[Table of contents at the end of the review.]
Foundation Melissa, Belgian “sodalitas perenni Latinitati dicata”, recently started a book series Pluteus Neolatinus, dedicated to Latin texts written in the period 1750-1950. Its first title, edited and introduced by Dirk Sacré, is a homage both to Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846–1916), one of the most popular Polish writers at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, and to the translator Pietro Angelini (1847-1911), a Vatican prelate and teacher praised for his elegant Latin. At the same time, the book offers testimony to the late nineteenth-century fascination with the Graeco-Roman world of the Roman empire (fascination represented in visual arts by painters such as Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Jean-Léon Gérôme, or Stefan Bakałowicz), as well as, for readers fluent in the language (the book is in Latin from cover to cover, editor’s preface and notes included), a pleasurable opportunity to appreciate different styles of writing in neo-Latin.
Anthea, Angelini’s version of Sienkiewicz’s novella “Pójdźmy za nim!” (1892), was initially serialized in 1898-1899 in the first two volumes of the Vox Urbis: de litteris et bonis artibus commentarius (1898-1913), an Italian bi-weekly journal advocating the revived use of Latin as an international language (Angelini was a regular contributor to the periodical), and was republished three more times until 1935 (twice in Latin-language journals).
Anthea tells the story of an upper-class Roman couple whose lives are changed when they meet Christ in the time of His passion and resurrection (Pontius Pilate makes a cameo appearance). Jesus miraculously cures patrician matron Anthea of her painful hallucinations — but Sienkiewicz presents the healing ambiguously enough that we cannot tell for sure whether it means death or a vision of salvation (Angelini was prompted to rewrite the ending). The novella could be seen as Sienkiewicz’s preparatory study for his bestselling Quo vadis?,1 which was also translated into Latin, albeit in a much reduced version, reprinted here by Sacré as well (the translator was Béla Danczer, a teacher from Budapest).
Latin versions of popular contemporary fiction constitute a surprisingly rich tradition. A recent bibliography by Bernd Platzdasch2 lists more than 400 works of literature translated into Latin from 1750 to the present day, including Campe’s Robinson the Younger and Asterix by Uderzo and Goscinny as well as texts by George Orwell and Patrick Süskind. The texts to be translated seem to be chosen mainly from pedagogical interest: reading Latin for fun is considered, not without reason, a good way to improve language skills. Angelini and the Vox Urbis might have been attracted to Sienkiewicz’s novella by religious reasons as well, but special importance seems to attach also to the fact that the story about finding religion in a Roman setting is being told in its “authentic” language, to powerful historical effect. This authentication by linguistic means can be offset against the many changes Angelini made to Sienkiewicz’s text, omitting what he regarded as less appropriate (whether indecent or narratively ineffective) and inserting passages of his own, including some verse. Sacré, who calls our attention to these changes in the introduction, collated Angelini’s text with Sienkiewicz’s French and Dutch translation and annotated the variants.3 Such considerable freedom in translation turns Sienkiewicz’s story, according to Sacré, into a more universal and idealistic text — “classicized” to contemporary schoolroom taste, I would add.
The main pleasure in reading Angelini’s text comes from its style. “Utinam ne has quae sequuntur pagellas”, wishes the editor for the readers, “cursim percurrant, sed opellam intento oculo, tarda manu, mente a curis omnibus libera gustent, regustent!”4 (Sacré writesa Latin as elegant as Angelini’s). Sacré’s apparatus locorum similium shows how Angelini’s careful and creative choices of Latin usages and collocations are rooted mainly in Cicero, but also in Petronius and Curtius Rufus, with occasional parallels from Livy, Nepos, Tacitus, Suetonius, Quintilian, Pliny the Younger, Ammianus Marcellinus, the Vulgate, Plautus, Horace, Vergil, Ovid and Statius. The stylistic brilliance and polish of Anthea come across even more clearly in comparison with the other main text in the book, the Latin translation of Sienkiewicz’s Quo vadis? by Béla Danczer. This little-known, heavily compressed and reduced version, originally published in 1911-1912 in the Hungarian journal Iuventus. Ephemeris in usum iuventutis studiosae, reads beside Angelini’s text as merely grammatically correct. For illustration, here are opening sentences from Angelini’s Anthea and Danzer’s Quo vadis? respectively: “C. Septimius Cinna, patricius Romanus, emeritis stipendiis inter legiones, cum esset etiam tum integra aetate, Romam reversus est otii fruendi causa vitaeque per luxum ac voluptates agendae, quibus, ut tunc erant tempora, circumfluere divitibus liceret.”5 — “Petronius, ut consuerat, sub meridiem fessus somno experrectus est. Pridie eius diei ad multam noctem intererat convivio, quod Nero magnifice splendideque comparaverat. Inter cenam facetiae ineptissimae agebantur, quarum Petronius etiam nunc taedio meminerat.”6
Additional texts in the book present Sienkiewicz as a Latin author on his own (in 1897 he penned a short note of gratitude to the Imperial Saint Petersburg Academy of Sciences, in 1900 he held a Latin toast), and Pietro Angelini as a Latin poet and public speaker. Angelini’s “De humanis corporibus extremo die resurrecturis carmen” (1885) captures in a sequence of vivid images death (“Dum nox ulcus alit, fusa putredine circum / Gramina”) and resurrection (“Iamque instaurata veteris compagine formae, / Testes infusae mentis, caelestis origo, / Orbe natant gemino viduae iam frontis honores”); a short elegy “Rusticatio autumnalis ad amicum Celsum” (1899) relishes the everyday in a Horatian voice (“Utor Kneippo, at calido (nam frigora mordent) / Et mersor plena more bidentis aqua”). A funeral speech for Leopold II of Belgium (1910), held before Pope Pius X, can today seem slightly politically incorrect (the king praised by Angelini is today considered to be “homo crudelitate in Congenses conspicuus”, comments Sacré); at the same time, in the speech Angelini manages to transform even modern consumer culture into Ciceronian periods: “Quapropter hodierna hominum actio in commodis civitatis tuendis maxime cernitur omnisque agendi cogitandique sollertia in eo versatur, ut sit vita munitior atque ut dando et accipiendo mutuandisque facultatibus et commodandis nulla re indigeamur.”
