance Latin and beyond. While Greek, as the source language, and its literature, is present in every essay, it is the Latin language and literature that, as the target language in a volume dedicated to translation, is predominant. In their brief preface the editors believe “that this may be the first book which raises the issue of the transition from Greek into Latin throughout a period of over two thousand years”.

In the first part (“Greek in Latin”) of her essay (“Greek in Latin, Greek into Latin - Reflections on the Passage of Patterns”), H. Rosén discusses aspects of Greek grammar and syntax used in Latin language (Grecisms). In the second part (Greek into Latin) she focuses on aspects of translating Greek into Latin, and more specifically on typological incongruities between the two languages and how they were overcome by the Latin authors. It is a very informative study, thoroughly supported by examples from classical Latin authors (with Cicero having a prominent place among them), statistical information, and an up-to-date bibliography.

N. Zagagi (“What do Greek Words do in Plautus?”) has provided a systematic study of Plautus’s use of Greek vocabulary and phraseology in his comedies. She has methodically structured her argument (with numerous examples and discussion of whole excerpts) to lead to the conclusion that Plautus was addressing an audience familiar with this sort of vocabulary, and his use of Greek in sympotic and madness scenes as well as in intrigue and by effeminate characters was aiming at the prejudices of his audience towards negative Greek stereotypes which were opposed to the austere Roman moral ethos.

J. Glucker’s essay (“Cicero’s Remarks on Translating Philosophical Terms - Some General Problems”) is a meticulous study, and by far the most comprehensive one up to this time, of Cicero’s remarks on translating Greek philosophical terms into Latin. It reveals Cicero’s methodological approach in his attempt to provide accurate and faithful translations of terms in a field (philosophy) where even the slightest difference from the original could cause, at least, serious misconceptions. After a short review of the literature on the topic, Glucker divides his essay into five parts, in which he examines the Ciceronian evidence for a) the first mention of Greek terms and their translations, b) groups of Greek terms and remarks on their translation, especially in issues related to the Stoics, c) cases where Cicero’s comments require a certain familiarity with Greek, d) the verbum a verbo expression and others similar to it, used by Cicero in his remarks, and e) some ad sensum translations, with or without their being explained by Cicero. The essay is followed by two appendices with all the texts (philosophical and rhetorical) in which Cicero makes remarks on his translation of Greek terms, and an index of Greek/Latin words.

A. Siebengartner (“Stoically Seeing and Being Seen in Cicero’s Aratea”) focuses on the early translation of Aratus’s Phaenomena by Cicero, who changed not only the title of the original (Aratea) but also added to it a Stoic tinge, absent from Aratus’s poem. Analyzing a number of excerpts, the author describes how Cicero’s use of second-person verbs related to vision and of descriptions of stars and constellations enhanced by additional actions and characteristics (which resemble those of the Stoic god) transformed Aratus’s poem and its static style into a dramatized poem in support of the Stoic cosmology. The author briefly touches on the influence of the Stoic exegesis of Aratus’s poem by Boethus of Sidon on Cicero’s translation and the similarities between Aratea and Cicero’s De Natura Deorum II. The essay offers a deep discussion of the relationship between the original author and his audience and how this relationship may change between the translation author and his audience.

With P. Tóth’s essay (“Honey on the Brim of the Poison Cup: Translation and Propaganda: Rufinus’s Latin Version of the Historia Monachorum in Aegypto”) we move to the late antique period. In this well-structured essay the author examines how history and literature intertwine and how the latter can become the medium for propaganda in the service of or against certain purposes. The changes between the original late-fourth-century hagiographic text and its Latin translation by Rufinus in the early fifth century are attributed, as Tóth convincingly explains, to intentional changes made by Rufinus in defense of Origen and his followers, who in AD 400 were condemned as heretics. The author takes into consideration all the available evidence, making excellent use of the texts under discussion and of historical data, to prove that Rufinus’s translation borrowed terminology from another translation of his, that of Origen’s De Principiis.

