Printer Friendly

Brunetto Latini's Li livres dou Tresor: the translation of a political system.

Brunetto Latini's name emerges from scholarship rather in incidental references by or in connection with Latini's purported pupil, Dante Aligheri, than in studies devoted to Latini's work. (1) However, Latini's The Book of the Treasure/Le Livres dou Tresor/Il Tesoro, a summa of his literary production, propels its author into the domain of encyclopaedia in which the discourse on subordination to Dante is suspended.

The popular encyclopaedia was written in French (or langue d'oil (2) and translated into Italian by a certain Bono Giamboni (3) and almost simultaneously into Catalan under Latini's supervision. (4) These multiple contemporary translations corroborated with the generic dedication of the book may suggest an intended adaptability of the dedication through translation. In scholarship, the proposed recipients of the French and Catalan versions are named as Charles d'Anjou and Alfonso el Sabio. No contemporary Italian dedicatee has drawn scholars' attention though, according to David Prince, an Italian--to wit Tuscan--translation was already in circulation by 1268. (5) The Italian translation and its subsequent versions present an accretion of the historical material with information on events occurred post Le livre dou Tresor.

The historical circumstances nourished the diverse aspects of the problems inherent in translation. We know that Latini was born to a Florentine influential family around the year 1220 and that he later held for decades the important position of notary (rhetorician). He was part of the important diplomatic mission to the court of Alfonso El Sabio in 1260 initiated by the Florentine communal government by which Florence sought help against Emperor Frederick's son Manfred and the Ghibelline party. Extremely active on the polarized Florentine political stage, Latini, as a Guelph, was condemned to exile in 1260 when the Ghibellines took control of the city but he continued his public life after his return to Florence in 1267. (6) Ironically, the seven years Latini had to spend in exile in France proved to be propitious not only for his debut as a writer but also for his entire writing career.

This paper examines aspects of translation within the context of translatio studii, (7) to wit the transmission of knowledge: translation of the book from one language to another as well as the translation of the sources in Latini's encyclopaedia. Accretion, digression, and effacement emerge as common devices as the author seeks to accommodate to local needs through the act of translation. The factors are inspired by the goal of Li livres dou Tresor: to prepare a book fostering the practice of good government according to divine and human law. According to Latini, politics, a division of learning in the practical domain, holds the title of the "highest wisdom." The political teleology of Li livres dou Tresor allows claiming that Latini's temporary appropriation of French is just a facade that conceals support for a political structure--the city-state--foreign to the French territory where Latini redacted his Li livres dou Tresor but familiar to the author's place of origin. For Latini, French remains a facilitator; it does not become mark of identity.

Why did Latini write Le livre dou Tresor in French? He anticipated that the readers would ask themselves about the author's motivation: "If anyone should ask why this book is written in Romance according to the usage of French, even though we (nos) are Italian." (8) Latini attempts to offer irrefutable answers: "I would say that there are two reasons; one, that we are in France; the other, that French is more pleasant and has more in common with all other languages." (9) One hypothesis may be that he sought an immediate audience for his book; hence being in France, his goal could rapidly be reached by composing the text in the language of this territory. On the other hand, scholars have singled out Charles d'Anjou as the person to whom Latini intended to dedicate his book which would prove sufficient as motivation for employing French.

Latini composed what E. C. Ronquist and Christel Meir call an ethical or political encyclopaedia (10) whose ultimate intent was the instruction of the leaders for the creation of good government. But, Le livres dou tresor offers a system not solely an arbitrary expose of knowledge (fig.1). (11) Therefore, Latini did not only imbue with the French encyclopaedias in order to be the first Italian to utilize the genre and a mere translator of Vincent de Beauvais' Speculum and Gautier de Metz' Image du monde but he structured knowledge varying with the intrinsic mechanism of his system. The tripartite structure of the book was dictated by a parallel with the division of philosophy in three branches of knowledge (the theoretical considered like cash-money, the practical like precious stones, and the logical like fine gold). (12) Christel Meier concludes that "in the Middle Ages there are two principal systems of sciences that influenced the compilation of knowledge in encyclopaedias: the seven liberal arts and the Aristotelian classification of sciences." (13) Latini's system would subscribe to the Aristotelian taxonomy. The intersection between the practical and logic introduced at the beginning of the second book is explainable through logic's place in the Aristotelian classification of sciences. (14) However, Latini opted for intermingling different domains of knowledge in order to obtain the subordination of the domain to the disciplines. The third part of the book which should normally correspond to the logical is entirely devoted to diverse facets of politics and implicitly to a component of the practical. Latini considered possible the superimposition of the political on the logical through the inclusion of dialectics in both politics and logical, the goal of the two dialectics being identical.

