BMCR 2020.10.28

Michel’Angelo Giacomelli, Aristofane I & II

, Michel'Angelo Giacomelli, Aristofane, I: un capitolo ignoto di storia degli studi classici nella Roma del Settecento. Quaderni di seminari romani di cultura greca, 23. Roma: Edizioni Quasar, 2018. 260 p. ISBN 9788871408552 €31,00 (pb).
, Michel'Angelo Giacomelli, Aristofane, II: Lisistrata. Quaderni di seminari romani di cultura greca, 24. Roma: Edizioni Quasar, 2018. 358 p. ISBN 9788871408569 €31,00 (pb).

The name Michel’Angelo Giacomelli (1695-1774) will not ring a bell to most classicists. There is nothing to be ashamed about it—at least until now, as the study of Sonnino aims at bringing this almost unknown eighteenth-century Italian philologist back to life. While Giacomelli translated several classical authors, Sonnino focuses on his translations of Aristophanes. The volumes under review are the first of what promises to be the complete edition of his translations, which include Lysistrata, Ecclesiazousae, Thesmophoriazousae, and part of Frogs.

The first volume is an introduction to Giacomelli’s life and work. After a fictional account of how Cardinal Zelada (see below) got in possession of Giacomelli’s translation (pp. 5-11), the volume begins with an outline of the decline of the study of Greek in Italy after the Renaissance (pp. 13-18): with the deaths of Pier Vettori (1499-1585), Francesco Robortello (1516-1567) and Carlo Sigonio (ca. 1524-1584), the study of Greek went into a deep crisis. Such a decline cannot be explained, in Sonnino’s view, by the fact that Italian humanists had provided many good translations of Greek works into Latin (with, as a consequence, no need to learn Greek) nor with the lack of Byzantine teachers; rather, Italy saw a shift from philology to antiquarianism which dramatically (and for the worse) changed the focus of interests. After setting the background, Sonnino outlines a rather detailed biography of Giacomelli, divided into several sections: first a discussion of the problems in reconstructing his life (pp. 18-21); then his early years (1695-1717) (pp. 21-23); his first Roman years (1718-1736) (pp. 24-28); his search of protection from (pseudo)-intellectuals and politicians (1737-1751) (pp. 28-38); his translations of classical authors (Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Chariton); his studies with J. J. Winckelmann, as well as his romantic involvement with some noble ladies (1752-1759) (pp. 38-51); his political engagement at the service of Pope Clement XIII (1759-1761) (pp. 51-59); his battle in defense of the Jesuits  (1761-1769) (pp. 59-66); his political decline under Pope Clement XIV and his return to philology as a refuge (1769-1772) (pp. 66-70); his last years and the aftermath after his death (1772-1774) (pp. 70-74).

Giacomelli emerges as an intellectual strictly connected with (and influenced by) the historical circumstances of his own time: he studied both mathematics and Greek in Pisa, but had to abandon an academic career for the more profitable and secure career as a priest. He thus moved to Rome and held several positions within the Catholic Church; in constant search of protection he also served as ‘ghost writer’ of Latin compositions for a nobleman with intellectual aspirations (pp. 33-34). Momentous was his meeting with Winckelmann, who regarded him as the only Italian philologist. Together they discovered some new scholia to Plato in Camaldoli Hermitage, a project which excited Winckelmann (pp. 46-51). Under Pope Clement XIII Giacomelli enjoyed political influence, especially with his support of the Jesuit cause against, for example, the Enlightenment (he wrote a violent Encyclical against the Illuminists; pp. 52-53). In 1769, however, the new Pope, Clement XIV, proceeded to the suppression of the Jesuit order—which meant the end of any political engagement for Giacomelli. He thus went back to his studies, translating Xenophon and working on the edition of Plato which he started with Winckelmann. In this and other editions Giacomelli seems to prefigure some rules of philological editing that will be developed later on by Lachmann’s ‘method’ (i.e. the establishment of a stemma codicum and the value given to later codices) (pp. 68-69). When Giacomelli died in 1774 he left his library to his nephew; however, the manuscript with his translation of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, Ecclesiazousae, Thesmophoriazousae and Frogs (only ll. 1-315) (ms. BCT 105-14; see p.83) was treacherously given by Pietro Lazzeri to Cardinal Francesco Saverio de Zelada (1717-1801), the suppressor of the Jesuits (and so Giacomelli’s most fierce enemy), probably to discredit him because of the licentious content. So this manuscript is now in Toledo, Spain, but there is another manuscript (ms BUB 3566; see p. 84) in Bologna. The latter contains only Lysistrata and Ecclesiazousae and was prepared by Giacomelli for an anonymous publication (given the licentious content unsuitable to his position); this manuscript was revised by Luigi Lamberti (1759-1813) but never published.

