We have already talked about the importance of language in the late middle age setting, be it Petrarch’s preference of Latin over Dante’s Italian or Chaucer confused renderings of Horace’s Epistles. The language of the literature we read is vital to our understanding of the message that is being conveyed in the artwork. Often the form of expression is the message. In the hands of a wrong translation, what is meant to be a subtle tongue and smooth rhythm can become harsh and granulated when left in the wrong hands. Yet translation also has the benefit of dispensing precious works to a wider audience, its explosive tendency to reach new frontiers of thinkers is invaluable. It must be done, but it must be done well. It is an art in and of itself.

Translation is one of the three channels through which classical influence can flow. These channels are:

  1. Translation
  2. Imitation
  3. Emulation

As first of these channels, it may not create great works but it does allow great works to be created. We have been translating the classics since 250BC, when the half-Greek half-Roman poet Livius Andronicus turned Homer’s Odyssey into Latin. The Greeks new literature in no language but their own, but the Romans were at their cultural ascendancy when Greek was flourishing as a spoken and artistic language amongst the upper echelons of society. Europe, emerging from the Dark ages, developed its own bilingualism and by the Renaissance the emerging figure of the wandering artiste would hold many tongues in his locker. European culture was deepening and broadening. What was important the this traveller is that on his voyages he would be stimulated by the Graeco-Roman synthesis that would sweep him from land to land. It would have been a similar feeling that Romans would have received when learning and travelling to

Nicole Oresme
Nicole Oresme (1320-82): French translator and thinker in Charles V’s court

through Greek lands. To help with expressing this feeling of synthesis, many translators imported Latin and Greek words directly into the modern language of choice. The result was a new tray of rich and elegant words that carried a resonance of beauty and awe.

In French there was, by the fourteenth century, a deliberate policy of borrowing words to increase the scope of the language, as part of the cultural achievements of Charles V. (r. 1364-1380), whose most important protégé in enacting his will was Nicole Oresme (c.1330-1381), later Bishiop of Lisieux. He took the 1280 Latin Aristotelian renderings of William of Moerbeke and turned them to French. Oresme would complain that Homo, which could mean man or woman, had no equivalent in French, and animal, meaning anything that had a soul capable of perception, would not fit neatly either. Words taken from Latin and Greek fell into two main classes:

  1. Abstract Nouns
  2. Technical artistic phrases

In the former we find a host of examples: circulation, décision, hésitation, calamité , spécialité, arrogant, évidence. In the latter words such as acte, artiste, démocratie, facteur, médicin.

The English language had been drawing Latin and Greek influence as far back as the Dark Ages, particularly religious terms: Church, priest and bishop come from Greek. Later English came under the Latin influence through its French connection – its nobles had spoken French from the time of the Norma conquest until the hundred years war and were not immune to the effect of the broadening of the French vernacular. Chaucer also introduced many phrases from his knowledge of Latin and French, for instance ignorance and absence were softened from the Latin because of French intrusion.

Jacques Amyot (1513-93): Rensaissance inheriter to Oresme’s crown

Chaucer would also translate Boethius, leading to many Latin terms finding their way into philosophical and scholarly phrases: orator, distil, astrologer to name but a few.

Spanish underwent a similar expansion under the influence of Italian culture. Again it was abstract nouns such as ambición, comendación, and servitude that came from Latin, words such as idiota, paradoja from Greek. The Spanish went further than English or French in some ways, adopting Greek and Latin syntactical patterns as seen in Góngora. Other languages such as German, Polish, and Magyar carried on largely untouched during this period. They still had Latin writers, but few who filled the role of bridging the Graeco-Roman and native cultural divide. Authors were either wholly German or wholly Latin. England had Chaucer and Gower, Spain had Inigo Lopez de Mendoza and Juan de Mena, France had countless others. In order for a true Renaissance to occur, it was requisite that channels existed that the two cultures could intermingle.

