The Medieval Review 13.03.06

Schneider, Bernd and Christina Meckelnborg. Odyssea Homeri a Francisco Griffolino Aretino in Latinum translata: Die lateinische Odyssee-√úbersetzung des Francesco Griffolini. Mittelateinische Studien und Texte. Leiden: Brill, 2011. Pp. viii, 330. $176.00. ISBN: 978-90-04-20348-8. . .

Reviewed by:

Scott G. Bruce
University of Colorado, Boulder

Despite the faltering knowledge of Greek in the early Middle Ages, stories of the battle of Troy and the wanderings of Odysseus never lost their appeal in the European imagination. Christian intellectuals read and reread these tales in late antique Latin paraphrases that communicated most of the content but little of the poetic virtuosity of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. Some, like the Ilias latina, which condensed Homer's poem into 1070 lines of Latin hexameter, were crude distillations of long familiar stories. [1] Others, like the Ephemeris belli Troiani of Dictys Cretensis and the Historia de excidio Troiae of Dares Phrygius, were presented as Latin translations of lost Greek accounts of the fall of Troy allegedly composed by individuals who had taken part in the battle. [2] In the absence of the Greek originals, these Latin texts mediated the tale of Troy's fall to medieval readers for almost a millenium. The Odyssey fared less well in the medieval Latin tradition and seems to have been known primarily through laconic prose summaries, like the Periochae Homeri Iliados et Odyssiae falsely attributed to Ausonius. [3] It was only in the fourteenth century that early humanists sought out Homer's poems in Greek and rendered them into Latin for a learned audience eager to devour the poet's words, even if they were mediated in another language. By the end of the fifteenth century, seventeen Latin translations of the works of Homer had appeared. This volume presents a critical edition of one of them, a Latin prose translation of the Odyssey by Francisco Griffolini (1420-c. 1462), a disciple of Lorenzo Valla, the most exceptional Latin philologist of his age. It contributes modestly yet admirably to the bustling historiography on the reception and influence of the Greek and Roman classics in early modern Europe. [4]

The introduction to the book recapitulates what little is known about the life and work of Francisco Griffolini. He was born in Arezzo in 1420, but the family was exiled to Ferrara in 1431 when his father Conte Mariotto di Baigio Griffolini was executed for his part in a conspiracy against Florence. Fortunately for the younger Griffolini, he received an excellent education in exile, learning Greek from Theodorus Gaza, a native of Thessaloniki who had fled to Italy in 1430 to escape the onslaught of the Turks and taught at the University of Ferrara between 1446 and 1449. Griffolini later traveled to Rome, where he attended Lorenzo Valla's lectures on Latin philology. His knowledge of Greek made him an asset to the papal court but his income was always precarious. Griffolini prefaced his translation of the Odyssey with a dedication to Pope Pius II, whose death on 15 August 1464 provides a solid terminus ante quem for this enterprise. Griffolini's Latin Odyssey was bound up in another project, a Latin translation of the Iliad left incomplete by his teacher, Lorenzo Valla. It seems that Griffolini completed Books 17-24 of Valla's Latin Iliad sometime before 1461, when a copy of it was made available to the Venetian historian Bernardo Giustiniani during a visit to Paris. The editors of Griffolini's Latin Odyssey hazard the guess that he completed this companion work by 1462.

Griffolini's translation of the Odyssey differed markedly from that of Lorenzo Valla and his predecessors. Valla had modelled his unfinished Latin Iliad on the Latin translations of Homer produced in the fourteenth century by Leontius Pilatus, a Calabrian monk who rendered Homer into Latin word-for-word at the request of Giovanni Boccaccio. In contrast, Griffolini's Latin Odyssey summarized the content of Homer's poetry in what amounts to a prose paraphrase. In their introduction, Schneider and Meckelnborg contrast the translation methods of Pilatus and Griffolini by comparing portions of their work with Homer's original Greek (12-19). Take, for example, the opening lines of the poem (Pilatus' verse translation followed by Griffolini's prose):

Virum mihi pande, Musa, multimodum, qui ualde multum

Errauit, ex quo Troie sacram ciuitatem depredatus fuit;

Multorum hominum uidit urbes et intellectum nouit,

Multas autem hic in ponto passus fuit angustias proprio in animo,

Redimens propriam animam et reditum sociorum.

Sed non sic socios saluauit desiderans licet;

Ipsorum enim propriis stultitiis perierunt,

Stolidi, qui per boues Hyperionis solis

Commederunt; nam hic istis abstulit reditus diem.

Hec undecumque, dea, filia Iouis, dic et nobis

Dic mihi Musa virum perquam exercitum, qui post sacram urbem Ilium dirutam longis erroribus et civitates multas vidit et hominum mentes cognovit diuque mari iactatus, ut se et socios in patriam reduceret, multos anxius labores perpessus est. Non tamen in illis liberandis suo satisfecit desiderio; suis enim illi in deos periere flagitiis, quippe qui stulti desuper currentis Solis boves comederunt. Hinc ille reditum eis abstulit. Horum tu, dea, Iovis filia, causa et nobis refer.

Eschewing a comprehensive word-for-word translation, Griffolini distilled the content of Homer's poem down to the bald facts and thereby stripped the Odyssey of much of its artistry. Gone are the conventional Greek epithets that allowed Homer to adhere to the demanding constraints of his meter. In Griffolini's rendering, the arrival of "dawn with her rose-red fingers" has been replaced by artless ablative absolutes like illucescente aurora (line 152) or laconic adverbs like mane (line 170). It is clear from these examples and other presented by the editors in their introduction that the early modern readers of Griffolini's translation of the Odyssey were no closer to the original Greek text than medieval readers, who also experienced Homer's works in the form of derivative Latin paraphrases.

This is a handsome volume and a welcome addition to Brill's Mittellateinische Studien und Texte series. Schneider and Meckelnborg have produced a fine edition of Griffolini's text. While their introduction could have included much more about the reception of Homer's work in the premodern period, it nonetheless provides a very useful analysis of Griffolini's translation method as well as a full discussion of the manuscript witnesses to his work. A short index of names closes out the volume. Needless to say, this book will be of particular interest to scholars who work on the reception of classical literature in the fifteenth century.



1. On the Ilias latina, see George A. Kennedy, The Latin Iliad: Introduction, Text, Translation and Notes (published privately by the author). See the review of this pamphlet by Eleanor Dickey in Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.01.06 (

2. Both of these works have been translated into English by R. M. Frazer in The Trojan War: The Chronicles of Dictys of Crete and Dares the Phrygian (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1966).

3. Edited by R. P. H. Green in The Works of Ausonius (Oxford: Clarendon Pres, 1991), 677-695.

4. See, for example, Marianne Pade, The Reception of Plutarch's Lives in Fifteenth-Century Italy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007); Marc Bizer, Homer and the Politics of Authority in Renaissance France (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011); and more generally The Classical Tradition, ed. Anthony Grafton, Glenn W. Most and Salvatore Settis (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010).