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Hanc fabulam nescio an tragoediam vocare debeam: Florent Chrestien, Isaac Casaubon, tragedy and Euripides' Cyclops

Malika Bastin-Hammou

Translations of Greek tragedies into vernaculars have been well studied, but Latin translations of them have not, so far, gained the attention they deserve. Classicists are well-positioned to study them and thus contribute to a better knowledge of the development of Early Modern tragedy. Latin translations of tragedy represent an important stage in the reception of Greek drama and also play a major role in the definition of modern tragedy (as their paratexts show). In this respect, debates about the genre of Euripides’ Cyclops (the only satyr drama known in the Renaissance) offer a particularly enlightening perspective on the significance of these translations and their role in defining the tragic genre.

One of the first Latin translations of Euripides’ Cyclops was published in Paris in 1605. Its translator was Florent Chrestien, an exceptional Hellenist and Latinist with a particular interest in drama. He had died in 1596, but during his lifetime he had published Latin translations of Aeschylus’ Seven against Thebes (1585), Sophocles’ Philoctetes (1586), Aristophanes’ Peace (1589), and Euripides’ Andromache (1594). After Florent's death, his son Claude asked several scholars to help him to publish some of his father's unpublished works, including the Latin translation of Euripides’ Cyclops. Isaac Casaubon published it as an "appendix" to his treatise De Satyrica Graecorum Poesi & Romanorum Satira. In this treatise, the famous scholar established the distinction between Greek satyric drama and the Roman genre of satire.

In the front matter to his translation of Cyclops, Florent Chrestien revealed his doubts also about its genre and suggested categorising it by the modern term "tragicomedy" (arbitrer posse hanc fabulam dici tragicocomoediam). Chestien proves to be a particularly valuable commentator: scholar, translator, utraque lingua doctus, he was also a poet. He may not have written any tragedies, but his French translation of Buchanan’s Neo-Latin Jephtes sive votum is recognised as a significant piece of literature in its own right. Chrestien was, therefore, at the interface of the world of theater and the world of scholars, as he shows in his notes on his translations.

In this paper, I would like to analyse how Florent Chrestien and Isaac Casaubon dealt with the generic ambiguity of Euripides’ Cyclops. I shall explore how they compared it to both ancient genres (tragedy, comedy as well as satire) as well as contemporary genres of drama, in order to give it a definite place in literary history (differentiating it from tragedy and satire). Finally, I shall reflect on how in the process, they were led to redefine the genre of tragedy: both ancient Greek and Early Modern. 

Session/Panel Title:

Classical and Early Modern Tragedy: Comparative Approaches and New Perspectives

Session/Paper Number

28.2

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