Dynamics of Neo-Latin and the Vernacular

Den Haan, Annet

Translation into the sermo maternus: the view of Giannozzo Manetti (1396-1459)

In the middle of the fifteenth century, the Florentine humanist Giannozzo Manetti (1396-1459) produced new Latin translations of the Psalter, the New Testament, and Aristotle’s Ethics. The dedication copy of the Psalter includes Apologeticus, a treatise in which Manetti expounds his views on the authority of Scripture, textual criticism, and translation. The fifth book of this work, also known as De recta interpretatione, is modelled after Jerome’s De optimo genere interpretandi (Epistle 57, written in 395-396) and Leonardo Bruni’s De interpretatione recta (1420). In it, Manetti defines a proper translation (interpretatio recta) as ‘quedam et commoda de quacunque celebrata ac preceptis et regulis instituta lingua in aliam pariter vel pene similem (…) conversio’. A translation into the vernacular, Manetti continues, could never be called a ‘proper translation’, even if every other requirement would be met, because it would lack ‘dignity’ (dignitas).

The question of whether translation into the vernacular is commendable (or even possible) is not addressed in the writings of Jerome or Bruni. This is not surprising in Jerome’s case, but Bruni authored several works in the vernacular, and commented on the difference between Latin and the volgare in ancient times and in his own day.4 However, Bruni did not concern himself with translation into the vernacular. The aim of my paper is to give an interpretation of Manetti’s remarks on the vernacular in Apologeticus V 21-22, focusing especially on the difference between a ‘regulated language’ (preceptis et regulis instituta lingua) on the one hand, and a vernacular (‘mother tongue,’ maternus sermo) on the other. I will do this by comparing Manetti’s views on language with those of Leonardo Bruni, his contemporary and example.