Did Latini base his translation into French on his own Italian translations or on the Latin versions? David Prince denies any translation to Latini. (15) In the prologue of the second book, Latini claimed the right to translation and disclosed his method: "But first of all he (Brunetto Latini) wishes to use Aristotle's book (Nicomachean Ethic) as the foundation for his own; he will translate it (translaitera/translatera) from Latin into Romance, and he will place it at the beginning of the second part of his book." (15)

Latini's deployment of sources illuminates the reader with regard to the author's notion of translating. In the first book which deals with factual knowledge of large circulation, Latini remained totally silent about his sources on divine and natural things, astronomy, and history. (16) On the other hand, he disclosed his sources right from the beginning when the material he presented is an analysis of given authors' works. Aristotle's Ethics, the unique source of the second book, appears as the fundamental base on which Latini elaborated his theories on the utility of knowledge about vices and virtues. Cicero's, Cato's, Boethius', and Aristotle's names abound in the third book. Latini shrewdly orchestrated the material on rhetoric by putting the four ancient authors in a sort of dialogue into which he also interpolated his voice. Translated into Latini's corpus, the ancient sources acquire new critical dimensions owing to their recontextualization within a discussion of the Italian city-state political system.

The politicized selective discourse on knowledge delineates the mechanical arts, called "politics in deeds", inherent to the domain of politics. Latini was not tempted to reiterate Hugh of Saint Victor's innovative quadripartite division of knowledge in which the mechanical arts form an independent branch (fig.2). (17) In Latini's view, the mechanical arts are inscribed to politics and implicitly to the practical (fig.1). The "politics in deeds" is the equivalent for the mechanical arts in contrast to trivium which is "politics in words". Dismissed rapidly from the discussion, the mechanical arts are reduced to a mere selective enumeration. (18) The very goal of the book bolsters such a summary treatment of the mechanical arts. Meant to supplement the ideal education for a podesta, Li livre dou tresor deals exclusively with theoretical knowledge needed by a good leader. Though necessary for a good functioning of the city-state, the mechanical arts do not enter the leader's sphere of concerns.

The dedication of the "treasure" to Charles d'Anjou made the king not only the beneficiary of Latini's pedagogical enterprise but also a vivid exemplum. The illustrious deeds of Charles d'Anjou are included in the sections on the history of the Holy Church, but the royal figure of Charles d'Anjou is not treated significantly differently from the famous past emperors such as Constantine, Justinian, and Charlemagne.

Therefore, one may be tempted to see a pro-French policy advanced in the French version of Latini's text. Such opinions may also be buttressed by Latini's method of denigrating his own tradition in favor of the host country. Comparisons between the Italians and the French echo Latini's dissatisfaction with the interminable fights among different Italian factions and his appreciation of the peaceful French.

However, Latini's French guise envelopes his deep belief in Guelph politics. He adopted the pro-republican not the pro-imperial ancient sources. In addition, if he planned to dedicate his Treasure to Charles his reason was to persuade the French king to come to the defense of the Holy Church, as he had tried with Alfonso El Sabio. To impose the figure of the French contemporary king and to please his audience, Latini interpreted a supposed contemporary astrological phenomenon in connection with Charles d'Anjou's victory over Manfred and implicitly over the Gibellines. (19) In the end, the chapters on French royalty from Charlemagne to Charles d'Anjou are subsumed to the history of the Holy Church. Though Latini wrote his book in French, he could not transpose himself into the political system of the country whose language he employed. From the very first prologue of the Li livres dou tresor, Latini clearly stated that his project intends to show "How a Lord should govern the people who are under his jurisdiction, according to the customs of the Italians." (20)

Besides, Latini's political writings present him as one who mitigated for the repudiation of the monarchy and for the republican form of government in the Regnum Italicum. At the beginning of the political section of the so-called book on rhetoric Latini asserts that governments are of three types: "the first of kings, the second of aristocracies, and the third of peoples, of which the third is far better than the others." Latini's interest was not in offering political structures but in cultivating the virtues of the podesta. Thus, his political conception of a republic may be comprehended as a structure functioning in conformity with activities emanating from the podesta. In the comparison between monarchy and republic explored in the third book of the Treasure, Latini criticized the monarchical system, concluding that the type of Italian government is superior to the French monarchy.

