chapter  6
18 Pages

A Critical Reading and Commentary on the Translations

Niccolò Machiavelli himself discussed the possibility of inter-linguistic borrowings in his Dialogo sulla lingua, in which he focused on the necessity of finding the appropriate vocabulary for the doctrine one wished to discuss:

Though here Machiavelli was mainly interested in a definition of the Florentine language, his observations can be applied to the problems faced by his early English and Scottish translators, who in approaching the Principe were redefining the political vocabulary of the English language and contributing to an influence that can be measured in linguistic as well as in doctrinal terms.2 As noted in Chapter 1, Machiavelli’s political works, and the Principe in particular, were defended by its early editors and translators by taking into account the excellence of their language and their literary merits. Thus Bernardo di Giunta defended the purity of the language

in the Principe, a purity that could only be maintained by leaving it in the hands of Florentine publishers;3 John Florio, working on the 1611 edition of his Italian dictionary, included Machiavelli among the most representative Italian writers;4 and among the early translators, Sylvester Telius, prefaced his Latin version with a dedicatory letter to Abraham Sbaski, also justifiing the controversial contents with the excellence of the style,5 while Guillaume Cappel noted Machiavelli’s ‘stile propre a la matiere’.6 On the other hand, William Fowler’s drafted dedication of his translation of the Principe appears to betray a preoccupation with linguistic matters, as can be noted when he refers to the dedicatee: ‘being mair perfyte and propter in the italien tonge then I be sal make my self graced by your correctioun’.7 It may be argued that this is the usual flattering language of early modern dedications. But Fowler’s preoccupation with the outcome of his work mirrors what he writes in the dedication to his translation of Petrarch’s Trionfi, quoted in Chapter 4 of the present work, in which he highlights the Italian poet’s ‘morall sentences, godlye sayings, brawe discoursis, propper and pithie arguments’, and deplores the disappointing French and English translations at his disposal. The main aim of translation is the availability of the text: he translates the Trionfi ‘to mak thame sum what more populare then they ar in thair Italian original’; the mark of the good translator is fidelity and elegance, and the previous translators’ chief fault is their ‘barbar grosnes’.8