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EN2F3/EN3F3 The Classical Tradition in English Translation: The Renaissance

Module Credits: The module is worth 15 CATS points.

Pathway Information: This module is a Distributional Requirement for the Theory, World and North American Pathways and an option on the English Pathway.

Module outline: This course will introduce you to major works of classical literature, and it will approach these ancient works through English translations which are themselves of historical and literary significance. You will read English translations of classical literature made during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Classes will be taught by Dr Botley.

No knowledge of Greek or Latin is required, and students who have not taken the module EN101, Epic into Novel, will not be at a disadvantage.

Assessment: The module is 100% assessed. The assessment pattern for this module will vary depending on which year you're in. Assessment will be: EITHER one 5000-word essay (for third years/finalists) OR one 4000-word essay (for second year/intermediate level students).

Module Syllabus: Most of the texts studied on this course are available as digital facsimiles and can be downloaded from this page. I’ll distribute other material in class in digital form as necessary. The facsimiles on this web page are of out-of-copyright books. You’ll need to buy no books for this module.

Week 1. Introduction

We’ll look broadly at the theory and practice of translation in the renaissance. We'll think about the difference between translating the Bible and translating 'literary' texts. Please read the earliest surviving work on translation, the so-called Letter of Aristeas: (PDF Document) Letter of Aristeas, tr. Thakeray. You may want to skim over some parts of this (the responses of the translators, for example), but think about your urge to skim and where it comes from.
We’ll look at the foundations of renaissance translation in the fifteenth century with Leonardo Bruni's short treatise on translation, the first work on the subject since Antiquity.

Week 2. Epic 1: Homer

Start with John Keat’s famous short poem: (Word Document) On first looking into Chapman’s Homer.
We shall study George Chapman’s translation of Iliad, Books 1 and 2, first published together in 1598: (PDF Document) Chapman, The Iliads of Homer, 1888 . Look too at Chapman’s interesting ‘Preface to the Reader’, pp. lxxxv–xcv in the same edition.

Try to read at least some of Books 1 and 2 in Arthur Hall’s translation, published in 1581: (PDF Document) Ten Books of Homers Iliades, translated out of French, by A.H., London, 1581. You will find the original typography difficult, and the poor-quality reproduction makes matters worse. We'll talk about these difficulties in class.

Week 3. Epic 2: Vergil

We shall look at versions of Vergil's great national epic the Aeneid made by four translators from across the British Isles. We'll focus in the seminar on the fourth book, the story of Dido and Aeneas.

1. The Scottish poet Gavin Douglas (1513, printed 1553): (PDF Document) Douglas' Aeneid, vol.1, 1839. Alternatively, there's a new edition: Gordon Kendal, ed. Gavin Douglas: The Aeneid (1513), 2 vols, London, 2011.
2. The English courtier Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1554): (PDF Document) Surrey's poems, ed. Padelford, 1920.
Padelford prints two versions of this book: read the version in the left hand column (pp. 122-64), first printed in 1557.
3. A version written in Wales by Thomas Phaer (1558): (PDF Document) Phaer, Book 4, extracts. You can look at the complete text of the first edition of 1558 in Early English Books Online.

4. The Irishman Richard Stanyhurst (1582): (PDF Document) Stanihurst's Aeneid, Books 1-4. It's a very strange and sometimes beautiful thing. We'll look closely at a short sample of it in class.

Week 4. Ovid 1: Metamorphoses

We shall study extracts from Arthur Golding’s translation of the Metamorphoses (1565/67). The full text is here: (PDF Document)Golding's Metamorphoses, ed. Rouse, 1904. Please read as much as you can, but it's a very long poem so we'll concentrate on the following myths:

  • From Book 1: the Creation; the Golden Age; the Flood; Deucalion and Pyrrha (lines 1- 170, 295-494); from Book 3: Actaeon (lines 150-304); Echo and Narcissus (lines 427-642); from Book 4: Pyramus and Thisbe (lines 67-201); Venus and Mars (lines 202-28); Salmacis and Hermaphroditus (lines 352-481); from Book 6: Tereus, Philomel and Procne (lines 538-853); from Book 10: Orpheus and Eurydice (lines 1-92); Pygmalion (lines 261-326); from Book 12: The House of Fame (lines 42-69); from Book 15: The conclusion (lines 984-995).

You'll also find this book useful: Sarah Annes Brown and Andrew Taylor, ed. Ovid in English, 1480-1625. Part One: Metamorphoses, London, 2013 (one copy in the Library). I'll distribute copies of some particularly relevant portions nearer the time.

Week 5. Ovid 2: Heroides

This week looks at Ovid's Heroides and the genre of female complaint in the seventeenth century. Please read:
1. Anne Killigrew, Penelope to Ulysses, in Anne Killigrew, ed. P. Hoffmann and R. C. Evans, Aldershot, 2003 (Library PR 1110.W6)
2. Anne Wharton, Penelope to Ulysses, in The Surviving Works of Anne Wharton, ed. G. Greer and S. Hastings, Stump Cross, 1997. (Library PR 3763.W92)
3. Aphra Behn and John Cooper, Oenone to Paris, in John Dryden, Ovid's Epistles Translated by Several Hands, London, 1681.

Week 6. Reading week

No class.