In his essay (“Exemplum logicum Boethii: Reception and Renewal”) D. Nikitas shows the extent and nature of Boethius’s reception of the exemplum logicum from a long tradition that goes back to Aristotle himself, as well as his innovations in this technique. As a member of the Aristotelian-Neoplatonic school of Alexandria, Boethius draws the material for his use of exempla logica from Greek and Roman sources and from his own contemporary environment. Nikitas analyzes numerous exempla translated by Boethius along with Aristotle’s text, others in which Boethius’s active intervention is clear, new exempla absent from Aristotle, and exempla drawn from other sources.

P. De Leemans (“Remarks on the Text Tradition of De longitudine et brevitate vitae, tr. Guillelmi”) focuses on the thirteenth-century Latin translation of Aristotle’s treatise De longitudine et brevitate vitae from his Parva Naturalia by William of Moerbeke. He briefly goes through the medieval translations of the whole collection of Parva Naturalia by James of Venice in the twelfth century (translatio vetus) and by William in the thirteenth century (translatio nova), and their modern editions (or lack thereof). The short review of the history of the text is followed by the comparison of selected passages in James’s and William’s translations, to conclude that William did not simply revise James’s translation, as he usually did with others of his translations, but produced a new one, while a manuscript that the author believes is a revised version of William’s translation shows his method of going back to his text in order to improve it. This is undoubtedly a very informative study, which could do, though, with fewer technical details.

M. Pade’s essay (“The Fifteenth-Century Latin Versions of Plutarch’s Lives: Examples of Humanist Translation”) deals with fifteenth-century translation methods, especially of vocabulary, style and concepts, with focus on Plutarch’s Lives, a topic very familiar to her. She talks about the knowledge and reception of Plutarch in Western Europe before the fifteenth century, translations of his works before and during the fifteenth century, the influence of M. Chrysoloras in translating Greek into Latin, and why Plutarch’s Lives were a reading favorite in fifteenth-century Italy. The originality of the study mainly lies in the discussion of the conscious and intentional use of classical Latin parallels and notions familiar to the contemporary audience by Plutarch’s translators for rendering concepts of the Greek original.

P. Botley (“Greek Epistolography in Western Europe in Fifteenth-Century Italy”) dilates on a topic which is original, is usually not among the primary interests of scholars working on fifteenth-century texts and therefore is particularly useful for further research. Although this study is placed within specific time and place limits, it is a comprehensive presentation of the fortune of Greek letter collections within these limits. The author divides his material into three parts: a) imaginary letters (e.g., Philostratus, Alciphron, et al.), b) genuine letters (Emperor Julian and Libanius), and c) pseudonymous letters (e.g., Plato, Diogenes the Cynic, Hippocrates, Phalaris, et al.). He explains why the latter group of letters attracted the interest and preference of fifteenth-century Italians, and briefly discusses issues of authenticity and translations. The essay is supplemented with a list of fifteenth-century Latin translations of Greek letters.

P. Petitmengin’s essay (“La publication de traductions latines d’œuvres grecques dans la France du XIXe siècle”) is the last in this volume and brings us to the nineteenth century. In an almost exhaustive study the author presents the production and publication of Latin translations of Greek texts, pagan and Christian, in France in the nineteenth century, with references to bibliographic catalogues, publishing houses and series, individual translators and editors.

The short description and evaluation of the contributions in this volume are sufficient to show its significance and how useful and helpful it will be for those working or planning to work on subjects related to the relationships of the two classical languages and literatures. The only deficiency of the volume lies in its Index (of authors, translators and publishers); it would certainly benefit the volume if the above-mentioned index included, e.g., the copyists and other scholars, Byzantines, Italians, etc., from P. Botley’s essay. Furthermore, a separate index of manuscripts, especially since the volume contains two essays (P. De Leemans’s and P. Botley’s) with numerous manuscript references, would definitely have been a plus. Finally and as a general observation, certain limitations pointed out and discussed by the editors in their preface in reference to the incongruity of the essay topics and the vastness of the field these cover (or attempted to cover) are to be taken more seriously not only by the organizers of the conference and editors of this volume (which would be too late anyway), but also by organizers of future conferences and editors of future volumes like this.

Comment on this review in the BMCR blog
Read Latest
Index for 2012
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review
Bryn Mawr Classical Commentaries

BMCR, Bryn Mawr College, 101 N. Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr, PA 19010
HTML generated at 20:12:26, Sunday, 29 July 2012