A translation of Xenophon’s Cyropaedia in Italian vernacular (Bibliothèque municipale de Lille, circa 1470, Ms. 324)

[Par Cecilia Sideri, chercheuse post-doctorale en littérature italienne à l’Université de Vérone, chercheuse invitée ERC AGRELITA]

During the Middle Ages, the direct knowledge of Classical Greek texts had been almost entirely lost in Western Europe. A systematic process of rediscovery, reception, and re-elaboration of the Greek intellectual heritage first started in Italy around 1397, when the Byzantine Manuel Chrysoloras arrived in Florence and took up the first chair of Greek language of the Early modern Western World. Chrysoloras brought with him several manuscripts containing Greek works unknown to Western Europeans and started teaching Greek to a generation of young humanists. The revival of this language and the gradual diffusion of Greek texts strongly impacted European culture, in nearly every single field of knowledge. However, a solid mastery of Greek was not easy to achieve, and it was attained by very few humanists. A large-scale diffusion of Greek texts became possible only thanks to an intense activity of translation into Latin, undertaken since the beginning of the xvth century by the humanists who had had the opportunity to learn Greek.

This was a crucial step, but still not enough to reach a much wider readership, potentially interested in the rich variety of ‘new’ Greek texts, but unable to access either the originals or Latin versions. Therefore, from the second half of the xvth century onwards, we assist to a wave of vernacularisation of the same Greek works that had been previously translated into Latin. Such vernacularisations (in Italian, French, German, and other European languages) were usually based on pre-existing Latinisations: they are indeed indirect, mediated translations. This circumstance makes them research objects of outstanding interest, especially from a linguistical perspective.

Given their high appeal of novelty (and easy readability!), it is not surprising if the more illustrious rulers around Europe (Kings, Princes, and Lords) aspired to acquire these vernacularisations for their own libraries. The translators, being aware of this interest, often addressed their versions to this type of prestigious dedicatees, as a precious gift aimed at obtaining their patronage and economic reward.

The Bibliothèque Municipale of Lille preserves a remarkable exemplar of vernacularisation of a Greek text, manuscript 324. It contains a translation of Xenophon’s Cyropaedia in Italian vernacular, made by the Florentine humanist Iacopo Bracciolini (1442-1478) in the 1470s. The library offers full digitization of the item. It is worth having a look at it, to get acquainted with the object: https://bm-lille.fr/patrimoine/ead-viewer/a-inventaire_MS/n-D31013524. Continuer la lecture de A translation of Xenophon’s Cyropaedia in Italian vernacular (Bibliothèque municipale de Lille, circa 1470, Ms. 324)