How did Latini make his reader visualize the notions he discussed? There is no explicit mention of illustrations in Latini's text, but the author's mode of explicating certain problems invites the reader to concoct mental images. Introduced by the rhetorical formula "Think how" (reson come/ragione come), these explanations are practically interpolations of Latini's voice in the large material of the compilation. "Think how" facilitates the transition from abstract notions to the understanding of the problem through comparisons based on common knowledge, whose result, if we think, is a translation. One can facilely discern the function and goal of rhetoric by picturing the tangible effects of medicine.

Illustration: the function of the doctor is to practice medicine thoughtfully in order to heal, and his goal is to heal through his medicine, and quickly. The function of rhetoric is what the speaker speaks about, just as sick people are the material of the doctor. (21)

The application of the different disciplines may vary with the geographical and political context in which they are professed but knowledge is beyond translation. Politics acquires different valences in the monarchical France and republican Italian cities but remains identical in its state of conceptual discipline pertaining to the tree of knowledge. Philosophy is fountain and "container" of all knowledge. Efforts to encompass knowledge may lead to vernacular and individual systems of thought reflected on the skeleton-tree of knowledge. French was for Latini a language with universal resonance by which he conveyed to the world the ideal Italian republican leader whose qualities depend on encyclopaedic knowledge. The political system Latini extolled as Latini's French (dis)guise proved to be ephemeral.


Beltrami, Pietro G. (1996), "Appunti su Vicende del Tresor. Composizione, Letture, Riscritture" in L'Enciclopedismo Medievale. Michelangelo Picone (ed.), Ravenna: Longo Editore Ravenna, 311-328.

Black, Robert (2006), "Republicanism," in L'Italia alla Fine del Medioo: I Caratteri Originali nel Quadro Europeo. Federica Gencarle (ed.), Firenze: Firenze University Press, 1-20.

Burke, Peter (2004), Languages and Communities in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cassirer, Ernst (1963), The Myth of the State. 5th ed. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Constantinova, Alexandra (1937), "Li Tresors of Brunetto Latini," The Art Bulletin Vol.19, No. 2 (June): 203-219.

Evans, Michael (1998), "Allegorical Women and Practical Men: The Iconography of the Artes Reconsidered," in Medieval Women, Derek Baker (ed.), Oxford: Blackwell, 305-329.

Flora, Francesco (1970), Storia della Letteratura Italiana. Vol.3. Milano: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore.

Gathercole, Patricia (1996), "Illuminations on the Manuscripts of Brunetto Latini," Italica, Vol. 43, No. 4 (December): 345-352

Holloway Bolton, Julia (1986), Brunetto Latini: An Analytic Bibliography. London: Grant & Cutler Ltd.

Hyde, J. K. (1979), "Some Uses of Literacy in Venice and Florence in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries," Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Fifth Series, Vol. 29: 109-128

Latini, Brunetti (1917), I Libri Naturali del "Tresoro. Firenze: Succesori Le Monnier Editori.

-- (1981), Il Tesoretto (The Little Treasure). Translated and edited by Julia Bolton Holloway. New York & London: Garland Publishing Inc.

-- (2003), Li Livres dou Tresor. Spurgeon Baldwin & Paul Barette (ed.), Tempe, Arizona: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies,

-- (1993), The Book of the Treasure (Li Livres dou Tresor). Translated by Paul Barette & Spurgeon Baldwin. New York & London: Garland Publishing, Inc.

Maggini, Francesco. (1915), La Rettorica di Brunetto Latini. Firenze: Galletti e Cocci.

Meier, Christel. (1998), "Cosmos Politicus: der Funktionswandel der Enzyklopadie bei Brunetto Latini," Fruhmittelalterliche Studien 22: 315-356.

-- (1997), "Organisation of Knowledge and Encyclopaedic ordo: Functions and Purposes of a Universal Literary Genre" in Pre-modern Encyclopaedic Texts. Peter Binkley (ed.), Leiden, Koninklijke Brill, 31-45.

Prince, D.E. (1993), "Textual History of Li litres dou tresor: Fitting the Pieces Together," Manuscripta, Vol.37: 276-289.

Renucci, Paul (1953), L'Aventure de L'Humanisme Europeen au Moyen-Age. Paris: Societe D'Edition les Belles Lettres.

Skinner, Quentin (2002), "Regarding Method in Visions of Politics," 3 Vol. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

-- (1980), The Foundations of Modern Political Thought : The Renaissance. Vol.1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ronquist, E.C. (1997), "Patient and Impatient Encyclopaedism" in Pre-modern Encyclopaedic Texts, Peter Binkley (ed.), Leiden: Koninklijke Brill, 31-45.