After tracing the events connected with these two manuscripts (pp. 74-98), Sonnino surveys the past translations of Aristophanes in Latin and Italian (pp. 98-118) to introduce  the study of Giacomelli’s work (pp. 118-154). This is definitely the most interesting part of the book. Sonnino first outlines the translation theories circulating in Italy and derived from Manuel Chrysoloras (1350-1415), who was the teacher of Leonardo Bruni (1370-1444), the first translator of Aristophanes in Italy (he translated ll. 1-269 of Wealth into Latin). Three types of translation were recognized: 1. ad sententiam (close to the original but not literal); 2. ad verbum (literal and typical of those who learn a language); 3. by immutatio (a rewriting of the original text). The latter strategy was, for example, used by Bruni, as he censored the most vulgar passages in his Wealth (pp. 100-101); so did other famous humanists like Coriolano Martirano (1503-1557) who translated Clouds and Wealth into Latin. Andrea Divus, on the contrary, made a very famous translation ad verbum (pp. 103-107). Thanks to the excellent Latin translations of Aristophanes by Nicodemus Frischlin (1547-1590), Florent Chrestien (1542-1596) and Tanneguy Le Févre (1615-1672), which were ad sententiam but also elegant, the idea that it was possible to translate Aristophanes beautifully and closely (including the obscenities) came to Italy (pp. 106-108).

The first Italian translation was made by Bartolomeo and Pietro Rositini (1545), who had been in fact quite free in keeping the obscenities; yet this translation was mostly a translation of Divus’ Latin text (pp. 108-110); because of this, Sonnino concludes that the first translation into a ‘modern’ language was the one by Anne Le Fèvre Dacier (1647-1720), who translated Wealth and Clouds into French (pp. 110-111). Yet a comparison between the translation of Tanneugy Le Fèvre (her father) into Latin and Dacier’s translation into French shows that the latter eliminated obscenities (which were tolerated in the Latin version). For example, she turned the agon of Clouds into an agon between Justice and Injustice, two female figures, so that the allusion to pederasty became less obscene (a strategy already adopted by Martirano) (pp. 111-112). Similarly, Jaen Bovin (1663-1726) translated Birds by rewriting the most obscene parts; so in Birds 137-142 when Pisthetaerus claims that in the ideal city he could go after a friend’s son (παῖς), Bovin uses ‘fille’ (‘girl’), whom of course Pisthetaerus wants to lawfully marry (pp. 113-114). Sonnino gives also some examples of the translation of Giuseppe Fabiani of Clouds, Frogs, Birds, Knights, and Wealth (partly based on the translation of Terucci), which is still unpublished (pp. 114-117): for instance, Fabiani keeps the παῖς of Birds 138 as ‘vago giovane’ (‘beautiful youth’) but the touching of the genitals here (l. 142) becomes a chaste taking him by the hand; in a note Fabiani explains that he has replaced the poet’s obscene terms with others.

