15.04.25, Throop, trans., Isidore of Seville's Synonyms (Lamentations of a Sinful Soul) and Differences

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Andrew Fear

The Medieval Review 15.04.25

Throop, Priscilla, trans. Isidore of Seville's Synonyms (Lamentations of a Sinful Soul) and Differences: an English translation of Synonyma (Liber lamentationum animae peccatricis) and De differentiis verborum (Liber differentiarium I) and De differentiis rerum (Liber differentiarum II). Charlotte, Vermont: MedievalMS, 2012. pp. 262. ISBN: 9781105826672 (paperback).

Reviewed by:
Andrew Fear
University of Manchester

Despite his great influence in the medieval period and beyond, Isidore of Seville has been ill-served with translations of his writings in the English speaking world. We now have a full translation of his major work, the Etymologies, but his other books have been badly neglected. [1] This work, a translation of two lesser works, the Differentiae and the Synonyma, is therefore to be welcomed. Both books deal with Isidore's love of words. The first book of the Differentiae simply deals, as its name implies, with the differences between words, whereas the second book is more firmly focussed on theological distinctions. The Synonyma uses synonyms in a theological tract which had much influence in the medieval world, creating the so-called "synonymous style" of writing. [2]

This is a spartan volume. There is no introduction of any kind to the works translated here nor any bibliography. Information on the editions used, the most up to date available, can be found by the careful reader embedded in Library of Congress data on page 4 and a small amount of methodology is found in the first footnote to the Differentiae on page 87. Book one of the Differentiae is supplied with an index verborum, but there are no indices for the second book or for the Synonyma. In both works references to scripture are usefully placed in the text in parentheses. References to other texts are also given, mainly in the same way, but occasionally as footnotes (eg Differentiae 1.5). Annotation on the other hand is sparse--the Synomyna is given six footnotes, all of a linguistic nature. There are more, and more various, notes to the Differentiae. Many of these give useful comparisons to Isidore's later Etymologies. The notes curiously come in several distinct runs. The reason for this is neither clear nor explained. Notes 1-38 to Differentiae 1 cover letters A to E, but the second run of notes begins at the very end of E, dealing as it does with equus. The second run of thirty-four notes then continues until the middle of M, where it is supplanted by a third run of thirty notes which extends into the middle of Q where a fourth run of twenty-four notes continues to the end of the book. Book two also has two runs of notes--the break being at chapter 28. As the notes are genuine footnotes, not endnotes, no confusion arises. One can only assume that this oddity is a product of hasty editing and some of the footnotes also create this suspicion. Note 16 in the first run of notes in Differentiae 2, for example, promises but does not give a reference to Plato, merely a question mark. Similarly the placing of some sections of the text within braces is not explained and an initial footnote elucidating this would have been useful. This becomes more of a difficulty in the second book of the Differentiae where excisions in square brackets are not explained and again there are footnotes--for example an "A" at the beginning of the excised section of chapter 17 which lead nowhere.

In a footnote at the beginning of Differentiae 1, Throop states that she will follow the text and arrangement of Arevalo's edition as found in the Patrologia Latina. This is a sensible approach as it is the text that most reader will have available to consult. But this is not her strategy in the second book, where she often deviates from Arevalo's paragraphing and even from the chapters into which he subdivides the text. Sometimes these chapters are given titles which are not in the original text--for example Differentiae 2.6 which is entitled "Christ as the Only Born, or as the Firstborn." While these additional titles are in no way misleading as to the relevant sections' content, they should be marked as the translator's additions to the text. At times the titles in the text are rendered in a curious fashion De Duplici Paradiso becomes simply "Paradises", thus losing Isidore's dualistic treatment of an earthly and heavenly paradise. Arevalo's chapter 18 and the first sentence of his chapter 19 are excised entirely and the latter then renumbered as 18. The final sentence of Arevalo's chapter 20 is also added to Throop's chapter 18. The slip in Arevalo's text which omits a chapter 21 is corrected by Throop in her new enumeration. Arevalo's chapter 39 then is re-divided into chapters 37-40. The end result is that Throop's translation of Differentiae 2 has 42 chapters as opposed to Arevalo's 40. This is not in itself a problem, albeit it will not help the reader to find references given in other works. It would have been particularly useful in this respect to have retained the smaller reference numbers of Arevalo's edition as well as the chapter numbers. The reader would have been greatly helped by some annotation as to what was going on here. Sadly, as the text stands there is no warning for the reader as to where these deviations lie nor any discussion of why they are there.

The translations themselves read well and are devoid of tiresome archaisms. There is the occasional spelling error, eg "busyness" at Differentiae 2.32, occasional awkwardness "then" would seem better than "furthermore" at Differentiae 2.18, and vacillation between the use of mankind and the fashionable neologism "humankind" (for example see Synonyma 2.36). However the reader will in general find a lucid and accurate work, though at times passages seem to have been abbreviated, particularly in lists: for example at Synonyma 1.42 the admittedly synonymous phrase si ita existimans is not translated, similarly at Synonyma 2.91 the list of earthly powers is much shorter in the translation than in Isidore's original text. Oddly the very final sentence of the Differentiae is also omitted.

There is, however, sadly no attempt to capture the texture of Isidore's prose. Throughout the Differentiae adversative particles are left untranslated. Isidore's assonance and alliteration are often ignored. While it is admittedly difficult to carry such verbal tropes through into a translation, a little more effort here would have been welcome. Isidore's repetition of words is often replaced by different synonyms, for example iusti and iustis in Synonyma 2.99 are rendered as "virtuous people" and then "the righteous". At Synonyma 1.12 abominatione me omnes abominantur is rendered "all threaten me with loathing", losing a play on words which could have been replicated in English.

Overall, this is a worthy and extremely useful addition to English language material on Isidore. It is a shame a little more care was not taken in its production, as this would have enhanced its usefulness still more.



1. S. A. Barney, W. J. Lewis, J. A. Beach, & O. Bergof, eds., The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

2. See C. Di Sciacca, Finding the Right Words: Isidore's Synonyma in Anglo-Saxon England (Toronto, Buffalo & London: University of Toronto Press, 2008).

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