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Translating Confucius: Intorcetta’s First Attempts

Rodney John Lokaj and Alessandro Tosco

Università Kore di Enna

The paper intends to present an overview of the Latinity of Prospero Intorcetta (1625-1696), a Sicilian Jesuit who was sent to China as a missionary in 1657. Rightly hailing him as the first to translate the precepts of Confucianism into a Western language, studies such as Fang Hao, 1970; Dehergne, 1973; Zoli, 1973; Lundbaek, 1979; Beonio-Brocchieri, 1983; Capizzi 1983; Mungello, 1985; and Paternicò 2011, have, however, focused their attention not on Intorcetta’s initial translation, his Sapientia sinica (1662), nor his second, the Sinarum Scientia Politico-Moralis (1669), but on Philippe Couplet’s (1623-1693) Confucius Sinarum Philosophus, sive Scientia Sinensis latine exposita, an amalgam of several works published in Paris in 1687. Seeing that Intorcetta's first two translations contain annotations and a complex numbering scheme between Chinese characters and the corresponding Latin terms, whereas Couplet’s publication makes no reference whatsoever to the original Chinese, a valuable interpretative key as to howIntorcetta proceeded in his translation has so far eluded scholarly consideration.

The fruit of interdisciplinary investigation currently being conducted by a sinologist (Alessandro Tosco, Enna "Kore") and a neo-Latin scholar (Rodney Lokaj, Enna "Kore") working in close collaboration, the paper intends to address this methodological lacuna by discussing not only the various stylistic and semantic choices initially made in Latin by Intorcetta, but also the possible sources behind such choices, that is, which Latin authors, whether classical, Patristic, medieval, or even contemporary, such as Inácio da Costa and Matteo Ricci, had acted as linguistic and programmatic models or vectors in his attempt to present the Confucian ideas in the most suitable manner. From these sources it is hypothesized that it is possible to glean how Confucius was first transmitted to, and thus understood by, the Western world.

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The World of Neo-Latin: Current Research

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