Vives, Juan Luis, De Europae Dissidiis et Republica, by Edward V. George & Gilbert Tournoy (eds. and trans.)

In: Erasmus Studies
Keith Howard Florida State University USA Tallahassee, FL

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Edward V. George & Gilbert Tournoy (eds. and trans.), Vives, Juan Luis, De Europae Dissidiis et Republica (Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2019). xvi + 276 pp. ISBN 978-90-04-39577-0.

Toward the end of 1526, following the defeat of the Hungarians by the Turks at the battle of Mohács, Juan Luis Vives gathered together five of his letters written between 1522 and 1525, his De Europae dissidiis et bello Turcico, and his Latin translations of two of Isocrates’ speeches. In their concise but informative Introduction (1–12), George and Tournoy contextualize the original publication of this work and explain their editorial rationale, pointing out that theirs is the first English translation of all parts of this collection together as a whole. They demonstrate that Vives translated a Greek 1513 edition of Isocrates’ orations, printed by Aldus in Venice, of which they provide a facsimile at the end of their volume. Their critical Latin edition is presented face-to-face with their English translation. Each individual text is preceded by a short introduction and summary, allowing easy location of key passages that readers might wish to consult. The critical apparati, located at the bottom of each page, consist of variants for the Latin text, which is based primarily on the 1538 edition printed in Basel by Robertus Winter toward the end of Vives’ life, and very useful historical and linguistic footnotes for the English translation. The volume closes with an Index Locorum and an Index Nominum.

The editors point out that the order of the texts is not chronological, but rather rhetorical: the letters to powerful European leaders—Pope Adrian VI, Henry VIII of England, Cardinal Wolsey, Chancellor of England, and John Longland, Bishop of Lincoln—urging peace and offering general advice on good government, together with the two speeches of Isocrates, bookend the underworld satire, which, having been written last chronologically, following the battle of Mohács, appears in the center of the collection. Having read the English translations of the entire volume from beginning to end, I can confirm that the collection does indeed create an arc that is very easy and enjoyable to follow: the letters to Pope Adrian VI and Henry VIII that the readers first encounter strike an optimistic tone that underscores the utility and possible application to real-life situations for Vives’ advice, aimed to reconcile the civil strife among Christian princes that preoccupied him at the time, and to usher in a new age of peace in Europe; in stark contrast, the closing letter to Longland is decidedly pessimistic, suggesting that all his advice, all his admonishments—indeed, all the “letters” and “humane learning” (245) in Europe—are in the end powerless to interrupt the constant, pointless and not only un-Christian but diabolical squabbling among its nations, including both the powerful and their subjects: “And all the while, we honor the God of peace with our lips when our hearts are poisoned by hostile, bloody hate for each other” (249).

Interestingly, Vives’ epistolary admonitions for peace and critique of war, like those of Erasmus, especially among Christian princes, are presented in dialogue with the satire, itself an ambiguous dialogue that presents arguments for both peace and war, but which culminates in a harangue by Scipio urging Christians to unite and wage war on the Turks. As it turns out, while peace is desirable among Christians, war against the infidel is permissible, even necessary, in order to stave off the encroachments into Europe of an opportunistic foreigner who knows how to take advantage of its leaders’ disarray. Similarly, as the editors point out in their Introduction (8–9), the two Isocratean orations approach politics from two different angles, even while they fit with Vives’ monarchical ideology and patronage. The Areopagiticus argues for a restoration of the Council of the Areopagus, in order to preserve democracy in Athens, similar to how Vives recommends a general council for the affairs of European Christendom. The Nicocles, in contrast, is presented as a compendium of political advice written from the perspective of a foreign king, justifying and legitimizing his own rule, while requiring obedience from his subjects and dependents for their own good. As such, this collection, taken as a whole, will be of interest to all Renaissance scholars, as it can be considered an excellent example of the humanist tradition of presenting ideas in utramque partem, offering to its readers the opportunity to exercise their own prudence in deciding which point of view and which course of action is best.

From an editorial perspective, this volume has been meticulously prepared. Throughout the entire English translation, I found only four errors, three of which are easily resolved by the readers: “the this” (sic 61); “that that” (sic 79); and “if were” (sic) instead of “if it were” (149). Nevertheless, I will point out one error that readers will not notice unless they consult the corresponding Latin text. My eye was caught by “kinship” (sic 145), and I happened to be curious about what the original Latin would be for that quite modern anthropological concept; it took me a minute to realize that it must be a typo for “kingship” from the original “regni,” the genitive of regnum. Nevertheless, despite these small and very infrequent mistakes, this English rendering makes for a thoroughly enjoyable reading, and teaches us a lot not only about Vives, but also about how to translate from Latin into English, maintaining the sense of the original without sacrificing style and readability. In short, this excellent edition and translation will be of interest to a wide range of scholars of early modern studies and I whole-heartedly recommend it.

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