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Using an Epitome to Decode Byzantine Reception of Planoudes’ Translation of Macrobius’ "Commentarii"

Karen Carducci

     Greek translations of Latin literature remained uncommon throughout antiquity and the Byzantine world; the elegant Atticizing translations by the scholar monk Maximos Planoudes (c.1255–c.1305) were rare accomplishments indeed (Salanitro 1988). Planoudes’ translations of Ovid (Her., Met., and portions of Am.) and Boethius (De cons.) are deservedly popular (for editions: v. Fisher 2002, n. 55). Perhaps because the editio princeps of the Greek text is fairly recent (Megas 1995), fewer scholars have studied Planoudes’ translation of the Commentarii on the Somn.Sc. by Cicero. Hüttig’s study of the medieval Nachleben of the Commentarii, for instance, refers solely to the Latin tradition (1990). Yet the two volume platonizing discursus ascribed to Ambrosius Theodosius Macrobius (Cameron 1966) was a primary transmitter of Neoplatonism to the medieval world. The Commentarii also appended the only major fragments of Cicero’s Rep. known until the nineteenth century. The historical importance of the Commentarii and Planoudes’ fame as a translator together invite a consideration of this Greek translation he authored.

     Many studies of Planoudes’ translations use them to elucidate the transmission of their Latin exemplars or to provide stylistic markers for identifying the authorship of other Greek translations (Pavano 1987, Salanitro 1988, Tzamos 1998, Michalopoulos 2003, Fournier 2011, Karla 2003). These studies of Planoudes’ works can overlook the importance of understanding his translations in their own Byzantine Nachleben. In this paper, by comparing the critical edition of Planoudes’ translation of the Commentarii with a hitherto unedited, incomplete fourteenth century epitome (manuscript: Paris, BN gr.1000 ff.268r-275v) of that translation, I decipher the main rhetorical and philosophical strategies used by the anonymous Byzantine editor/scribe and his intended audience.

     The main rhetorical strategies of the epitomist include the following. (1) He routinely simplifies the citation of authorities and the more complex Neoplatonic ideas found in Planoudes’ scrupulous translation of the Commentarii. (2) He uses punctuation to apprise the reader of omissions of large sections of Macrobius’ commentary. (3) He also minimizes Macrobius’ discussions of political philosophy, and focuses upon the text’s treatment of the afterlife. These rhetorical and philosophical strategies imply that the patron(s) and/or scribe of the epitome were less at ease with the complexities of the classical philosophical heritage found in Planoudes’ full translation of Macrobius. These later Byzantines found his translation of this classical text worth preserving, and they wanted to know when their version deviated from the flow of argumentation in the Commentarii, but they preferred a simpler, less political, and more eschatological Neoplatonist discussion than that found in his original rendition. This comparative study of an epitome to the critical edition of Planoudes' text also points toward a new way of employing the substantial corpus of medieval epitomes of extant works. These texts, especially in manuscript form, can serve as a means for reconstructing the rhetorical and philosophical strategies of the later readership of classical texts. 

Session/Panel Title:

Texts and Transmission

Session/Paper Number

1.5

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