Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Genius to Improve an Invention: Literary Transitions

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Genius to Improve an Invention: Literary Transitions

Article excerpt

Piero Boitant, The Genius to Improve an Invention: Literary Transitions (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2002). xiv + 151 pp. ISBN 0-268-02950-4. $35.00 (hard covers); $18.00 (p/b).

Picro Boitani borrows his titular phrase from Dryden's hardly flattering remark in the preface to the Fables that the English have not the gift of invention, but instead 'the genius to improve' the work of others, to 'perfect' it. Certainly as he describes the course of its making in his own prefatory remarks, Boitani's book is aptly titled: originally written in English, the five chapter-length essays, ranging over works by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Voltaire, Goethe, Eliot, Sartre, Guinixzelli, Dante, and Keats, were then translated into Italian for its first appearance in 1998 (as Il genio di migliorare un'inventorie: transition! leiterarie (Bologna)). In the process of working over the translator's pages, Boitani gave in to the temptation (one apparently shared by some Italians) to 'improve' his own text for its Italian incarnation; the present volume therefore represents the Original' English version, with the Italian improvements translated back into English, and the whole then 'improved' still further - in English - as inspiration and leisure allowed. Little wonder, perhaps, that Boitani should conclude: 'In sum, I do not quite know in what language I am writing, but I trust the ingenuity of American readers enough to hope that they will understand it.'

And British readers too, it may be surmised - as well as all others who read well and deeply in either English or Italian. Boitani's slim book more than lives up to its unique production history in the extraordinary range of its subjects and insights. It is the kind of book that great men of letters once wrote, in clays when 'letters' meant the pillars of the western tradition, unshaken as yet by questions of canonicity or the street wars of literary theory. …

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