This volume, carefully edited and handsomely produced, aimed primarily at those able and willing to read Latin for pleasure and enjoyment, touches implicitly on two facets of the modern Zeitgeist : demotion of classics from a cultural ideal into just one among a number of mass culture themes (Angelini belonged to the enthusiasts who wished to turn the tide, but have not succeeded), and a steady decline of active competence in classical languages. The decline was recognized already by Karl Friedrich von Nägelsbach, who noticed in 1846 that “writing in Latin becomes harder at the same rate as it seems to become expendable.” In this light, linguistic mastery and creativity displayed by Angelini and Sacré present an impressive achievement.
Table of Contents Praefatio / Theodericus Sacré, pp. 7-31
P. Angelini, Anthea. Ex fabula H. Senkewitz “Eamus ad Ipsum”, pp. 33-70
I. Appendix Sienkiewicziana, pp. 71-134
1. Epistula Sienkiewiczii Latina (1897)
2. Latina Sienkiewiczii oratiuncula (1900)
3. Latina versio mythistoriae, c.t. Quo vadis?, interprete Adalberto Danczer (1911-1912)
II. Appendix Angeliniana, pp. 135-158
1. Carmina Petri Angelinii
2. P. Angelinii oratio in funere Leopoldi II Belgarum regis (1910)
Adnotationes, pp. 159-177
1. Quo vadis?, “a perfect example of the genre of the classical historical novel” (cf. BMCR 2009.03.60), was serialized in Polish in 1895, appearing in book form in 1896, translated into English as soon as 1897, into German and Italian in 1898, selling in a single month of 1900 more than 10,000 copies of the first French translation, eventually to be published in more than 50 languages.
2. Bernd Platzdasch, Pantoia. Unterhaltsame Literatur und Dichtung in lateinischer und griechischer Übersetzung. 22.8.2010. Retrieved May 15, 2011. Cf. also the review of Cattus Petasatus, BMCR 2000.10.29.
3. Noting more than thirty changes introduced by the translator, the editor has missed Angelini’s final addition. Sienkiewicz’s text ends, in English translations (I have checked those by Jeremiah Curtin and by Vatslaf A. Hlasko and Thomas H. Bullick, both from 1897), with Pilate’s exclamation “… they declare that he has risen from the dead!” To which Angelini adds: “Cui Anthea: ‘Scimus. Quaeso, ne moras afferas’, arreptaque viri manu ‘Eamus’, inquit, ‘eamus ad Ipsum.'”
4. “The following pages should be enjoyed again and again by an alert eye, a slow-moving hand, a mind free from worries”, “Praefatio”, p. 32.
5. Sienkiewicz, in Curtin’s translation: “Caius Septimius Cinna was a Roman Patrician. He had spent his youth in the legions and in severe camp-life. Later he returned to Rome to enjoy glory, luxury, and a great though somewhat shattered fortune. He used and abused at that time everything which the gigantic city could offer.” Henryk Sienkiewicz, Let us follow Him. Tr. from the Polish by Jeremiah Curtin. Boston: Little, Brown and company, 1897, p. 1.
6. Sienkiewicz, again translated by Curtin: “Petronius woke only about midday, and as usual greatly wearied. The evening before he had been at one of Nero’s feasts, which was prolonged till late at night. For some time his health had been failing. He said himself that he woke up benumbed, as it were, and without power of collecting his thoughts. (…) After that feast, at which he was bored by the jesting of Vatinius with Nero, Lucan, and Seneca, he took part in a diatribe as to whether woman has a soul.” Henryk Sienkiewicz, “Quo vadis.” A narrative of the time of Nero; translated from the Polish by Jeremiah Curtin. Boston: Little, Brown, and company, 1896, p. 1. The lacuna marks a substantial excursus by Sienkiewicz on Petronius and the baths.