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James Gardner (trans.), Girolamo Fracastoro, Latin Poetry.

James Gardner (trans.), Girolamo Fracastoro, Latin Poetry, The I Tatti Renaissance Library, Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA, 2013; 560 pp.: 9780674072718, US$29.95.

The scholarly interest in the Italian poet, physician, and astronomer Girolamo Fracastoro (1478-1553) has been steadily, but not unsurprisingly, rising in the past years. After all, Geoffrey Eatough, whose English translation of Fracastoro's Neo-Latin poem Syphilis (1530) appeared in 1984, counted the prolific Italian humanist among the most famous Renaissance Latin poets. Fracastoro is the author of a very diverse body of texts, posthumously published as Opera Omnia in Venice in 1555. His work ranges from the philosophical dialogue Turrius sive de Intellectione to the medical treatise De sympathia & antipathia rerum; from the astronomical book Homocentrica, sive, De stellis to a work on contagious diseases De contagionibus & contagiosis morbis; from a dialogue on poetry, Naugerius, sive De poetica dialogus to his most famous poem, Syphilis sive morbus gallicus, the first Renaissance poem narrating the voyages of Columbus to the New World against the backdrop of the rapid spread of syphilis--a word Fracastoro invented and used, for the first time, in his Syphilis poem.

It is with Syphilis that James Gardner opens his prose translation of Fracastoro's Latin poetry, published in The I Tatti Renaissance Library. Syphilis, an epyllion written in Virgilian dactylic hexameter and dedicated to Cardinal Pietro Bembo, was a 16th-century best-seller: by 1935 there were over a hundred editions, including 15 in Italian and seven in English. Most recently, Christine Dussin and Jacqueline Vons published two new independent French translations, with Classiques Gamier (2010) and Belles Lettres (2011), respectively. The last modern English translation of Syphilis is the already mentioned edition by the classicist Geoffrey Eatough. How does Gardner's translation set itself apart from, say, Eatough's translation?

In order to fully appreciate Gardner's approach to Fracastoro's poems, let me briefly compare the opening of Syphilis in Gardner and Eatough's versions. Fracastoro opens his poem with the following lines:
   Qui casus rerum varii, quae semina morbum
   insuetum, nec longa ulli per saecula visum
   attulerint, nostra qui tempestate per omnem
   Europam, partimque Asiae Libyaeque per urbes
   saeviit, in Latium vero per tristia bella
   Gallorum irrupit, nomenque a gente recepit.


Eatough translates these lines in the following manner:
   What were the varied accidents of matter, what the seeds which
   brought on an unaccustomed disease through long centuries seen by
   no one: which in our time raged through all Europe, parts of Asia
   and through the cities of Africa: it burst into Italy with the
   unhappy French wars and took its name from that people, (p. 39)


In his attempt to follow Fracastoro's syntax and word choice as closely as possible, Eatough carefully introduces the modern reader to the world of Renaissance humanism: we are here exposed to Fracastoro's interest in De rerum natura and the Lucretian description of atoms ("semina") as well as to the humanists' fascination with ancient geography, according to whom the "oikoumene" consisted of three continents (Europe, Asia, and Africa). Privileging Fracastoro's perspective, Eatough's translation is literal and thus perhaps a little foreignizing. In contrast, consider Gardner's opening lines:
   Now I will sing of the varied accidents of nature and the seeds
   that have brought forth a strange affliction: unseen by anyone for
   many centuries, it has raged in our time throughout Europe, parts
   of Asia and the cities of Libya. It burst upon Italy in the wake of
   the sad wars of the French and from that nation it took its name.
   (p. 3)


Gardner abandons Fracastoro's syntax and turns the narrator's initial question into an affirmative epic voice. Here, not Lucretius but the Virgilian epic hero moves into the center of our attention reminding the readers that it is actually Virgil's work--both the Aeneid and the Georgies--that served as Fracastoro's most important poetic model. Unlike Eatough, Gardner domesticates his translation by bringing Fracastoro's voice closer to the modern reader. He shapes the reader's horizon of expectation by signaling from the start that this poem will be written (and should be read) in an epic spirit. The two translations offer two distinct reading experiences and address probably two different audiences. The Renaissance scholar might find Eatough's translation more helpful precisely because of its greater closeness to the Latin original. The reader who opens Fracastoro's Syphilis poem for pleasure, or who wishes to delve into a wealth of splendid Renaissance poems translated for the first time into English, will choose Gardner's translation.

The great merit of Gardner's translation is that it contains not only Syphilis, Fracastoro's first poem, but also poems that have never been translated before or that have hitherto received far less attention. Here, we find the unfinished Biblical epic Josephus, dedicated to Cardinal Alessandro Farnese and centering on the Old Testament story of Joseph and Potiphar's Wife. We also find the Carminum Liber, a collection of poems, predominantly occasional poetry and fragments of varying length and topic, composed sporadically throughout Fracastoro's lifetime. Josephus has never been translated into any other language before, with the exception of the Jacobean poet Joshua Sylvester--commonly associated with his translations of the French writer Du Bartas--who translated the biblical poem as The Maiden's Blush, or Joseph: Mirror of Modesty, Map of Pietie, Maze od Destinie, or Rather Divine Providence in 1620. The Carminum Liber ranges from the lengthy Alcon sive de cura canum venaticorum ("Alcon, or On the care of hunting dogs"), to a poem dedicated to Marguerite Valois, queen of Navarre (Poem 6), to the final six-line Poem 57, dedicated to Bacchus and Ceres. While the first 20 poems of the Carmina were included in Fracastoro's Opera Omnia (1555), others have only recently been discovered thanks to Gardner's work on this translation and edition.

Gardner's translation is framed by a short, but insightful, introduction and by a substantial critical apparatus divided into "Notes to the Text," which compares extant published editions of Fracastoro's poems, and "Notes to the Translation," which identifies Fracastoro's main literary sources. The Latin texts and critical apparatus were prepared and edited by Ornella Rossi, who has transcribed Poems 50-55 from Fracastoro's autographs and who has discovered two hitherto unknown poems (56-57), published here for the first time. Hence, it is not only the reader who chooses Fracastoro's Latin Poetry for pleasure who will find Gardner's translation attractive. The Renaissance scholar will find the ample critical apparatus most valuable.

Reviewed by: Katharina N Piechocki, Harvard University, USA
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Author:Piechocki, Katharina N.
Publication:Forum Italicum
Article Type:Book review
Date:May 1, 2016
Words:1065
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