Alciato's Book of Emblems
Project Description

We discuss the project under the following headings:

1 Aims
2 Text, Images, Translation, and Commentary
3 Workers
4 Something about Endlessness

1 Aims

Andrea Alciato's curious and learned Emblematum liber or Book of Emblems was first published in 1531 and was soon known directly, or indirectly through many imitations, by all educated readers of the Renaissance. Despite its popularity, there has never been an annotated translation of the text into English, the kind of thing that might be of use to scholars in literature and the fine arts who would like some help with the Latin and - more important - with the classical allusions so wittily buried in the text. In this Web edition, we aim to provide a text, translation, images, and simple commentary for this important work. We also intend to provide links which will enhance its inter- and intratextuality.

2 Text, Images, Translation, and Commentary

For the text we began with the 1621 variorum edition, but have checked it against the "first" editions of 1531, 1534, and 1546. We have also compared the text against the Reliqua opera of 1548 (Glasgow copy); the Reliqua opera and the 1549 Basel Opera omnia were the last editions of the emblems to be supervised by Alciato himself. We have also read our text against the Mignault edition of 1577 (Glasgow copy). (To get some sense of what we've done, you might want to look at our list of editions.) We cannot guarantee anything definitive here, but we do feel that we have a satisfactory working text.

Images come, for the time being, from the 1621 edition (copy owned by William Barker). We have removed the borders - the borders are factotums and not part of the original design. Their removal provides greater clarity for this new Web format. We also provide images from the editions of 1531, 1534, and 1546 (using copies from Green's facsimile).

For the translation we have been helped enormously by the first English translation made by Virginia Woods Callahan and Paola Valeri-Tomaszuk in Daly et al, Index Emblematicus (1985) and by the word-notes of William S. Heckscher in his Princeton Alciati Companion (1989). Another English translation with commentary has been prepared by Betty I. Knott for Scolar Press (1996). We have not yet been able compare our translation in detail with her lucid versions. In our edition we have tried to give fairly literal translations to retain the opacity of the text.

The commentary may prove more difficult. Using the 16th and 17th century annotation by Mignault and others, we shall attempt to give a simple working explanation to the moral (and, often, intertextual) riddle asked in each of the 212 emblems. We hope to be able to turn to the work of Claudie Balavoine, whose edition of Alciato is eagerly awaited by emblem scholars.

In the commentary, we wish to show the relations between Alciato and a number of other texts (sources, translations, and so on). We have already mounted very brief preliminary files on the Greek Anthology and we have set up all ofGeffrey Whitney's Choice of Emblemes. We plan to add files on a series of additional sources such as Renaissance hieroglyphics, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, Erasmus' Adages, the fable tradition, etc.

3 The Workers

The project was thought up by William Barker (inspired by the work of Peter Daly at McGill and David Graham at Memorial). Translations are by Bill and by Jean Guthrie (also of the Memorial University Department of English). Jean has also checked some of the texts in Glasgow and is now working on the commentaries of Mignault. The planning and execution of html has been shared by Mark Feltham, formerly an undergraduate here and now working on his PhD in English at Western, and Bill. The actual encoding has been the work shared by Bill, Mark, Gregory Dyke and Yvonne Hann, the last two graduate students at Memorial in Humanities and English, respectively. Later participants have included Philip Wheeler, Nancy Earle, Anna Chiaramonte.

4 Atelês

There are a few things that we are learning as we prepare Alciato for Web publication.

The Book of Emblems passed through different editions over many years. The potential complexities in representing its metamorphosis are enormous, and perhaps of interest only to specialists. We are already having to limit ourselves in the amount of material that is suitable for display in the Web format.

Even so, despite our self-imposed limitations in this Web edition, the movement and complexity of the text is exacerbated by almost continuous daily revision. This is a text in motion.

By this work of revision and linking, we can see that the Web edition loses sight of its origins in an older text (or series of texts). It is interesting to ponder on the potential distortions of the old text as it is shoved rather ungracefully into this new medium. Our colleague David Graham has some thoughts on this subject.

The Janus-head that we use as our device (from Emblem 18) is our acknowledgment of this text's provisional situation between the past and future - and of the reader's hesitation between the "back" and "forward" buttons on Netscape! There's another appropriate image too: the ouroboros. This represents something of the endlessness (atelês) of all web-work.

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Last modified 31 August 1999