Sundby, Thor (1884), Della vita e opera di Brunetto Latini, Firenze: Successori Le Monnier.

Twomey, Michael W.(1997), "Towards a Reception History of Western

Medieval Encyclopaedias in England before 1500" in Pre-Modern Encyclopaedic

Texts, Peter Binkley (ed.), Leiden: Koninklijke Brill, 50-64

St. Victor, Hugh of. (1991), Didascalcon: A Medieval Guide to the Arts. Trans. by Jerome Taylor, New York: Columbia University Press.

Wieruszowski, Helene (1971) Politics and Culture in Medieval Spain and Italy. Roma: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura.

Whitney, Elspeth (1990), Paradise Restored. The Mechanical Arts from Antiquity through the Thirteenth Century. Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society.


University of Michigan, Ann Arbor


(1.) The overwhelming majority of scholars consider that Latini was Dante's teacher. I do not intend to offer a complete list of the sources. I will refer to the principal sources I have consulted for Brunetto Latini: Helene Wieruszowski, "Brunetto Latini als Lehrer Dantes und der Florenetiner," in Politics and Culture in Medieval Spain and Italy, (Roma: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1971); Quentin Skinner, Visions of Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); Francesco Flora, Storia della Letteratura Italiana (Milano: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 1970); Francesco De Sanctis, Storia della letteratura italiana, (Torino: Einaudi, 1962); Julia Bolton Holloway, Il Tesoretto, (New York & London: Garland Publishing, Inc, 1981); Spurgeon. Baldwin and Paul Barrette, The Book of the Treasure, (New York & London: Garland Publishing, Inc, 1993).

There is a faction that resists the certainty of this relationship. See Pietro Beltrami "Appunti su Vicende del i resor: Composizione, Letture, Riscritture" In L'Enciclopedismo Medievale edited by Michelangelo Picone, 311-328, (Ravenna: Longo Editore Ravenna, 1996).

(2.) For langue d'oil/langue d'oc see Renucci, 138-157

(3.) D. E. Prince notes that the name of Meser Bono Giamboni as translator appears on an incomplete Venetian manuscript from the fourteenth century. The majority of the printed editions (inclusively the one I have consulted) ascribe the Italian translation to Bono Giamboni. It seems that Giamboni was a Ghibelline judge. See Holloway, 1986, 26; D.E. Prince, 282.

(4.) S. Baldwin and P. Barrette, 2003

(5.) He does not mention his source. D.E. Prince, 277

(6.) Holloway, 1981, 113-117. For a detailed biography see Thor Sundby, Della vita e opera di Brunetto Latini, (Firenze: Successori Le Monnier, 1884). Sundby's book is the principal bibliographical source for Latini.

(7.) For Latini and translatio studi see P. Renucci, 1953, 138-157

(8.) B. Latini, 1993, I, 1

(9.) Ibid.

(10.) E. C. Ronquist, 40; C. Meier, 1997, 113

(11.) Carmody believed that Brunetto operated with the structure of Le livre dou Tresor "selon son bon plaisir." Francis James Carmody. Latin Sources of Brunetto Latini's World History, (Speculum 12, 1937)

(12.) Latini envisioned philosophy following Boethius's dream. B. Latini, 1993, I, 2

(13.) C. Meier, 1997, 109. In her systematic study of Li Livres dou Tresor, C. Meier (Cosmus Politicus, 1988) does not discuss the possibility of a system of knowledge. The problem of translation is also absent from this excellent study.

(14.) For the Aristotelian system see E.Withney, 1-52

(15.) D.E. Prince, 282

(16.) C. Meier has indicated that some entries are similar to ones found in Isidor of Seville's Etymologies. There is no etymological interest in Latini's Le Livres dou Tresor though.

(17.) Hugh of Saint Victor, Didascalcon: a medieval guide to the arts. Trans. by Jerome Taylor (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991);E. Whitney, 75-128

(18.) B. Latini, I, 2

(19.) B. Latini, I, 15

(20.) B. Latini, I, 1

(21.) B. Latini, III, 1
COPYRIGHT 2014 Addleton Academic Publishers
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2014 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Tita, Silvia
Publication:Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Jan 1, 2014
Previous Article:Text translation and Web 3.0.
Next Article:Musicality and onomatopoeia use in Miyazawa Kenji's short stories.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters