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Towards a new 21st Century English translation of Francesco Petrarca’s Africa (ZOOM seminar)

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Wednesday, May 6, 2020, 11:00 am – 1:00 pm

My new English translation of Francesco Petrarca’s Latin-language epic, Africa, aims to improve access to one of Renaissance Humanism's greatest literary works in Latin for a wider English-reading audience. While he is known today as one of Italian literature’s “tre corone” (with Dante Alighieri and Giovanni Boccaccio) of the Trecento and celebrated for his vernacular Italian Canzonieri, his contemporary literary reputation was built on the foundations of Africa, though it was never completed. Indeed, he was given a Laureation — a formal ceremony of award and the conferral of “rights to teach and laureate” — in Rome in 1341 for the work, though he had only composed a third of its current length. At current, Africa has one complete, though out-of-print English translation: Bergin and Wilson (1977).

This talk will highlight the challenges of translating this Renaissance masterpiece into 21st century English, accessible to all readers. I will discuss the difficulty of Petrarca’s intertextual style and the difficulty of rendering beautiful Latin hexameters into English 11 and 12 syllable blank verse. I will discuss the importance of judicious notes unpacking the wealth of material in the poetry for a reader.  Lastly, I will present the audience with an example of my own translation alongside previous ones to show how I can improve the readability of the work in English.