BMCR 2008.08.53

Il Prometeo del Duca. La prima traduzione Italiana del Prometeo di Eschilo (Vat. Urb. Lat. 789). Classics in the Libraries, 1

, , , Il Prometeo del duca : la prima traduzione Italiana del Prometeo di Eschillo (vat. urb. Lat. 789). Classics in the libraries ; I. Amsterdam: Hakkert, 2006. 113 pages ; 26 cm.. ISBN 9025612199. €30.00.

This volume contains the text of a translation into Italian of the Prometheus Vinctus of Aeschylus (henceforth P. V.), together with a praise poem [Canzone in Lode del Duca di Urbino]; both are the work of Marcantonio Cinuzzi, who presented them to the Duke of Urbino, Francesco Maria II della Rovere, in February 1578. Blasina’s (B.) extensive introduction sets Cinuzzi’s work in context, the text with a commentary follows. This review will focus primarily on the introduction where the critical issues are discussed at length, and referred to briefly ad loc. in the Commentary. The work provides an important addition to our knowledge of the earliest vernacular translations of Greek tragedy and some valuable insights into the less well documented literary interests of the Cinquecento. B. divides his material into nine sections which I follow here, although there is a good deal of overlap in the subject matter.

1. “The man”. Cinuzzi (1503/8-1592) was an official of the Republic of Siena (p.5) and a member of the Accademia degli Intronati of Siena, whose interest in ancient authors and in theatre is reflected in Cinuzzi’s work. The Prometeo as well as a translation of Claudian De Raptu Proserpinae can be dated before 1542, but after Cinuzzi’s conversion to Protestantism about this time he ceased work on ancient themes, and his later output consisted of religious poems and satires against the Catholic hierarchy. In 1578, as he was being pressed hard by the religious judiciary of the Counter Reformation the old man tried to obtain the protection of the Duke of Urbino by dedicating to him this translation, which he had made as a young man.1 We do not know whether or not the Duke tried to help him, but later that same year Cinuzzi was arrested and apparently remained in prison in Rome until his death (p. 10).

In this section B. also discusses the claims that Cinuzzi makes for his translation in the dedicatory letter, since he diverges in significant ways from the accepted text of Aeschylus. He omits the character of Io and replaces her with her father Inachus, but pre-empts critical comparison with Aeschylus editions known to be in the ducal library at the time by asserting boldly that any text with different interlocutors than his is wrong.2 He also adds three choruses of his own composition, but tells the duke that he has scrupulously marked these in the margin (‘del traduttore’). Cinuzzi passes over the fact that he omits large portions of the original in doing this (p.17) and that lines 842-932 of his text are an Italian version of Ovid Met. I 597-747 (the story of Io changed into a heifer by Juno and watched over by Argos). Throughout the volume B. constantly re-examines these problems of translator and text, by identifying those lines which accurately translate Aeschylus and those which do not. He does not attempt to address the question of the aims of the translation and some judgements on Cinuzzi’s practice in the context of Renaissance translation would have been welcome.

2. “The manuscript”. When Francesco Maria died in 1631 the duchy of Urbino devolved to the Papacy and the library was transferred to Rome. Our text is next mentioned in the eighteenth century (as interest in Aeschylus was increasing) when Quadrio noted the Prometeo among the Codices Urbinati of the Vatican Library.3 B. meticulously describes the manuscript (Vat. Urb. Lat. 789); his examination finds that all parts of it are in the same hand, including the Canzone, the labelling, the corrections and marginal notations. B.’s conclusion is that this manuscript contains the dedicatory version, the only complete one known, although there are two copies of the letter and Canzone in Siena (p. 12).

3. “The first Italian translation of Aeschylus”. B. establishes the translation date using Cinuzzi’s own testimony in the dedication where he refers to it as the work of his youth, which has so far ‘lain neglected’.4 This piece of information points to a date prior to 1540, i.e. the translation was completed before the author’s adherence to the Protestant reform, since after his conversion he produced only works of religious interest. The dating is crucial because it demonstrates the singular nature of this work, made at a time when the dramatic poets were seldom translated and when they were, preference was given to the plays of Euripides, together with Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus.

