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"Out of Greeke into Latin Verse": Nicholas Allen’s Latin Translation of the Phaenomena of Aratus (1561) and its Predecessors

Anne-Marie Lewis

Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, York University

In 1561, the English poet Nicholas Allen published in Paris his translation of Aratus’ Phaenomena, a popular and much-admired Hellenistic poem in dactylic hexameters that described the fixed constellations and a variety of weather signs, both celestial and terrestrial. Allen’s translation offers an unparalleled opportunity to analyze the practice of poetic translation from the Greek during the sixteenth century because it stands at the end of a long history of Latin translations of Aratus’ poem that were published during a period of over 1,500 years. The Latin translations that precede Allen’s translation vary from a strictly verbatim (verbum de verbo) to a more literary (sensus de sensu) approach to the original and include, from antiquity, three lengthy verse translations in dactylic hexameters by Cicero (ca. 90 B. C.), Germanicus Caesar (A. D. 4-17), and Avienus (ca. A. D. 350) as well as a smaller-scale translation of individual verses, also in dactylic hexameter, by Vergil in G. 1.356-465 (29 B. C.); from the Middle Ages, an anonymous word-for-word prose translation written in the mid-eighth century perhaps at Corbie in France; and from the Renaissance, a word-for-word translation in prose, unattributed and entitled “Apparentia,” which was published in Basel in 1534 in a volume of scientific works including the Greek Phaenomena edited by Iacobus Ceporinus, and a prose translation from the early sixteenth century attributed to the German scholar Joachim Camerarius. A brief discussion of Allen’s identity and his personal associations (which placed him in some danger during the early years of the reign of Elizabeth I), will locate his Latin translation generally in its cultural, historical, and literary contexts. A general evaluation of his translation will provide evidence for Allen’s knowledge of Greek, his education in Latin, his familiarity with Latin literature from antiquity through the sixteenth century, and his ability at Latin versification. A close linguistic, thematic, and stylistic analysis of several excerpts from the astronomical and meteorological portions of Allen’s translation in comparison with parallel excerpts from the previous Latin translations will provide evidence for how Allen’s translation follows the Greek original, for how his translation adapts the phrasing of the ancient, Medieval, and Renaissance translations of Aratus’ poem, and for how his translation departs from its predecessors. These comparisons will serve to highlight the importance, heretofore unrecognized, of Allen’s translation not only as a Phaenomena for its own time and place but also as a worthy rival of the extant hexameter Latin verse translations from antiquity in regard to its elegant balance of inventiveness and faithfulness to the original. 

Session/Panel Title

Neo-Latin Around the World

Session/Paper Number

14.2

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