Let us move our attention away from words to rhythm and meter. Greek and Latin rhythm came in the form of hexameters (for epics) and iambic trimeter (for drama). The Italian response to these was to write in free verse, so as to continue the flow of words as in the original. In translating prose, style came across more readily, many household techniques – the climax, the antithesis, the apostrophe – came into use form classical translations. One of the more famous techniques that flourished was the use of the Ciceronian tricolon, or group of three. They are usually expressions or examples

Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address bears the mark of Cicero

illustrating a consistent pattern of thought and are measured in weight and importance. The number of speakers is an endless list, so the famous example of Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address should suffice:

‘A government of the people, by the people, for the people’

Lincoln is a perfect example of how prevalent the technique had become by his time: he had not read Cicero directly, but had picked up on the phraseology by studying the baroque writers such as Gibbon. In fact, using the Ciceronian tricolon has become somewhat of a tradition, another famous example being Franklin D Roosevelt’s ‘one-third of a nation, ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished’.

Before we get into our list of important translated works and their translators, it is worth mentioning the phenomenal effect of printing. It distributed culture quicker and made self-education easier. French led the way in terms of translations, with Germany and England second, Italy and Spain notable others. Italy ranks low here as many Italians remained devoted to Latin, or were translating from Greek into Latin, rather than Italian. Another important factor in slowing output was pedantry in the translation. If never satisfied with your work, it would never be completed. Hence, we can say admirably of Shakespeare ‘he never blotted a line’, which no doubt led to his enormous productivity. The fact that Germany remained void of the correct character to bridge the literature of antiquity to a modern audience is typified by the fact that, until 1691, were still printing more books in Latin than in German each year, and people such as Reuchlin who knew Greek were isolated figures. At least Germany had elevated itself from due contact with Italy and the budding low countries. Countries further afield – to the North and East, were still sunk in medieval darkness.

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The below table has been constructed to illustrate the level of translations into modern languages occurring in Europe during the Renaissance. The list is not exhaustive.

Literary Category Classical Author Classical Work Translated Language Translator Year Comment


Homer The Iliad Spanish Inigo Lopez de Mendoza 1445 Partial translation
Epic Homer The Iliad French Jean Samxon 1530 Influence of Dares and Dictys
Epic Homer The Odyssey German Simon Schaidenreisser 1537 Prose translation
Epic Homer The Iliad French Hugues Salel

Amadis Jamyn

1545 & 1577 First serious verse rendering, Books I-X by Salel, finished by Jamyn
Epic Homer The Odyssey French Jacques Peletier du Mans 1547 Books I-II
Epic Homer The Iliad English Arthur Hall 1581 Translated via Salel’s version
Epic Homer The Iliad, The Odyssey, & the Hymns English George Chapman 1611, 1614 & 1616 First complete poetic translation of Homer in any tongue
Epic Homer The Odyssey Italian Ludovico Dolce 1573 Muted translation into stanzas
Epic Homer The Iliad Italian Girolamo Bacelli 1581-2 Book I-VII
Epic Homer The Iliad German Johann Spreng 1610 First verse version in German
Epic Virgil The Aeneid Gaelic unknown Before 1400 Imtheachta Aeniasa in the Book of Ballymote
Epic Virgil The Aeneid French Guillaume Leroy 15th Century Prose translation
Epic Virgil The Aeneid Spanish Enrique de Villena 15th Century Prose translation
Epic Virgil The Aeneid French Octovien de Saint-Gelais c. 1500 First regular verse translation
Epic Virgil The Aeneid German T Murner 1515
Epic Virgil The Aeneid English Earl of Surrey 1553 Books II & IV – using an earlier attempt by Scot Gawain Douglas as inspiration
Epic Virgil The Aeneid French Du Bellay 1551 & 1561 Books IV and VI
Epic Virgil The Aeneid French Desmasures 1560 First translation of whole poem
Epic Virgil The Aeneid French Antoine & Robert Le Chevalier d’Agneaux 1582
Epic Virgil The Aeneid English Phaer & Twyne 1558 & 1573 Books I-VII (Phaer), book VIII-XII (Twyne)
Epic Virgil The Aeneid Spanish Cristobal de Mesa 16th Century
Epic Virgil The Aeneid German Johann Spreng ~1601
Epic Virgil The Aeneid Italian Annibale Caro 1581 A Long famous translation
Epic Virgil The Aeneid English Richard Stanyhurst 1582 Book I-IV
Epic Lucan Pharsalia French unknown 14th Century Composed for Charles V
Epic Lucan Pharsalia Spanish Unknown poet of Cordoba 1541 Published in Lisbon by Martin Laso de Oropesa
Epic Lucan Pharsalia English Christopher Marlow 1593 Book I
Epic Lucan Pharsalia English Sir A Gorges 1614 Complete translation
Epic Lucan Pharsalia English T May 1626 A more successful translation than Gorges
Epic Lucan Pharsalia Spanish Juan de Jauregui y Aguilar 17th Century
Epic Ovid Metamorphoses French Bercoir 1362 Building on previous work mentioned earlier
Epic Ovid Metamorphoses English Caxton 1480 Via Bercoir’s translation
Epic Ovid Metamorphoses French Clement Marot & Habert 1532 & 1557 Books I & II – Marot