Aeschylus had been made accessible by the Aldine editio princeps of 1518, but was not popular; the first Latin translations did not appear until the 1550s and not a single play by Aeschylus appears in Bolgar’s list of vernacular translations before 1600,5 so Cinuzzi’s work stands as the first vernacular translation of P. V. known. After being mentioned by Quadrio (note 3 above), the translation seems to have been forgotten until an Italian edition of Aeschylus’ plays and fragments in 1987.6

4.”Reworking or Translation”. B. expends a lot of time on this issue in both introduction and commentary, trying to be fair to his subject and to Aeschylus, however he has to acknowledge that Cinuzzi’s claims for his translation are false. B. gives a sample to show that the author can translate accurately (p. 19, 967-988 = P. V. 758-777) but does not explain the interferences in the text that are due to the demands of contemporary political conditions and stage conventions.

In the case of Cinuzzi’s replacement of Io by her father Inachus, B. suggests that her character was not suited to the Aristotelian leanings of the Cinquecento, but far more convincing, I feel, is the reason that the presentation of a young woman as a heifer was aesthetically a tricky thing to do on stage (possible performance is mentioned in the dedication). The intended audience of the princely courts also accounts for Cinuzzi’s handling of the chorus, whose role often seems artificial and irrelevant to dramatic tastes beyond antiquity. The freedom of a Greek chorus to comment on the behaviour of gods and humans great and small could have little appeal in a society where the equivalence of divine and human ruler was a frequent rhetorical cliché, so the choruses that Cinuzzi inserts7 often contain a revisionist view of the Aeschylean chorus content, or new material [e.g. equating the proper service to the gods with the service of the courtier to the prince…] more politically correct for his own time (p. 18).

5.”The Source”. It is often assumed that translators would always use a printed edition once it had appeared, but B. does not make this mistake. Working with West’s recension of the manuscripts, he finds that Cinuzzi’s translation indicates the use of other manuscript(s) that diverge from the Aldine edition. Most of the variations appear in manuscripts belonging to family λ and B. believes that his author has used L (Laur. 32.2) in conjunction with the Aldine text.8

The last three briefer sections are:

6.”Matters of staging”. In Aeschylus a winged bird conveys the god Oceanos on and off the stage which Cinuzzi replaces with a dolphin, presumably easier to deal with, rather than ‘more realistic’ (as B. argues, p. 24). The daughters of Oceanos in P. V. also have unusual transportation in winged chariots;9 Cinuzzi’s solution here is to omit all mention of their being airborne.

7.”Ideology”. One would expect a rewriting like this to conform with cultural imperatives of the princely courts, and changes intend to soften the Aeschylean picture of Zeus, king of the gods, as a tyrant. A new chorus ‘del Traduttore’ ‘adjusts Aeschylus’ view (371-385), and another presents the notion of obedience and service to the king of the gods as part of a sacred destiny (1022 ff. ‘L’uno e servo et suggettó L’altro commanda…’).

8.”Language and Style”. B. compares this translation with Cinuzzi’s other work before his conversion, especially the translation of Claudian; similarities of phrases and diction reinforce the identification of the Prometeo as a work of his youth.

9.”Metre”. For the choral odes Cinuzzi uses a scheme based on septenarii and hendecasyllables, in varying patterns for each strophe, the pattern made more complex by use of rhyme. B. tells us that this system becomes conventional in tragic production of the late 16th and the 17th century, implying perhaps that the author’s choice was an innovative one; B. does not elaborate on the subject. For the spoken sections of the Greek text, both of dialogue and monologue, Cinuzzi uses trimeters to render the iambic lines of the original.


The text is printed with marginal notations to show recto and verso of the manuscript; footnotes work as a critical apparatus in which the editor signals alterations made to the manuscript by the same hand. On the whole Cinuzzi made very few changes to his original before presenting it to the duke.


