Transforming Ovid’s Metamorphoses
: Vernacular Translation and Print Culture in Renaissance Italy

  • Marta Balzi

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This thesis studies the transformations of Ovid’s Metamorphoses in the late Italian Renaissance. The objects of investigation are three translations of this poem printed in Italy in the second half of the sixteenth century: the Trasformationi by Lodovico Dolce, printed in 1553 in Venice by Gabriele Giolito dei Ferrari; the Metamorfosi by Giovanni Andrea dell’Anguillara, printed in 1561 in Venice by Giovanni Griffio; and the Metamorfosi by Fabio Marretti, printed in 1570 in Venice by Bolognino Zaltieri and the Guerra brothers. The sixteenth-century editions of these three translations share numerous features (such as metre, layout, narrative strategies) and the three translators often made reference to each other in the paratext of their works. The links between these three translations – which had also been noted by near-contemporaries – make a strong case for studying them as a defined chapter in the history of Ovid’s reception in the Renaissance.
This thesis combines book-historical approaches with translation history, an interdisciplinary methodological framework that is situated within Translation Studies. Building on scholarly contributions that stand at the conjunction between Translation Studies and Book History, this thesis explores the presentation of the three translations of the Metamorphoses as printed books. Through an analysis of paratexts such as letters to the reader, laudatory sonnets, commentaries and portraits, this study examines the interaction between translators and book agents. What was the cultural formation of the translators and how did their co-operation with printers, editors and typesetters influence their practice of translation? What strategies were undertaken by translators and their collaborators to position themselves and their work? While exploring the ways in which translators and other agents harnessed the transformative ability of the Metamorphoses to foreground their agenda, this thesis also contributes to our understanding of what it meant to translate in the Italian Renaissance. Who were the major authorities engaging in translation in sixteenth-century Italy and how did Dolce, Anguillara and Marretti relate to them? How did the practice of translation evolve in the sixteenth century and why? What was the influence of translation practices used for Ovid’s Metamorphoses on other works being published in sixteenth-century Italy?
By placing the three translations of Ovid’s poem at the conjunction between translatorial and print activities, this thesis offers new insights into the strategies through which early modern translators laid claim to the authority of the classics. The omission of the name of the author on the title page, the disposition of the translator portrait on top of the title border and the composition of a commentary that foregrounds the translator are some of the ways in which translators and their allies presented the translations as works that could stand on the same footing with their classical sources. The power relationship between modern and classics conveyed by these translations contributed to heighten the prestige and international standing of vernacular culture. For this reason, this thesis addresses the three translations of Dolce, Anguillara and Marretti not just as a brief chapter in the story of Ovid’s reception, but also as a self-standing family of vernacular texts that has had a substantial influence on the history of Italian literature.

Date of Award23 Jun 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorHugo Tucker (Supervisor) & Rhiannon J Daniels (Supervisor)

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