This very interesting review is useful to put Giacomelli’s work in context: he did not like the translation of Divus while he does not mention Dacier and Bovin—according to Sonnino (p. 118) probably because he did not like their censorship. Giacomelli considered Aristophanes a satirist, which suggests to Sonnino that he read comedy through the lens of Aristotle’s theories on the topic: after a beginning that was mostly concerned with farce, Aristophanes was an intermediate phase of the development of comedy, which culminated with Menander. For Giacomelli ancient and new comedy also differed in terms of style: Aristophanes is characterized by a plurality of styles that are unknown to new comedy (pp. 120-121). The rendering of such stylistic plurality is one of the aims of Giacomelli, who was not bothered too much by obscenities, despite his work at the service of the most conservative part of the Catholic Church (pp. 121-124). As a translator he rarely misunderstands the original Greek, so when he departs from it there is a reason, which he explains in his notes, for example, the desire to maintain a wordplay or to a new witticsm (pp. 125-126).

Sonnino then reviews the three different styles that Giacomelli found in Aristophanes: the trivial, the colloquial, and the sublime. For the trivial (pp. 126-131) Giacomelli sometimes uses terms found in Boccaccio to translate obscene words (e.g., Lys. 119-156 with ‘Montenero’, ‘black mountain’, for the female genitals, and ‘coda ritta’, ‘straight tail’, for the male organ). Yet Giacomelli does not use only ‘literary’ words to denote obscenities: Sonnino provides a very detailed list of the different words used to translate male and female genital organs, the sexual act, and scatological humor, where we can indeed see how rich and unfettered Giacomelli’s language was. For the colloquial (131-136), Sonnino discusses Giacomelli’s rendering of the onomatopoeic words (e.g. ‘Berechechechèx Coàx Coàx’ of Frogs). I found very interesting his translation of the famous monster Ἔμπουσα in Frogs 293 (pp. 133-134). While most modern translations in Italian (and English) use the transliterated noun ‘Empusa/Empousa’ Giacomelli chooses ‘Babau’, which is what parents still use in Italy to frighten their children. Elsewhere when Empusa occurs (Eccl.  1056), Giacomelli uses ‘Befana’, which in Italian indicates an old ugly woman—it is less literal but still a very lively translation compared to the absolutely meaningless Empusa (which always needs a note to explain who she is). For Aristophanic neologisms Giacomelli exploits the possibilities of the Italian language in a very similar way as the Greek: e.g., by adding the feminine suffix –essa in ‘pretoressa’ for στρατη-γίς of Eccl. 835 and 870; or by adding the verbal suffix –are in ‘nasturz-are’ (from ‘nasturzio) to render the verb καρδαμ-ίζω from κάρδαμον (not κάρδαμος, as Sonnino writes) in Thesm. 617 (pp. 134-135).

On the other hand, Giacomelli does not translate pseudo-barbaric words, nor does he employ different dialects but sticks to the Tuscan language (even if sometimes he prefers Roman words: pp. 139-140). The ‘sublime’ (pp. 136-138) occurs in Giacomelli’s translations of paratragic choral odes into aulic Italian. Interestingly, in many of his witty notes Giacomelli polemicizes with the Accademia della Crusca (pp.  138-140), which was (and still is) the authority for standard Italian, becuase he did not agree with their rejection of many words he used. Indeed, the translations of Giacomelli are rich in notes (668 in total), which Sonnino calls his ‘commentary’ (pp. 140-152). These notes are still in a draft format (with repetitions or missing references to be filled); he probably wanted to go back to them when he still thought to publish his work (pp. 141-142). His reference Greek text was the edition by Ludolph Küster (Amsterdam, 1710), which also had the scholia of Lysistrata (which Giacomelli uses). Yet from these notes it is clear that he also used the Venetian edition published by Giovanni Farri in 1542 as well as the edition by Joseph Justus Scaliger published in Leiden in 1624 (which he indicates as the edition from Amsterdam).

Most of Giacomelli’s notes aim at clarifying the text through paraphrases but there are also notes on antiquarian, historical, or linguistic topics as well as discussions of specific readings (p. 147). Their contents are mostly derived from ancient scholia (often simply translated/paraphrased) or from modern commentaries. Yet sometimes he offers personal comments comparing the Athens of Aristophanes with the Rome of his own time, on the principle that human nature never changes (pp. 148-152). Sonnino’s introduction concludes with a brief survey of the successive translations on Aristophanes: those by Vittorio Alfieri, by Coriolano Malingri of Bagnolo, by Domenico Capellina (which are all inferior to that of Giacomelli) and above all by Ettore Romagnoli (1907), which is indeed a masterpiece in his rendering of all the different styles of Aristophanes—and this study of Giacomelli shows that he was the only true predecessor of Romagnoli (pp. 152-154). The rest of the volume is occupied by documents on Giacomelli’s life (pp. 155-213).

The second volume contains the annotated translation of Giacomelli’s Lysistrata.

Sonnino presents the translation facing the Greek text of Ludolph Küster (Amsterdam, 1710), which was the original followed by Giacomelli. At the bottom of the translation there are the notes of Giacomelli found in ms BCT 105-14 (pp. 9-153). Then there are additional notes referring to the same comedy found in other works of Giacomelli (pp. 155-156); a critical apparatus to Giacomelli’s text follows (pp. 157-159); in it, Sonnino reports deletions by Giacomelli himself in BCT 105-14 (T), and the additions by Cavazzi and Lamberti in BUB 3566 (B). Finally there is the commentary on Lysistrata by Sonnino himself (pp. 161-316). The first part, with the Greek text, the facing translation of Giacomelli and his notes at the bottom of the page as well the additional notes and the short critical apparatus, is exactly what one would expect.

I have more problems with the commentary by Sonnino, which, by the way, occupies most of the volume. In a volume like this, which in my view belongs to ‘translation studies’ or more broadly ‘reception studies’ of Aristophanes, I found Sonnino’s own commentary of Aristophanes with his own notes redundant. It is a perfectly good work of philology but I doubt that it belongs to this volume. While sometimes he comments on Giacomelli’s translation, most often this is a modern commentary. Any reader of these volumes will be interested in Giacomelli’s translation and in Sonnino’s specific contribution on this until-now unknown intellectual—a job that Sonnino had done extremely well in the first volume and in the first part of this second volume. But I would not use this volume as a modern commentary on Lysistrata. The risk is therefore for all the technical notes in Sonnino’s philological commentary to be lost. It might have been better, perhaps, to publish this as a separate commentary on Lysistrata and leave this volume strictly focused on Giacomelli’s translation. As Sonnino says (pp. 2-3), there are no precedents for this kind of work and this is the solution he adopted, leaving to others to judge. Mine is not a ‘judgment’ but rather my personal reaction to a work that otherwise is extremely good. A modern commentary distracts, in my view, from the focus of Sonnino’s work.

Aside from this remark, this study, especially the first volume, is well written and, even though it is loaded with data and footnotes, it is a pleasure to read. Sonnino indeed brings out the personality of a scholar who has been forgotten and shows why we should know about him. We are plunged into the intrigues of pontifical Rome and in all the practical as well as ethical problems that intellectuals faced at that time. The many footnotes and block quotes together with the many pages of documents at the end of the first volume will make it a reference work for those interested in Giacomelli’s intellectual biography. Yet we are also shown why translation studies matter and that translations are in themselves a form of interpretation that classicists should care more about. The most interesting part is indeed when Sonnino surveys the different strategies adopted by earlier translators of Aristophanes and then by Giacomelli. Sonnino’s philological precision and acumen here play an important role, as with them he can demonstrate details and translation choices that make a new chapter in the translation history and reception of Aristophanes. These two volumes are thus a great demonstration that reception studies should be done (also) by classical philologists: only by a philological analysis of the ‘receiving’ texts in strict connection with the original classical texts are we indeed able to recover different receptions of a ‘classic’—and better understand the ancient text in its own right.