B. begins with the dedicatory letter, revisiting the material covered in the introduction on the fidelity of the translation. Cinuzzi’s translation is 1274 lines of Italian as compared with 1093 of the Griffith’s Cambridge text.10 This is not a great increase compared with other Renaissance translations and, although much has been omitted, when Cinuzzi remains close to his text he displays a gift for neat expression which is very close to the Greek. For most of the Commentary the editor lists groups of lines and matches them, where possible, with the corresponding lines of Aeschylus, noting places where Cinuzzi reworks the original or inserts his own material. B. gives special attention to the crux at 724-727 (=P. V. 522-5), where the translation shows that Cinuzzi used a manuscript with a variant reading from the Aldine edition.11 Lines 842-932 ‘translate’ Ovid Met. I.597-747 and B. takes this section line by line to show how the Italian verses correspond to the Latin ones; as we might expect, Cinuzzi rewrites Ovid as well as Aeschylus (p. 88). B. does not comment on why his author fails to acknowledge the lines from Ovid, which is puzzling; given the familiarity of Cinuzzi’s contemporaries with the Metamorphoses we would expect the editor to comment on possible reasons for the omission.

Throughout the commentary B. notes the gradual slippage of meanings towards the justification and exaltation of monarchical power, whether divine or human. The third chorus ‘del Traduttore’ (1015-49) shows this dynamic at work; while using the same themes as the 3rd stasimon of P. V., Cinuzzi develops them differently. Where Aeschylus’ chorus sings of unions between gods and men as dangerous, the Italian lyrics concentrate on the distance between the two groups as one between ruler and ruled, providing ‘interesting evidence on the ethic of service to the prince’ (p. 90).

The final episode reinforces these points as the chorus, not Prometheus concludes the play advising obedience to the king of the gods. This means the omission of Prometheus’ description of the approaching cataclysm (staging problems again) and, more significantly, the omission of his and the play’s final words, ἐσορᾷς μ’ ὡς ἕκδικα πάσχω, ‘you see how I suffer unjustly’ (1093).

B.’s work is extremely valuable as it establishes Cinuzzi as the first translator of the play in the Renaissance; it also shows the way for further work on the relationship between translation and performance in the early modern period. B.’s strength lies in textual matters; he does not engage in topics for theoretical debate such as ‘literal’ versus ‘literary’ translation. The volume is well presented, the text itself a model of clarity, but the organisation of material in the introduction can be confusing as the same issues are discussed under more than one heading.

Correction: p. 94 on 1201-1212 (P. V.1020-25, Prometheus’ future destiny); B. identifies these events as part of the third play of the Prometheus trilogy Prometheus Pyrophoros citing Griffith (n. 10, p. 267) as authority. Griffith in fact assigns them to the second play, Prometheus Luomenos.


1. P. 33 Dedicatory letter ll. 1-3.

2. P. 33 Dedicatory letter ll. 7-10, Blasina on the ducal library, p. 29, n. 29.

3. F. S. Quadrio, Della Storia e della ragione d’ogni poesia Bologna 1739-44 III.103.

4. Dedicatory letter l.3. ‘è stato sepolto appresso di me.’

5. R. R. Bolgar, The Classical Heritage and its Beneficiaries Cambridge 1973, pp. 506-541.

6. G. Morani, M. Morani, Eschilo: Tragedie e frammenti Torino 1987. The information is given in the following section because Morani and Morani call Cinuzzi’s translation a reworking (‘rimaneggiamento’).

7. B. delays exact reference to these choruses until the commentary, but they are 365-388, 527-592, 1015-1049.

8. M. L. West Aeschyli tragoediae Stuttgart 1990. B.’s discussion of mss. p. 20-23. Since B. relies heavily on West’s text it should perhaps be mentioned that West is in agreement with Griffith that P. V. is not the work of Aeschylus. See M. Griffith, The Authenticity of the Prometheus Bound Cambridge 1977. Of course this is not strictly relevant to B.’s edition as there was no questioning of Aeschylus’ authorship until the 20th century.

9. P. V. 135, 272, 277-83.

10. M. Griffith, Aeschylus Prometheus Bound Cambridge 1983.

11. ‘Che forsétenendo io questo’: Cinuzzi probably used L, which has συγκαλυπτέος for P. V. 523 whereas the editio princeps prints συγκαλυπτέον.