Maximus Planudes’ Byzantine Greek translations of Ovid are well known but have never been examined with sufficient critical attention. As a result, the interpretation of these prose translations has remained unchallenged and unchanged since the nineteenth century. It is commonly said that Planudes translated Ovid in an overly literal way (e.g. Purser 1898, Schmitt 1968, Fisher 2003). This assessment implies that Planudes deployed a foreignizing method of translation, as opposed to a domesticating one, to borrow Venuti’s theoretical terminology (2008). A foreignizing method would reflect the culture of the author (in this case, 1st-c. BCE Roman), while the latter would reflect that of the translator (13th-c. CE Byzantine). To test the validity of the communis opinio, this paper will examine Planudes’ Greek translation of Heroides 7, which Ovid composed as a “lost” letter from Dido to Aeneas.
In the first part of this paper, I focus on interpolations in Planudes’ translation. They can be divided into several categories, including names or titles. For example, Planudes adds the vocative Αἰνεία at the earliest sensible place in the text to contextualize the epistle. He also inserts the word παῖς before Ascanius’ name to explain his relationship to Aeneas. The fact that Planudes, unlike Ovid, has to clarify the story of Dido and Aeneas suggests that his audience needed this information, while Ovid’s did not. This makes sense: the Aeneid, which contains source material on the couple’s relationship, was more culturally prominent for the ancient Romans than for the Byzantines.
In the second part of my paper, I focus on Planudes’ diction. He often deploys archaizing words prevalent in Homer and Attic drama, showing off his knowledge of ancient Greek literature and various dialects. Sometimes Planudes’ diction indicates that he is translating cultures rather than words. For example, he writes that a Trojan sword rests under Dido’s armpit (ὑπὸ μάλης) rather than on her lap (gremio, Her. 7.184). Because the Latin noun gremium has a sexual connotation, his translation may constitute a kind of bowdlerism, which was prevalent in his Christian society. This procedure characterizes Planudes as a learned scholar and reveals the cultural and religious values of the Byzantines.
The third part of my paper examines Planudes’ treatment of grammatical constructions unique to Latin, such as the gerundive. Planudes sometimes renders it as a Greek adjective containing the nominative endings -τέος, -τέᾱ, -τέον. At other times, he uses an infinitive or a participle. These multiple ways of translating the Latin gerundive suggest that Planudes was sensitive to its function in a sentence. I therefore infer that Planudes’ freer translations do not indicate that his knowledge of Latin was “imperfect,” as Purser (e.g.) contends, but rather that he had such a strong command of the language that he could avoid so-called translationese.
In sum, a close analysis of Planudes’ translation of Heroides 7 indicates that he sought to bring Ovid “home” into the Byzantine East through subtle linguistic markers and contextual clues.