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Lodovico Dolce’s L’Ulisse: Rethinking Homeric Translation and Reception from the Material to the Imaginary

Richard Armstrong

University of Houston

It is common to dismiss Lodovico Dolce’s L’Ulisse (1573) as simply a rifacimento, not a “proper translation”; but new ways of thinking emerging from the field of translation studies now make this text good to think with. First, the material production of this text by the Giolito press—which also produced vernacular Italian “classics,” in particular Ariosto’sOrlando Furioso (edited by Dolce)—reveals a kind of industrialization of epic tradition. Not only is Ariosto’s text elevated by its production as a fine quarto edition with commentaries, allegories, and illustrations, but also works of classical epic (Ovid, Homer, Virgil) are produced in the same vernacular form (ottava rima) with similar paratexts and sometimes the exact same “illustrations.” Thus Dolce and the Giolito press were forging a new vernacular vision of epic tradition that converged in the vibrant, aural poetics of ottava rima (a genre with strong trace elements of oral performance, reminiscent of thecantastorie in Italy) while building through their material innovations a vernacular readership that clearly received chivalric epic and classical epic as installments in a uniform product line. Recent work on the materiality of translation (Littau 2016, Coldiron 2015) suggests we take far more seriously the manner in which entities like the Giolito press and its tireless agent Dolce shaped the reception of classical epic through the material elements of production, not just the formal and verbal choices made by the translator.

On the other end of the theoretical spectrum, recent concern for the imaginary (l’imaginaire—Bezari et al. 2019) as an intermediary in translation studies gives us a way to think through some of the more interesting divergences Dolce’s L’Ulisse makes from the Homeric Odyssey. I focus on two in particular: Ulisse’s production of a galley as good as any built in the Venetian Arsenal while on Ogygia, and Minerva’s instructions on good kingship to Ulisse at the end of the work. I argue that these divergences show particular contemporary techniques of making present the past through a poetics of exemplarity and epideictic rhetoric—a common feature of the early modern reception of epic (Kallendorf 1989), and one hardwired into the tradition of chivalric epic in ottava rima. While such moments appear to stray from the Homeric text, they help to fulfill the mission of Homeric poetry as a medium making present the past (see Bakker 2005).

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Homer in the Renaissance

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