A strange French translation of the Batrachomyomachia, the Iliadic mock-heroic poem recounting a battle between the honorable mice and odious frogs, and the crabs that are sent in by Zeus to destroy them all. Once attributed to Homer, the poem was widely taught in the Byzantine period as a Greek primer, and later became a favorite among humanists as a kind of dessert following the main course of the Iliad. The Batrachomyomachia was first translated into Latin about 1430 by Carlo Marsuppini. Vernacular translations began to appear in the early 16th century, and the first French-language edition, La Bataille fantastique des roys Rodilardus et Croacus—a translation sometimes erroneously attributed to Rabelais—appearaed at Lyon in 1534. This was in fact an anonymous translation of Elisio Calenzio's 1503 whimiscal Latin interpretation of the poem, which he composed for a youthful audience when he was only 18. In 1540, Antoine Macault, the Poitiers humanist and valet de chambre to François I, published a French translation, in Alexendrine couplets, titled La Grand Combat des Ratz et des Grenouilles, directly from an unknown Greek edition. François, toward the end of his reign, would call upon Macault to read his translations of Greek writers aloud; we imagine the French court was delighted by his Batrachomyomachie. A little-known French translation by Guillaume Royhier, La Batrachomyomachie d'Homère, où est racontée et descrite la bataille des grenouilles et souris, appeared in 1554, published at Lyon by J. Temporal. This edition is known in a single copy, at BnF, and is described on the title as traduite nouvellement de grec en vers françois. It has not been studied. Our odd translation, published in 1580 by Robert Estienne's successor, Martin le Jeune, presents several compelling mysteries. In nineteenth-century catalogues the book is described as an edition of the Macault translation (and in fact a penciled note on an endpaper of our copy attributes it to Macault), but it is certainly not—ours is composed in decasyllabics, and bears absolutely no relation to Macault's work. We suspect that ours may have been translated from Ludovico Dolce's 1573 Italian translation of Marsuppini, in which case it would be a fourth generation: Greek to Latin to Italian to French. This is a bit like looking at the other side of a tapestry through a frost-crazed window. But the translation has its charm—a sing-song quality to the verse, occasional surprising locutions, and an original concluding encomiastic sonnet. An intriguing work, demanding dissection and examination by students of Renaissance transmission of vernacular translations of the Homeric corpus. No copies in American libraries. (Three located abroad: BnF; B. Sainte-Geneviève; SU Augsburg.)
Full title: LA BATAILLE | DES RATS ET DES | Grenovilles fai- | te à l'imitation de la Ba- | trachomyomachie | d'Homere. || [Woodcut device of le Jeune] || A PARIS, || Chez Martin le Ieune, rue Sainct Iean de La- | tran, à l'enſeigne du Serpent. | [Rule] | 1580.
Paris: Martin le Jeune, 1580.
Octavo in fours, 165 x 105 x 6 mm (binding), 163 x 104 x 4 mm (text block); A-C4 = ff. Mid-nineteenth century maroon morocco janseniste signed by Chambolle-Duru. Olive morocco doublures gilt, marbled ends, tricolor silk bookmarker, AEG, titled in gilt on spine in second and third compartments: LA | BATAILLE | DES | RATS || PARIS | 1580. Slight wear to extremites. Interior: Small blemish to title, otherwise very good.
The Bordes-Benzon-Fontaine-Lignerolles-Moura copy. Bordes 1872, no. 243, with gilt leather bookplate to recto of first marbled end; Benzon 1875, no. 230; Fontaine 1877, no. 356; Lignerolles 1894, no. 756; Moura 1923, no. 162, with his vellum bookplate and morocco overlay reading Les Eclusettes, the Alouette villa near Gironde where Moura's library was located. A few modern booksellers' notations to free ends. Acquired by W. S. Cotter Rare Books from Amélie Sourget, Paris, December 2021.
Pettegree 30057; USTC 62941; Brooks, Richard A. (Ed.) A Critical Bibliography of French Literature Vol II (Rev.) Syracuse UP: 1985, p. 139; Bucchi, Gabriele "In tenui labor. Homère comique: réception et traduction de la Batrachomyomachie au XVIe siècle," Homère en Europe à la Renaissance in Corpus Eve, 2013, retrieved at https://doi.org/10.4000/eve.1258. Not in Bechtel, Fairfax Murray, or Brunet. Not noticed by Goujet.
Status: On Hold