Book II-XV – Habert

Epic Ovid Metamorphoses German Hieronymous Boner 1534
Epic Ovid Metamorphoses English Arrhut Golding 1567 Known to Shakespear
History Herodotus The Histories Latin Valla 1452-57
History Herodotus The Histories Italian Boiardo 15th Century
History Herodotus The Histories French Pierre Saliat 1556
History Herodotus The Histories English ‘B.R.’ 1584
History Herodotus The Histories German H Boner 1535
History Thucydides The Peloponnesian War Latin Valla 1452 The basis for translation into modern languages
History Thucydides The Peloponnesian War French Claude de Seyssel, Bishop of Marseille 1512
History Thucydides The Peloponnesian War German H Boner 1533
History Thucydides The Peloponnesian War Italian Francisco de Soldo Strozzi 1545
History Thucydides The Peloponnesian War English Thomas Nichols 1550 Via de Seyssel’s tranlsation
History Thucydides The Peloponnesian War Spanish Diego Gracián 1564
History Xenophon Anabasis French De Seyssel 1504
History Xenophon Anabasis German H Boner 1540
History Xenophon Anabasis Italian R Domenichi 1548
History Xenophon Anabasis Spanish Diego Gracián 1552
History Xenophon Anabasis English J Bingham 1623
History Plutarch Parallel Lives Latin Guarino 15th Century
History Plutarch Parallel Lives French B Jaconello 1482 26 volumes
History Plutarch Parallel Lives German H Boner 1534 & 1541 8 volumes in 1534, completed 1541
History Plutarch Parallel Lives Spanish Alfonso de Palencia 1491
History Plutarch Parallel Lives French Lazare de Baif,

George de Selve,

Arnault Chandon,

Jacque Amyot

1530-1559 Amyot issued the complete version of the Lives in 1559 – heavily influenced Montaigne
History Plutarch Parallel Lives English Thomas North 1579 Influenced by Amyot, he influenced Shakespeare in turn
History Caesar Memoirs French unknown 14th Century Translated for Charles V
History Caesar Gallic War German M Ringmann Philesius 1507
History Caesar Gallic War English W Rastell, J Brend, Golding 1530-1565 Golding produced the completed version
History Sallust & Suetonius Complete Works French unknown 15th Century Produced for Charles V
History Sallust Complete Works Spanish Francisco Vidal de Noya 1493
History Sallust Complete Works German D von Pleningen

J Vielfeld

1513 & 1530
History Sallust Complete Works French Meigret 16th Century
History Sallust Catiline Conspiracy English T Paynell 1541
History Sallust Jurgurtha English A Barclay 1520-3
History Sallust Complete Works English Tomas Heywood 1608
History Livy His then known works French Bercoir 14th Century
History Livy His then known works Spanish Pedro Lopez de Ayala 14th Century Chancellor of Castille


