Bilingual Europe: Latin and Vernacular Cultures—Examples of Bilingualism and Multilingualism c.1300–1800, edited by Jan Bloemendal

in Journal of Jesuit Studies

Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2015. Pp. 252. Hb, $149.

In the German-speaking academic world in particular, it is common for various disciplines to treat early modern works according to their respective languages. Thus, a specialist in Romance Studies would study Petrarch’s Italian Canzoniere, while a Latinist would look at his Latin epic poem Africa. This can obscure the fact that the early modern period was a bilingual (if not multilingual) world, where authors could write in different languages whenever they deemed it necessary or appropriate. Bloemendal’s collection of essays focuses on eleven case studies of European bilingualism from the late Middle Ages to the nineteenth century with a clear focus on the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The contributors—all of them distinguished scholars—consider a variety of genres and topics, from poetry to philology, but a core theme (the topic of four articles) is bilingualism in philosophy. Several vernacular languages are studied in comparison to Latin, with a focus on Italian, Dutch, and German (three papers each). All in all, the volume gives a good overview of the topic as a starting point for further research.

In his general introduction, Jan Bloemendal defines the overall aim of the book: to explore “the crossroads between Europe’s Latin and vernacular cultures” (3). There are many possible fields of research. What “vernacular” languages dominated between 1300 and 1800? How many different forms of Latin existed? Can geographical differences be detected? What topics and what literary genres required which language? Numerous answers to these questions are offered in the articles that follow.

In his paper, Arie Schippers starts with a description and localization of the Occitan language in Southern France, Spain, and Italy. Comparing an Arabic song by Ibn Baqi to romance texts, he is able to show how Arabic, Occitan, and Hebrew poetry interacted in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, especially in the Iberian Peninsula. In addition to these ideas, the article concludes with some general observations on the different functions of Latin and the vernacular languages in Italy and Spain.

In his contribution, Ari H. Wesseling asks whether Erasmus’s mother tongue (or any other vernacular language, such as German) played a role in his writings. He tries to find an answer by studying the vernacular proverbs included in Erasmus’s works. The paper gives an annotated list of all nine Dutch proverbs included in the colloquies. Methodologically interesting, Wesseling discusses the different meanings of the term vulgo dicitur, which can indicate a proverb in the vernacular, but equally just common usage (in Latin).

Arjan van Dixhoorn shows how knowledge of Latin (especially scholarly jargon) and French was important for the innovative literary production of the Dutch “chambers of rhetoric” at the end of the fifteenth century. As a case study, he picks out Jan van den Dale’s poem Uure van den doot, produced for the festivities of the meeting of the Order of the Golden Fleece in Brussels in 1516. This poem not only transforms a French model into a Dutch poem, but also brings visual and performative elements into a written text.

Demmy Verbeke studies the corpus of English translations of Terence written between 1473 and 1640 (an annotated catalogue of the eight editions is provided in an appendix). Most were printed in bilingual editions, with the source text side-by-side with the translation. Studying the paratexts of these books, Verbeke analyzes the (mostly didactic) functions of these texts, and—especially in the case of Joseph Webbe's bilingual textbook (The First Two Comedies of Terence [London 1627])—their innovative character.

Eva Del Soldato starts her paper by claiming that in the sixteenth century, philosophy, especially Aristotelian philosophy, was a subject treated primarily in Latin. One famous exception is Simone Porzio, the most prominent Italian philosopher of his time, who became a member of the Accademia degli Umidi when he was a professor at the University of Pisa between 1545 and 1552. In the academy he met the Florentine Giovambattista Gelli, who agreed to translate some of Porzio’s works into the vernacular.

Ingrid D. Rowland analyzes why, during his stay in Pisa, Galileo Galilei wrote several works in the vernacular (and how he was criticized for this choice by Kepler). She then turns to Giordano Bruno, who wrote in “volgare” when he was a professor at Oxford; later, in Paris, he wrote in Latin and translated Italian texts into Latin in order to make them more popular.

In his German article, Guillaume van Gemert studies how the difference between German and Latin was dealt with in several German treatises on poetry in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As early as the sixteenth century, German authors had written about the problem of Latin’s predominance, but it was Martin Opitz in the early seventeenth century, and after him Georg Philipp Harsdörfer and Daniel Georg Morhof, who found arguments for German’s advantage over Latin.

H. Floris Cohen focuses on speculative natural philosophy, mathematics, and empirical research. He is able to show how in these three different areas of science the division between Latin and the vernaculars changed in the period before the scientific revolution around 1600, in the first generation after the revolution (1600–50) and after 1650: Latin was always strong in natural philosophy and mathematics, but more and more works were written in the vernaculars when it came to new discoveries.

Wiep van Bunge's article starts with a claim popular in nineteenth-century histories of philosophy: that post-medieval philosophy was no longer in Latin and was promoted by men from outside university. Six observations, based on the fruits of work in Renaissance studies over the last decades, are made to qualify this thesis; using the case study of Dutch, van Bunge is able to show that fewer and fewer philosophical works were written in Latin from the fifteenth century onwards, and that only in the nineteenth century did philosophy return to the universities.

Françoise Waquet studies the realities of the Latin(s) used in European universities during the eighteenth century: the bilingual classes (official and private), the quality of the Latin used, the critiques launched against Latin, and the reservations over the vernacular languages in academic circles.

In his paper, Joep Leerssen distinguishes the century between 1750 and 1850 as a Sattelzeit (literally saddle period, a transitional period). The rise of the vernacular philologies is often documented in Latin texts. A famous example is Jacob Grimm's inaugural lecture as professor of German philology at the University of Göttingen in 1830: in perfect Ciceronian Latin he pleads for the use of German in many fields hitherto dominated by Latin.

All in all, the papers collected in this volume offer a fine, broad overview on questions concerning bilingualism and the state of the field. The authors make many good points, but the reader hoping for a comprehensive study on the bilingual character of European culture between 1300 and 1800 may have to wait for a dedicated monograph. If the readers of this journal who are especially interested in Jesuit studies have to deal with comparable texts of poets, philosophers or scientists, this volume provides them with a lot of well prepared comparative examples where they can chime in.

DOI 10.1163/22141332-00301005-07


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