Week 7. Drama 1: Euripides

Euripides’ Greek play Phoenissae was translated into Latin by Rudolf Collin in 1541, from the Latin into Italian by Lodovico Dolce in 1549, and then from Dolce’s Italian into English by George Gascoigne and Francis Kinwelmersh. This English text was acted in London in 1566 and printed in 1572. We’ll study this collaborative version. It can be found in either of Cunliffe’s editions: (PDF Document) Supposes and Jocasta, Boston and London, 1906; or (PDF Document) Early English Classical Tragedies, Oxford, 1912.

Week 8. Drama 2: Seneca the Younger

In this session, we shall study Jasper Heywood’s translation of Seneca the Younger’s play Thyestes (1560). You can read Heywood’s version in the nineteenth-century reprint of the first edition: (PDF Document) Seneca, Tenne Tragedies, 1887; or in De Vocht’s edition: (PDF Document) Heywood, ed. De Vocht, 1913. The brave, the bold, and the purists may prefer to read (or at least gaze at) the earliest printed text: (PDF Document) Seneca, Tragedies, 1581. Finally, two modern editions are available:
Joost Daalder, ed. Thyestes, London, 1982 (with useful notes).

Jessica Winston and James Ker, eds, Elizabethan Seneca: Three Tragedies, London, 2012 (copies in the Library).

Week 9. Lucan

This class will study the first book of Lucan’s epic poem on the Roman Civil War in three verse translations:
1. Christopher Marlowe (by 1593): (PDF Document) Marlowe's Poems, 1902

3. Nicholas Rowe (1718): (PDF Document) Rowe's version, 1722

Week 10. Plutarch

We shall study extracts from Plutarch's biographies of Marcus Brutus, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, in the influential translation of Thomas North (1579). We’ll see that a life of Cleopatra, never written by Plutarch, can be constructed in outline from these sources. Extracts from North's version will be compared with passages in Shakespeare’s plays. North's translation of all three lives can be found here: (PDF Document) North's Plutarch, ed. Carr, 1906


Further Reading

The following is a list of suggested, not required, reading. If you have difficulty finding these, I may have one of my own which you can borrow.

Paul Botley, Renaissance Latin Translations: Leonardo Bruni, Giannozzo Manetti and Desiderius Erasmus. Cambridge, 2004.

Roger Ellis, ed. The Medieval Translator: The Theory and Practice of Translation in the Middle Ages, Cambridge, 1989.

Stuart Gillespie, English Translation and Classical Reception: Towards a New Literary History, Oxford, 2011.

Thomas M. Greene, The Light in Troy: Imitation and Discovery in Renaissance Poetry, New Haven, 1982.

James Hankins, ‘Translation Practice in the Renaissance: The Case of Leonardo Bruni’, in Études classiques, fasc. IV. Rencontres scientifiques de Luxembourg 1992. 3. Actes du colloque «Methodologie de la traduction: de l’antiquité à la Renaissance», ed. C. M. Ternes and M. Mund-Dopchie, Luxembourg, 1994, pp. 154-75.

Louis Kelly, The True Interpreter: A History of Translation Theory and Practice in the West, Oxford, 1979.

T. Krontiris, Oppositional Voices: Women as Writers and Translators of Literature in the English Renaissance, London, 1992.

F. O. Matthiessen, Translation: An Elizabethan Art, Cambridge, MA, 1931. Available to read online here:;view=1up;seq=4

Glyn P. Norton, ‘Humanist Foundations of Translation Theory (1400-1450): A Study in the Dynamics of Word.’ Canadian Review of Comparative Literature, 8, no. 2, 1981, pp. 173-203. Available to download here:

Glyn P. Norton, The Ideology and Language of Translation in Renaissance France and their Humanist Antecedents, Geneva, 1984.

F. M. Rener, Interpretatio: Language and Translation from Cicero to Tytler, Amsterdam, 1989. Limited access available here:

Neil Rhodes, ed., with Gordon Kendal and Louise Wilson, English Renaissance Translation Theory, London, 2013.

Werner Schwarz, Principles and Problems of Biblical Translation, Cambridge, 1955.

G. Gregory Smith (ed.), Elizabethan Critical Essays, (2 vols; Oxford, 1904). Of special interest are the extracts from Thomas Campion's Observations in the Art of English Poesie and Samuel Daniel's A Defence of Ryme, vol. 2, pp. 327-55 and 356-84 respectively.

D. Uman, Women as Translators in Early Modern England, Maryland, 2012.

William H. Woodward, Vittorino da Feltre and Other Humanist Educators, Cambridge, 1897. Reprinted Cambridge, 1905, 1912, 1921; New York, 1970; Toronto, 1996. English translations of four short fifteenth-century treatises on education. Available from to download from:

The Oxford History of Literary Translation in English, vol. 1: to 1550, ed. Roger Ellis, Oxford, 2008; vol. 2: 1550-1660, ed. G. Braden, R. Cummings and S. Gillespie, Oxford, 2010.

Philemon Holand

The tomb of the prolific translator Philemon Holland (1552-1637) in Coventry, Holy Trinity church.

Seneca, trans. Lodge

Seneca's works, tr. Thomas, Lodge, 1622

Ovid, Metamorphoses, 1674, book 14

Ovid, Metamorphoses, 1674, book 14

Plutarch, tr. North, 1676

Plutarch, tr. Thomas North, 1676

Seneca's Tragedies, 1662

All images on this page (c) P. Botley 2019