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Translated from the Latin with Introductions by Leslie George Whitbread
Throughout the Middle Ages and well into the Renaissance, the writings of Fulgentius the mythographer, who lived in the late fifth or early sixth century, were extremely popular, much admired, and widely imitated. His influence on poetry, art, preaching, education, and the modes that were employed to adapt classical myth and literature to the requirements of more-or-less Christian patterns of thought was unquestionably profound.
Translations of the five Latin works ascribed to him have long been needed, simply to make a significant influence available to modern historians of medieval and Renaissance art, literature, and intellectual life. But the language of Fulgentius is appallingly difficult. Composed in the decadent Latin of his time, his writing is full of intricate rhetorical excesses of a particular extravagance and complexity that could only discourage the prospective translator, and that have caused some to describe his work as simply untranslatable.
The substance, too, of Fulgentius’s five treatises—on the content of Virgil according to moral philosophy, on classical mythology, on the Thebaid, on obsolete words, and on the ages of man and the world—has been found wanting. Charges have been made that both his purposes and his methods are confused and of dubious merit, and that the learning displayed in the convoluted syntax of his pompous and extravagant prose is merely secondhand when it is not just highly suspect.
It is an indisputable fact, however, that whenever such broad literary themes are under study as the development of allegory, the survival of classical mythology, medieval interpretations of Virgil, and the history of literary criticism, Fulgentius must be consulted and will be found instructive. For all his maddening imperfection, he has clear title to a secure place in literary and intellectual history—and not only for the central theses that inform his writing, but also for those peripheral concepts and commonplaces that he scatters about them.
Leslie George Whitbread has made a major contribution to scholarship in making these important pieces available for the first time in English, in translations that do full justice to the original texts but suffer none of their rhetorical shortcomings.
Leslie George Whitbread is professor of English at Louisiana State University.
|1971 258 pp.||This title is no longer available in a traditional print edition. Click here for free access to the book's full text.|