History Livy His then known works German B Schöfferlin

J Wittig

N Carbach



History Livy Complete Works Known English Philemon Holland 1600
History Tacitus His then known works German Micyllus 1535
History Tacitus Annals French Étienne de la Planche,

Claude Fauchet




Annals 1-6


Annals 11-16

History Tacitus Histories & Agricola English Sir Henry Savile 1591
History Tacitus Annals & Germany English R Greneway 1598
Philosophy Plato Complete Works Latin Ficino 1482 Made for the Medici Dynasty
Philosophy Plato Axiochus English De Mornay 1592 First English translation
Philosophy Plato Lysis French Bonaventure de Périers 1541
Philosophy Plato Crito French P du Val 1547
Philosophy Plato Ion French Richard de Blanc 1546
Philosophy Plato Defence of Socrates French F Hotman 1549
Philosophy Plato Timaeus French Loys le Roy 1551
Philosophy Plato Phaedo French Loys le Roy 1553
Philosophy Plato Symposium French Loys le Roy 1559
Philosophy Plato The Republic French Loys le Roy 1600 Year Published
Philosophy Plato Axiochus French Étienne Dolet 1546
Philosophy Plato Hipparchus French Étienne Dolet 1546
Philosophy Aristotle Politics French Nicolas Oresme 1486
Philosophy Aristotle Politics French Loys le Roy 1568 Superseding Oresme’s tranlsation
Philosophy Aristotle Politics Italian A Bruccioli 1547
Philosophy Aristotle Politics English ‘J.D.’ 1598 Via Le Roy’s translation
Philosophy Aristotle Ethics French unknown 15th Century On the behest of Charles V
Philosophy Aristotle Ethics French Loys le Roy 16th Century
Philosophy Aristotle Ethics Spanish Carlos de Viana 15th Century
Philosophy Aristotle Ethics English J Wylkinson 1547 Based on medieval Italian renderings of Brunetto Latini
Philosophy Plutarch On Education English Sir Thomas Elyot 1530
Philosophy Plutarch On peace of mind English Wyat 1528 Made use of Bude’s Latin version
Philosophy Plutarch On Preserving Health English Wyer 1530 Use of Erasmus’ Latin version
Philosophy Plutarch 4 Moral Essays English Bludeville 1558-1561
Philosophy Plutarch Complete Moral Essyas German M Herr & H von Eppendorf 1535
Philosophy Plutarch Complete Moral Essays German W Xylander

Jonas Löchinger

Philosophy Plutarch Complete Moral Essays French Jacque Amyot 1572
Philosophy Plutarch Complete Moral Essays English Philemon Holland 1603
Philosophy Cicero On Friendship French Laurent Premierfait Before 1418
Philosophy Cicero On Old Age French Laurent Premierfait Before 1418
Philosophy Cicero On Friendship English John Tiptoft 1460 Printed by Caxton in 1481, based in the Premierfait translation
Philosophy Cicero On Old Age English Caxton 1481 Based in the Premierfait translation
Philosophy Cicero The German Cicero German Johann Freiherr zu Schwarzenberg 1534 Also contained the Tusculan Discussions
Philosophy Cicero 3 Dialogues French Jean Colin 1537-9
Philosophy Cicero On Friendship English John Harington 1550
Philosophy Cicero On Old Age English R Whittington 1535
Philosophy Cicero On Friendship

On Old Age

English Thomas Newton 1577
Philosophy Cicero On Duties German Schwarzenberg 1531 Built on an anonymous translation of 1488
Philosophy Cicero On Duties English Whittington 1540
Philosophy Cicero On Duties English Nicolas Grimald 1553
Philosophy Cicero Tusculan Discussions French Étienne Dolet 1542 Books I-III
Philosophy Cicero Tusculan Discussions English John Dolman 1561
Philosophy Cicero Paradoxes German Schaidenreisser 1538
Philosophy Cicero Paradoxes English Whittington 1540
Philosophy Cicero Paradoxes

