You are here

14.2.Polt

Though intertextuality has garnered significant attention from Classical scholars in the past forty years, its potential for understanding literary translation – an inherently and highly intertextual form of literature – has gone largely untapped. In fact, Conte (1986) rejects the translator’s ability to reinterpret sources in the same way as “original” alluding authors do, remarking that “the translator has ‘conditional freedom’ and unprotestingly accepts the limits imposed by the original.” What is more, Edmunds (2001) excludes translation from the study of intertextuality altogether on the grounds that, unlike orthodox allusions, few if any translations are read “as such and not instead of the original.” But while this statement may be true in our increasingly monoglot times, the same cannot be said of the pervasively bilingual world of Roman literary culture. In this paper I argue that literary translation can be understood more fruitfully as an act of strenuous intertextuality in which alluding texts continuously renegotiate their status relative to the source by appropriating, modifying, and rejecting the “limits imposed by the original.”

To demonstrate this point, I reexamine a prose translation by Cicero that has traditionally been judged in terms of fidelity (Poncelet 1947, 1957; Müller 1964) rather than for its capacity to perform rhetorical work. At De Re Publica 1.66–68, Cicero’s Scipio Aemilianus translates part of Plato’s Republic (8.562C –563E) to support his argument that democracies misled by demagogues and given too much freedom can readily devolve into tyrannies. Formal framing devices and Laelius’s assertion that the Greek passage is well known (notissima) actively encourage comparison between the two versions (Gregory 1991). While much of the Latin text follows the Greek closely, Scipio introduces small but crucial “corrections” that modify Plato’s ideas, two of which are particularly important for Cicero and his audience in the 50s BCE.

The first deals with insults leveled by a mob at good leaders who try to curb its appetite for freedom: Plato says these men are called miarous oligarchikous, but Scipio has praepotentes, reges, tyrannos. The second centers on the supposed cause of political instability: Plato traces the source of a state’s fall into tyranny back to freedom (eleutheria), whereas Scipio distinguishes between a moderate type of freedom (modice temperatam) that is necessary for a stable country and an unrestrained, destructive type that, like Plato’s, leads to anarchy (nimis meracam). Both “corrections” invoke elements of Cicero’s own turbulent political situation in the late 60s and early 50s, when populares like Clodius often accused him of being a rex and tyrannus for his handling of the Catilinarian affair (Allen 1944, Dunkle 1967). Scipio’s addition of a new, Roman type of freedom moderated by senatorial dignitas and consular potestas(Gregory 1991) mirrors distinctions Cicero makes elsewhere between types of freedom (Wirszubski 1950, Johnson 1980). More specifically, it points to the battle over Cicero’s Palatine home, which Cicero claims to have bought for dignitas but which Clodius identified with Cicero’s regal aspirations (Allen 1944, Berg 1997). I argue that Cicero maps his exile and the destruction of his house onto Plato’s theoretical framework, modifying the Greek in his translation through verbal and ideological allusions to his other works, especially the De Domo Sua, and equates the shrine to Liberty that Clodius built on the ruins of his house with the Licentia that Plato says leads to the dissolution of proper government, the abuse of good statesmen, and the rise of tyranny in the form of demagogues (cf. Heinze 1924, Asmis 2005, and Arena 2007). Cicero’s translation thus revises Plato’s theory to reflect facts of Roman history and, through intertextual allusion, to turn his own experiences into an exemplum on par with those of Scipio and other past saviors of the Republic.

© 2020, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy