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Travesty: the ultimate domestication of epic

Susanna Braund

University of British Columbia

During the early modern period none of the classical epics exercised a greater influence on European literature than Virgil's Aeneid. It was translated, imitated and reworked in Italian, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, English and more. The project of imitation and translation of Virgil had as one of its goals the creation of literary language in the European vernaculars and had a more or less explicitly patriotic or nationalistic agenda. This nationalistic agenda involved appropriation of the original, which in turn explains why these early receptions of classical epic show little or no interest in drawing attention to the foreignness of the Latin text. Instead, these receptions are easily located towards the domesticating end of the foreignizing-domesticating spectrum proposed by Lawrence Venuti. But the position at the extreme end of domestication is reserved for the phenomenon of epic travesty, which is a weird form of translation and imitation.

My paper will consider the phenomenon of travesties of the Aeneid in the early modern period. This phenomenon originated in Italy and spread to France and England and later to Austria, Russia, Poland and Ukraine and other places too. In my paper I shall offer a brief comparative analysis of the range of domestications presented by Aeneid travesties in Italian, French and English. To limit my presentation appropriately, I will focus my remarks on the titles and metrical forms adopted and on the banquet scene from Aeneid 1 when Dido entertains Aeneas and the Trojans. I shall suggest that descriptions of food provide an excellent touchstone for understanding the degree of domestication, because of the rich potential for displacing classical material with national or even local foodstuffs.

I shall suggest that Giovanni Battista Lalli's L'Eneide travestita (1634) is a largely innocent domestication designed to be more entertaining than the original. In my discussion of Paul Scarron's French travesty, Le Virgile travesty, en vers burlesques (1648-60), I shall both build on and contest Gérard Genette's analysis of the poem, observing that he underestimates the Bakhtinian element in Scarron's clash between heroic and vulgar. Finally I shall setCharles Cotton's scurrilously scatological Anglicized romp through Books 1 and 4 (Scarronides: Or Le Virgile Travestie, 1664-66) in the context of the Restoration court of Charles II. My comparative analysis of these three travesties reveals three very different domestications of the same original material.

Session/Panel Title

Classical and Early Modern Epic: Comparative Approahces and New Perspectives

Session/Paper Number

10.5

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