Dream of Scipio

English Thomas Newton 1569
Philosophy Seneca Letters Latin Erasmus 1515
Philosophy Seneca Letters German Michael Herr 1536
Philosophy Seneca Consolation to Marcia German Dietrich von Pleningen 1519
Philosophy Seneca On Benefits English Arthur Golding 1577
Philosophy Seneca Complete Works English Lodge 1614
Drama Sophocles Electra Spanish Fernan Perez de Oliva 1525 Known as Revenge for Agamemnon
Drama Sophocles Electra French Lazare de Baif 1537
Drama Sophocles Antigone French Jean-Antoine de Baif 1573
Drama Sophocles Antigone Italian Alamanni 1533
Drama Sophocles Antigone English Thomas Watson 1581
Drama Euripides Hecuba,


Iphigenia at Aulis,

The Phoenician Women

Italian Lodovico Dolce 1545-1551
Drama Euripides Hecuba Spanish Fernan Perez de Oliva 1528
Drama Euripides Hecuba French Bochetel,


Drama Euripides Iphigenia at Aulis French Thomas Sébillet 1549
Drama Euripides Iphigenia at Aulis German Michael Babst c. 1604
Drama Euripides The Phoenician Women English Francis Kinwelmersh 1566
Drama Aristophanes Plutus French Ronsard 1550
Drama Aristophanes Plutus Spanish Pedro Simon de Abril 1577
Drama Plautus Numerous Italian Numerous c. 1486 The Court of Ferrara
Drama Plautus Amphitryon Spanish Francisco Lopez de Villalobos 1515
Drama Plautus The Brothers Menaechmus English ‘W.W’ 1595 Possibly to the benefit of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors
Drama Plautus The Bacchides German Albrecht von Eyb 1511 Year Published
Drama Plautus The Pot Comedy German Joachim Greff 1535
Drama Plautus Stichius German C Freyssleben 1539
Drama Plautus The Brothers Menaechmus German Jonas Bitner 1570
Drama Terence Numerous French Guillaume Rippe

Gilles Cybille

Drama Terence The Eunuch German Hans Nythart 1486
Drama Terence Complete Works German Brant & Locher 1499
Drama Terence Complete Works German Valentin Boltz 1539 Prose Version
Drama Terence Complete Works German Johannes Bischoff 1566 Rhymed Version
Drama Terence Complete Works French C Estienne

J Bourlier

Drama Terence Complete Works Spanish Pedro Simon de Abril 1577
Drama Terence Complete Works English Richard Bernard 1598
Drama Seneca Medea


The Trojan Woman

Catalan Antonio Vilaragut c. 1400
Drama Seneca Ten Tragedies English 6 separate translators 1559-1581 Influential publication
Drama Seneca Numerous works Italian Dolce c. 1550
Drama Seneca Agamemnon French Charles Toutain 1557
Drama Seneca Agamemnon French Le Duchat 1561
Drama Seneca The Madness of Hercules,



French Roland Brisset 1590
Drama Seneca Complete Tragedies French Benoit Bauduyn 1629
Oratory Demosthenes Olynthiacs French Loys le Roy 1551
Oratory Demosthenes Olynthiacs English T Wilson 1570 Used as propaganda against Philip of Spain
Oratory Demosthenes Philippics German H Boner 1543
Oratory Demosthenes Philippics French Loys le Roy 1575
Oratory Isocrates To Nicocles German J Altensteig 1517
Oratory Isocrates To Nicocles English Sir Thomas Elyot 1531
Oratory Isocrates To Demonicus German W Pirckheimer 1519
Oratory Isocrates To Demonicus English Bury




Oratory Isocrates Nicocles French L Meigret 1544
Oratory Isocrates To Nicocles,

To Demonicus,


French Loys le Roy 1551
Oratory Isocrates To Nicocles,

To Demonicus,


English T Forrest 1580
Oratory Cicero Speeches French Macault 1548
Oratory Cicero Speech for Marcellus English R Sherry 1555
Oratory Cicero Speech for Marcellus German C Bruno 1542
Oratory Cicero Speech for Archias English T Drant 1571
Oratory Cicero Speeches for Marcellus, Ligarius, and King Deiotarus Italian Brunetto Latini 15th Century
Smaller Works Aristotle Poetics Italian Bernardo Segni 1549
Smaller Works Aristotle Poetics Italian Lodovico Castelvetro 1570 With added commentary
Smaller Works Theocritus Idylls Italian Annibale Caro 1588 Later anonymously adapted to English
Smaller Works Lucian Dialogues of the Dead Italian Lapaccini 1495 Also popular in Germany with 11 translations
Smaller Works Lucian Various dialogues French Tory 1529
Smaller Works Lucian Menippus English Rastell c. 1536
Smaller Works Lucian The Cynic English Elyot c. 1535
Smaller Works Lucian Toxaris English ‘A.O’ 1565
Smaller Works Anonymous Daphnis and Chloe Italian Anniable Caro 16th Century
Smaller Works Anonymous Daphnis and Chloe French Amyot 1559
Smaller Works Anonymous Daphnis and Chloe English Day 1587
Smaller Works Anonymous Aethiopica French Amyot 1547
Smaller Works Anonymous Aethiopica English James Sandford

Thomas Underdown

1567-9 Based on a Latin version by Pole Stanislas Warshewiczki
Smaller Works Cicero Correspondences French Dolet 1542
Smaller Works Cicero Correspondences French F de Belleforest 1566
Smaller Works Virgil Bucolics Spanish Juan del Enzina 1492-6
Smaller Works Virgil Georgics Spanish Cristobal de Mesa 1600
Smaller Works Virgil Georgics Italian Bernardo Pulci 1481
Smaller Works Virgil Bucolics & Georgics French Michel Guillaume de Tours 1516-9
Smaller Works Virgil Bucolics German Stephan Riccius 1567
Smaller Works Virgil Bucolics


English Abraham Fleming 1575, 1589
Smaller Works Horace Odes Spanish Luis de Leon 16th Century
Smaller Works Horace Odes French Mondot 1579
Smaller Works Horace Odes Italian Giorgino 1595
Smaller Works Horace Epistle – Art of Poetry Italian Dolce 1535
Smaller Works Horace Epistle – Art of Poetry French Grandichan

Peletier du Mans



Smaller Works Horace Epistle – Art of Poetry Spanish Luis Zapata 1592
Smaller Works Horace Epistle – Art of Poetry English T Drant 1567
Smaller Works Horace Satires Italian Dolce 1559
Smaller Works Horace Satires French Habert 1549
Smaller Works Horace Epistles French ‘G.T.P.’ 1584
Smaller Works Ovid Heroides & Loves French Various Translators 1500-09
Smaller Works Ovid Heroides English Turberville 1567
Smaller Works Ovid Tristia English Thomas Churchyard 1572
Smaller Works Ovid Loves English Christopher Marlow 1597
Smaller Works Persius Satires French Abel Foulon

Guillaume Durand



Smaller Works Persius Satires Italian Antonio Vallone 1576
Smaller Works Persius Satires English Barten Holyday 1616
Smaller Works Pliny Natural History French Pierre de Changi 1551
Smaller Works Pliny Natural History English ‘I. A.’ 1566
Smaller Works Martial Epigrams French Clément Marot 16th Century
Smaller Works Juvenal Satires Italian G Summaripa 1475
Smaller Works Juvenal Satire 10 Spanish Geronimo de Villegas 1515
Smaller Works Juvenal Satire English ‘W.B.’ 1617
Smaller Works Juvenal Staires 8,10,11,13 French Michel d’Ambyose 1544
Smaller Works Apuleius Metamorphoses Italian Boiardo 15th Century
Smaller Works Apuleius Metamorphoses French Guillaume Michel 16th Century
Smaller Works Apuleius Metamorphoses German Johann Sieder 16th Century
Smaller Works Apuleius Metamorphoses English William Adlington 1566