Erasmus as a Translator of the Classics

Erasmus as a Translator of the Classics

Erika Rummel
Series: Erasmus Studies
Volume: 7
Copyright Date: 1985
Pages: 191
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442674547
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  • Book Info
    Erasmus as a Translator of the Classics
    Book Description:

    Erasmus was concerned not only with the mechanics of conveying the factual contents and literary qualities of the original, but also with the applicability of its moral content to Christian philosophy.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7454-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-ix)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. x-2)
  5. ONE First Steps: Erasmus’ Greek Studies
    (pp. 3-20)

    ‘No Latin expression,’ said Erasmus in theCopia,‘can approach the charm of a Greek one when we allude to a passage or remark of some author.’¹ His appreciation of the evocative qualities of the language and its subliminal appeal was, however, coupled with the recognition of its value as a currency in the learned world. He recognized its exclusive character. Greek could be used as a password to establish instant rapport between scholars or as a secret code to keep the uninitiated at bay.² To know Greek meant to belong to an inner circle, and Erasmus embarked on his...

  6. TWO The Years of Apprenticeship: Erasmus’ Translations from Libanius and Euripides
    (pp. 21-48)

    In the spring of 1501 Erasmus fled Paris to escape an outbreak of the plague and spent the following months visiting friends at Steyn and Haarlem, then staying at Tournehem and St Omer. By the autumn of 1502 he had taken up residence in Louvain and a year later he brought forth the first-fruits of his Greek studies, his translations from Libanius.¹ The fourth-century-AD rhetorician had taught a number of distinguished Christian authors, among them John Chrysostom, Basil, and Gregory of Nazianzus. He was regarded as a model of style, both in Christian Byzantium and in Renaissance Italy.² Filelfo, Guarino,...

  7. THREE A Friendly Competition: More’s and Erasmus’ Translations from Lucian
    (pp. 49-70)

    Erasmus’ second visit to England in 1505/6, which he undertook on another invitation by Lord Mountjoy ‘seconded by the entire scholarly community,’¹ proved a fertile period for his work as a translator. Not only did he produce a polished version of theHecubaand a draft version of theIphigenia,he also embarked on a series of translations from Lucian. the prolific author of essays and dialogues who flourished at the turn of the second century AD.²

    Lucian’s works, lost after the fall of Rome and unknown to the medieval West, were reintroduced to Italy in the first quarter of...

  8. FOUR The Cambridge Years: Plutarch’s Moralia
    (pp. 71-88)

    On the accession of Henry VIII, Erasmus’ English friends had urged him to seek the patronage of their new king. Warham promised his personal support, Lord Mountjoy gave a glowing account of the young monarch’s generosity: ‘Heaven smiles, earth rejoices; all is milk and honey and nectar. Tightfistedness is well and truly banished. Generosity scatters wealth with unstinting hand.’¹ Beguiled by such words, Erasmus left Italy for England. Soon, however, he had cause to regret the move and blamed himself for not recognizing Mountjoy’s promises for what they were – flowery rhetoric.²

    When Erasmus arrived in England in the summer of...

  9. FIVE Philology, the Handmaiden of Theology: The Translation and Annotation of the New Testament
    (pp. 89-102)

    Our study of Erasmus’ translations has been limited to the classics, but any examination of his methods and techniques would be deficient if it neglected his most significant contribution to philology: the translation of the New Testament. One might say that Erasmus’ biblical scholarship is not extraneous, but peripheral to our topic, for by his own admission his translations from the classics were only a means to an end. It was in the New Testament that his accumulated experience was put to the test. The result of his labour, which represents the culmination of his Greek studies and the definitive...

  10. SIX The Theologian’s Parerga: Isocrates, Galen, Xenophon
    (pp. 103-126)

    The year 1516, in which Erasmus’magnum opus,his translation and annotation of the New Testament, appeared, must be regarded as a dividing line in his career as translator. Since conceiving the enterprise ten years earlier, Erasmus had gradually channelled all his efforts towards its execution. The skill and knowledge acquired in the course of his Greek studies were to be concentrated and gathered into one to realize the task which he came to consider the chief aim in his life. The translations composed after 1516 therefore appear to be deprived of their immediate purpose and necessarily diminished in importance....

  11. SEVEN Working for the Cause: Study Aids and Exhortations
    (pp. 127-132)

    Erasmus had always been actively involved in the promotion of classical scholarship, giving his personal support to friends and correspondents, defending the New Learning in his publications, and offering practical guidance in his pedagogical writings. In this spirit he had first translated Gaza’s Greek grammar,¹ hoping to make its contents more accessible to readers and thus to facilitate the study of Greek. The idea of translating the text probably stemmed from his own experience as a teacher at Cambridge. Basing his lectures on Gaza’sInstitutiones grammaticae,²he may have realized that his students found medium and message equally difficult to...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 133-136)

    To pass judgment on Erasmus the translator is to pass judgment on Erasmus the writer. In evaluating the effectiveness of his compositions we cannot rigorously separate stylistic dexterity from philological skill, for choice of words, period structure, and tenor of speech are as important to the success and popularity of a translation as accuracy and fidelity.

    Several conditions combined to make Erasmus a successful translator. The breadth of his reading and the capacity of his memory – an important factor at a time when dictionaries, grammars, and commentaries were scarce – gave him the requisite skills to produce a faithful translation; his...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 137-170)
  14. Index and chronologyof Erasmus’ translations, editions of classical Greek authors,and study aids
    (pp. 171-174)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 175-178)
  16. Index
    (pp. 179-182)