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Dido´s Anguish in French 16th Century. Hélisenne de Crenne´s Version of the Aeneid: a Critical Text Edition

Funding: VR
Period: 2014–2016
Researchers: Sara Ehrling and Britt-Marie Karlsson

A critical text edition including commentaries on Hélisenne de Crenne’s French sixteenth-century version of Virgil’s Aeneid 1-4.

Women’s intellectual work was often made invisible in early modern times. This is also to some extent true for the authorship which is focused upon in this study and which was published under the name Hélisenne de Crenne. No less than four works were published from 1538 to 1541 under this name, which is believed to be a pseudonym of Marguerite Briet.

In her time, Crenne achieved great success with her first three works. Today they would all have been referred to as bestsellers. Her final work, a prose translation from Latin to French of the first four books of Virgil’s Aeneid, seems to have drawn less attention and over the next few centuries the entire authorship was largely forgotten. Like many other female authorships from long ago, Crenne was rediscovered in the early twentieth century. Modern editions of her first three works have contributed to a dramatically increased interest in her authorship in recent decades.

Her fourth and final work, however – the French prose translation of the first four books of Virgil’s Aeneid – remains to be republished. Despite the fact that Crenne’s fourth work was one of the first French translations ever written, no new editions have ever been published. Consequently, today the text is rather difficult to access. In fact, there are only three known copies of the work, and these are kept at research libraries in Paris, Genève and Berlin. As a result of the inaccessibility of the text, the growing interest of the research community has mainly targeted Crenne’s first three works, and in particular the very first. Studies covering the entire authorship are rare. Thus, the view of the authorship is incomplete, which is regrettable in particular as all four works seem to be intended to be read together.

One likely reason no newer edition of Crenne’s translation of Virgil has been published is that such an endeavour requires extensive expertise in reading and interpreting both early modern French texts and Latin texts from classical and late antiquity. Together, the two researchers behind the project have solid experience working with texts from the language areas and epochs in question, and in particular with Crenne’s works and her version of the Aeneid. Another reason for the lack of newer editions may be the nature of the translation. In a modern context, Crenne’s version of Virgil’s Aeneid is far too free to be accepted as a good translation. However, as with all literary works, the text must be viewed in relation to the era in which it was written.

Like many contemporary authors, Crenne seems to have considered translation work a more free and creative task than is generally accepted today. Previous research has shown that female authors at this time often took on older influential works and ‘made them their own’, so to speak. In this way, the female authors could make room for their own creativity and at the same time gain access to the literary Parnassus.

It is in this context Crenne’s work will be explored. In addition to making a modern critical edition of Crenne’s version of Virgil’s Aeneid, we will write an introductory commentary, a running commentary, an index of proper names and a glossary. We will also continuously relate the text to Crenne’s earlier works, as well as to Virgil and other works in the classical tradition. From a women's history perspective, it is important that women’s intellectual work from days long gone is recognised and made accessible. This applies not least to Crenne’s translation of Virgil, which was presented in an era when women were not expected to be involved in such undertakings.

Page Manager: Annika Andersson|Last update: 3/24/2015
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