How “Romans is an eternal translation”?

To this question, the professor will answer very wisely: they spoke Latin, but it was not their language, rather, it was a ceremonial language imposed on the citizens of the empire. Yes, but then, in this case, the stubborn learner is not wrong, it is not really a language. “We can never wonder that the language of the Romans was Latin, a language whose name indicates that it was not theirs.”

These are the words Florence Dupont, is the title of the impressive and inspiring collection he published last year with Armand Colin, a prominent expert in the history of Roman literature. And he adds: “There is nothing necessary in ‘Latin letters,’ and there is nothing original in the Latin language.”

Perhaps this is the secret of a lively, undisciplined attitude to knowledge: the art of asking childish questions about one’s own erudition, however great. “Let’s Go Latin” said the mistress enthusiastically – it’s true, you have to give yourself a little courage, but believe me: the journey with such a guide is breathtaking. We are losing our Latin in “History”. Since the subtitle of our guest’s book is De Romulus à Ovide. Culture of translation, we will invite the translator Marie Cosnay, who prepares stories, joined by the member of the day, Pauline Ismard, for the second half of the program.

Florence Dupond is the author of numerous books, a translator from Greek and Latin, notably the playwrights Seneca in 2012, Plautus in 2019, and this focus on theatrical performance is crucial in her approach. For him, the ancient text was created to be read, not to be read, and our modern translator himself must play with these meanings, because Latin does not in any way determine a single and indivisible reference. A sense of play, free interpretation in his work as a linguistic historian, as he can do in the context of translating Seneca’s tragedies, is basically what the “Latins” did only 2,000 years ago. , because translation serves to transform the target language and does not provide access to a text whose meaning may have been lost or which is not entirely the same as the language originally used when the event itself was experienced and then transcribed.

Rome was an eternal translation

In this book we rediscover many things that we more or less think we know and take for granted, but Latin is not meant to be a language, and in fact it is a language. a group is more heterogeneous and diverse than it claims to be. It describes the culture of translation from Romulus to Ovid. A way to think about what translation is in general. He says, “Roman was an eternal translation from Greek, so it should be noted that the language, the Latin grammar, did not even exist, but it arose from an artificial structure, a cultural interaction that allowed Rome to distance itself from it. the greeks“.

Literature without Greek, no Latin

The researcher believes that it is necessary to speak above all Latin letters as the Latin translation of Greek letters: “As we know, literature is an institution, a concept that belongs to the late 18th and 19th centuries. There used to be what was called “Les belles lettres” and long before that, in Roman times, there was talk of “Latin Literature” rather than “Literature” as an entity. The formula was modeled on “Greek letters” because everything we know as Latin literature was the result of a voluntary transfer from the second century BC of everything that made up the cultural corpus (now traditional since the fourth century BC). ) of the Greeks and of all those who voluntarily adhere to Greek culture”.

The Romans wanted to establish themselves as the Greeks without others through the Latin language

We must go back to the foundation of Rome, the foundation of a city called the Greek city, where Greek remained the language of culture, the language of pleasure. Only, here it is, the Romans wanted to show themselves as Greeks, but not as others. They wanted to create their own Latin literature alongside the Greek letters, not to replace them, but to have their language coexist with them. To ensure that Latin is “the other of Greek”: “What no other kingdom or people had done at the same time in the Mediterranean. This is the creation of what the Romans called “another Greek”, possibly including the elite class, who could enter the world of leisure. What really happened to Augustus’ voluntary policy of asking people like Virgil or Horace to translate Greek poetry into Latin?. Moreover, the term “Greek” has nothing to do with the Greek language. It is not clear where it came from, but it was used by the Romans to identify a common entity needed to differentiate and identify themselves against themselves.

Rome invents the Greekness of Greece to define itself as “Latins”.

Florence DuPont invites us to deconstruct the alleged concept of “original Latin” because he believes that it is actually the entire bilingualism of the Greco-Roman Empire, expressed in one language and another. . The two languages ​​are related. By defining herself as Latin, Rome, the mistress of the world, immediately appropriated the Greek world, from which she came to belong to something foreign, a culture far more foreign and heterogeneous than is claimed today: “Like the double movement of the incorporated and the excluded, Rome affirms that the way not to be Greek is to be Latin, but always on the Greek model. Rome was an eternal translation“.

► To listen to the rest…


  • Florence Dupont,

    A History of Roman Literature. From Romulus to Ovid, a culture of translation, Paris, Armand Colin, 2022.

  • Florence Dupont,

    Rome, the city without originsParis, Gallimard, “The Walker”, 2011.

  • Florence Dupont, The Invention of Literature: From Greek Literature to the Latin Book, Paris, La Découverte, 1994.
  • Ovid, Metamorphosestranslated by Marie Cosnay, Paris, Ogre publications, 2017.

  • Marie Kosnay,

    islands. pheasant islands, 2020-2022, Paris, Ogre publications, 2023.

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