You are here

Xylander’s Latin Translation of Marcus Aurelius

Peter Anderson

Grand Valley State University

In this paper I examine the scholarly Latin translations of W. Holtzmann (a.k.a. Xylander), who produced multiple bilingual editions of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, as well as the nachleben of these editions in Méric Casaubon's edition of Meditations. Focusing on Meditations Books 5 and 6, I collate the Latin translations and the annotationes of Xylander's two principle editions (1558 and 1568) against Casaubon's edition (1643), comparing the differences between their Greek and Latin texts in order to investigate the scholarly reception of a Greek text through its Latin translation and annotations. I argue that the careful and consistent use of specialized terminology in Xylander’s translation of the Meditations clearly indicates that his primary source for Stoic terminology was Cicero (and not Seneca) and that he was concerned for the philosophical content even though his annotationes are primarily philological. Moreover, I argue that Casaubon introduces inappropriate Latin terms for Greek Stoic terms into his own Latin edition ("correcting" Xylander), making Marcus Aurelius appear more Stoic.

Xylander was a prolific translator of classical Greek texts into Latin, most notably Dio Cassius, Strabo, Plutarch, and Pausanias. He also published the editio princeps of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations based on a now lost MS found by his friend Conrad Gessner (labelled T in the manuscript tradition). Xylander's accompanying Latin translation of the Meditations has been little studied, and even repudiated, although it was republished many times and likely forms the basis for the many translations of the Meditations into the vernacular in the 17th and 18th centuries. Indeed, Méric Casaubon's influential edition of the Meditations was almost entirely a reprint of Xylander's 1568 edition, and his earlier translation into English (1634) was based on Xylander's work in both Greek and Latin.

Certain aspects of the technical vocabulary of the Stoics have been well-studied - eg. sunkatathesis and katalepsis (Kerferd 2002; Imbert 2002) - and have clear and consistent analogues in our classical Latin sources - eg. adsentire and comprehendere - thanks largely, it seems, to Cicero (Levy 1992). These terms, then, provide a control group, as it were, against which to examine Xylander’s consistency. Other key terms, such as oikeiosis, koinonia, and their cognates (Engberg-Petersen 1990; Klein 2016), because they receive so little discussion in technical contexts in classical Latin sources (Cic. Fin. 3.16ff is the main critical discussion in Latin of oikeiosis) but are of central importance to Stoicism, allow us to confirm classical source(s) and influences for Xylander’s translation of these words in the Meditations and to assess Xylander's consistency in Latin usage. These same key terms also give insight into Casaubon's efforts to present Marcus Aurelius as a Stoic philosopher. For example, at Meditations 5.10.1 the phrase τοῦ χαριεστάτου ἀνασχέσθαι is translated by Xylander gratiosissimum perferre but "corrected" by Casaubon to commodissimum perferre, using a Latin term usually associated in Stoic sources with the Gk. εὔχρηστος (e.g. Chrysipp.Stoic.2.334), and one far more "technically" Stoic in Latin than the Greek would suggest.

Kraye (2002, 109) renders a familiar judgment on Xylander’s edition of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations when she states, “The problems start on the title page…”. And yet, the evidence for the impact of this editio princeps of 1558, which effectively brought Marcus Aurelius to a wide audience for the first time, and especially the subsequent (emended) edition of 1568, is wide and profound. This critical point of reception for Marcus Aurelius is pregnant with opportunities to study philologically focused reception as it was happening, through the study of multiple editions, and their re-use by a later author. To be sure, there are difficulties with Xylander’s editions and translations, but these difficulties allow considerable insight into the nature of his scholarly work and his deep passion for the “translation” of Classical Greek authors into the context of Early Modern Germany.

Session/Panel Title

Language and Linguistics

Session/Paper Number


© 2020, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy