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A New and Complete Translation

Essays 87 & 88

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 4 March 1768[87-88.1]

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Similarly, other observations made by Palissot are, if not completely correct, also not wholly incorrect.[87-88.2] He sees the ring he wants to spear with his lance clearly enough, but in the heat of the attack, the lance goes off course and he misses his mark.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Thus, he says of The Natural Son (among other things): “What an unusual title! The natural son! Why is the play called this? What influence does Dorval’s birth have? What event does it prompt? For what situation does it provide an opportunity? What gap does it fill? What can the author’s purpose have been? To reheat a couple of observations over the prejudice against illegitimate birth? What reasonable human being does not already know how unjust such a prejudice is?”[87-88.3]

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 If Diderot were to answer to this: This circumstance was absolutely necessary to the complication of my plot; without it, it would have been far more improbable that Dorval did not know his sister and that his sister did not know she had a brother.[87-88.4] It was within my discretion to take my title from this, and I could have taken my title from an even more trivial circumstance. – If Diderot were to give this answer, I say, would Palissot not be more or less rebutted?

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Having said that, the character of the natural son is open to a completely different criticism, which Palissot could have used to attack the writer far more sharply. Namely this: that the circumstance of illegitimate birth and the consequent abandonment and isolation from society that Dorval experienced for so many years is far too idiosyncratic and particular a circumstance, with far too much influence on the formation of his character, for it to have the general applicability that, according to Diderot’s own theory, a comic character must have. – The opportunity tempts me to a digression on this theory; and how can I resist this type of temptation in a text of this kind?

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 “The comic genre,” says Diderot,[*][87-88.5] “has types, and the tragic one has individuals. I will explain. The hero of a tragedy is such and such a man: he is Regulus, or Brutus, or Cato and no other. The primary character of a comedy, on the other hand, must represent a large number of people. If one were to give him, by chance, such a unique physiognomy that he only resembled a single individual, then comedy would regress back into its infancy. – It seems to me that Terence once made this mistake. His Heautontimorumenos is a father who grieves over the violent resolution to which he drove his son through excessive severity, and who now punishes himself on that account by feeding and clothing himself miserably, avoiding all society, dismissing his servants, and cultivating his fields with his own hands.[87-88.6] It can quite surely be said that there is no such father. The largest city could scarcely provide a single example in a hundred years of such unusual grief.”

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 First, the instance of the Heautontimorumenos. If this character is really to be criticized, then the criticism should fall on Menander rather than Terence. Menander created the character and, to all appearances, gave him a much more extensive role to play in his work than in Terence’s version, where his sphere had to be significantly restricted because of the doubled intrigue.[†][87-88.7] But the fact that it originated in Menander would alone have discouraged me, at least, from damning Terence on its account. To be sure, “ὦ Μένανδρε καὶ βίε, πότερος ἄρ ὑμῶν πότερον ἐμιμήσατο” is more frigid than witty, but would it have been said at all about a poet who was capable of depicting characters of which the largest city could scarcely provide a single example in a whole century?[87-88.8] Indeed, it is likely that in a hundred plus plays, one such character could have escaped him. The most fertile brain can write itself dry, and when the power of imagination cannot recall any more real objects for imitation, it composes them on its own, the majority of which, of course, become caricatures. Diderot claims to have observed that Horace, who had an especially fastidious taste, saw this error we are talking about and criticized it subtly in passing.[87-88.9]

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 The passage is said to be in the second Satire of the first volume, where Horace sets out to demonstrate “that fools tend to fall from one extreme into its opposite. Fufidius,” he says, “fears being considered a spendthrift. Do you know what he does? He lends monthly at five percent, and takes payment in advance. The more the other man needs money, the more he demands. He knows the names of all the young people from good families who are entering society and who have strict fathers to lament. But perhaps you think that this person now spends in a way that matches his income? You’d be very wrong! He is his own worst enemy, and the father in the play who punishes himself because his son has run away cannot torment himself worse: non se pejus cruciaverit.”[87-88.10] – This worse, this pejus, has, according to Diderot, a double meaning. On the one hand it applies to Fufidius, and on the other, to Terence. Such passing shots, he claims, are completely in character for Horace.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 This last claim may be true without its being applied to the passage under discussion. For here, it seems to me, this passing shot would be at odds with the main point. Fufidius is not such a great fool, if there are more such fools like him. If the father in Terence torments himself so absurdly, if he has as little reason to torment himself as Fufidius does, then they are equally ridiculous, and Fufidius is less singular and absurd. It is only if Fufidius is just as severe and harsh with himself for no reason as the father in Terence is with reason, if the former does out of filthy greed what the latter does out of regret and sorrow, only then will the former become infinitely more ridiculous and despicable to us than the latter is compelling.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 And to be sure, every great sorrow is of the same type as this father’s sorrow; one that cannot forget itself, that torments itself. It goes against all experience to say that an example of such sorrow is scarce to be found in a century; on the contrary, every sorrow acts somewhat the same way, more or less, with this or that variation. Cicero had observed the nature of sorrow more precisely, and consequently he saw in the behavior of the Heautontimorumenos nothing more than what all grievers do, not merely when carried away by emotion but also when they think they must grimly carry on.[‡] “Haec omnia recta, vera, debita putantes, faciunt in dolore: maximeque declaratur, hoc quasi officii iudicio fieri, quod si qui forte, cum se in luctu esse vellent, aliquid fecerunt humanius, aut si hilarius locuti essent, revocant se rursus ad moestitiam, peccatique se insimulant, quod dolere intermiserint: pueros vero matres & magistri castigare etiam solent, nec verbis solum, sed etiam verberibus, si quid in domestico luctu hilarius ab iis factum est, aut dictum: plorare cogunt. […] Quid ille Terentianus ipse se puniens?” etc.[87-88.11]

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 But Menedemus, the self-tormentor in Terence’s play, is not only severe with himself out of sorrow; rather, the primary reason and purpose for denying himself even the smallest expenditure is in order to save that much more for his absent son, and thereby to assure a more comfortable life in the future for the one upon whom he has forced such discomfort in the present. Is there anything here that a hundred fathers would not do? If Diderot is implying that what is singular and unusual in this is that Menedemus himself hoes, digs, and cultivates, then in his haste he was clearly thinking more about our modern customs than ancient ones. True, a rich father today would not so easily do this, for only the minority would know how. But the wealthiest and most prominent Romans and Greeks were more familiar with all agricultural work and were not ashamed to set their hands to it.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Yet let us say that everything is exactly as Diderot says! Let the character of the self-tormentor be – on account of his singularity, on account of this trait that nearly only pertains to him alone – as unsuited for a comic character as he likes. Did Diderot not make the exact same mistake? For what could be more singular than the character of his Dorval?[87-88.12] What character has a more idiosyncratic trait than the character of this natural son? “Right after my birth,” he has him say,[87-88.13] “I was abandoned to a place that can be called the border between solitude and society; and when I opened my eyes to look for the ties that bound me to humanity, I could scarce see any traces of them. For thirty years I wandered about among mankind, lonely, unacknowledged, neglected, without feeling the tenderness of any other human being or having met another person who sought mine in return.” It is easy to believe that an illegitimate child can seek his parents in vain, that he can look in vain for people to whom he is bound by closer ties of blood – this is something that happens to nine out of ten. But that he could wander the world for thirty years without feeling the tenderness of any other human being, or meeting another person who sought his: that, I would almost say, is simply impossible. Or if it were possible, what heap of very particular circumstances must have come together from both sides, from the side of the world and the side of this person so long isolated from the world, in order to make this sad possibility a reality? Many centuries will elapse before the possibility will become real again. Heaven forbid that I ever imagine the human species in any other way! Otherwise I would rather wish to have been born a bear than a human. No – no person can be forsaken so long among other people. No matter where he has been tossed, as long as he falls among humans, he falls among creatures who, before he has even had time to see where he is, stand ready on all sides to link themselves to him. If not prominent, then lowly people; if not happy, then unhappy people! But they are people nonetheless. Just as a drop need only disturb the surface of water in order to be taken up by it and absorbed completely into it, whatever the water may be called, puddle or spring, river or lake, strait or ocean.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Nevertheless, this thirty-year isolation among men is to have formed Dorval’s character. Now, what character can look similar to him? Who can recognize himself in him? Even recognize himself the least bit?

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Yet I find Diderot has tried to secure himself a way out. In what follows the passage quoted above, he says: “In the serious genre the characters are often just as universal as in the comic genre, but they will always be less individual than in the tragic.”[87-88.14] He would therefore answer: the character of Dorval is no comic character, he is a character that fits the requirements of serious drama.[87-88.15] Just as the latter should fill the space between comedy and tragedy, so must its characters occupy the middle between comic and tragic characters. They need not be so universal as the former as long as they are not so completely individual as the latter, and the character of Dorval might very well be of this type.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Thus we are happily back to the point from which we departed. We wanted to investigate whether it was true that tragedies have individuals but comedies have types; that is, whether it is true that the characters of the comedy must simultaneously encompass and represent a large number of people, whereas the hero of a tragedy should only be this or that person, only Regulus, or Brutus, or Cato. If this is true, then what Diderot says of the characters of the middle genre, which he calls serious comedy, presents no difficulties, and the character of his Dorval would deserve no criticism. If, on the other hand, it is not true, then this, too, falls away, and there can be no justification for the character of the natural son based on such an unfounded division.


16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 [*]“Conversations.”

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 [†][In the following, we have provided translations in square brackets for the quoted Latin phrases so that the reader can follow Lessing’s long footnote. Our translations are indicated by “Tr.” Page numbers in parens indicate quotations taken from John Barsby’s translation of the prologue to Heautontimorumenos, Terence I: 181–3. – Tr.]

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 That is, if the sixth line of the Prologue,

duplex quae ex argumento facta est simplici [“a double play based on a single plot” (181)]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 was really written thusly by the poet and is not to be understood differently than Dacier and Colman, Terence’s later English translator, explain it. “Terence only meant to say, that he had doubled the characters; instead of one old man, one young gallant, one mistress, as in Menander, he had two old men &c. He therefore adds very properly: novam esse ostendi, [“I have revealed to you that it is a new play” (181)] – which certainly could not have been implied, had the characters been the same in the Greek poet.” Adrian Barlandus, as well, and even the old Glossa interlinealis of Ascensius did not understand the “duplex” otherwise. The latter says “propter senes & juvenes” [“because of the old men and the young men” – Tr.]; and the former writes “nam in hac latina senes duo, adolescentes item duo sunt” [“for in the Latin version of this play there are two old men and two young men.” – Tr.]. And yet I cannot get my mind around this interpretation, because I do not see what remains of the play if you take away the characters by way of whom Terence is said to have doubled the old man, the male lover, and the female beloved. It is inconceivable to me how Menander could have handled this subject without Chremes and Clitipho; they are both woven in so expertly that I can imagine neither the complication nor the resolution without them. I will not even mention another explanation, by which Julius Scaliger made himself ridiculous. Moreover, the one Eugraphius gave, which was taken up by Faerno, is completely ham-fisted. The critics, in their confusion, have tried sometimes changing the “duplex,” sometimes the “simplici” in the line, which the manuscripts justify to some extent. Several have read:

duplex quae ex argumento facta est duplici. [“a double play crafted from a double plot” – Tr.]

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 Others:

simplex quae ex argumento facta est duplici. [“a single play crafted from a double plot” – Tr.]

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 What is left but that someone should now read:

simplex quae ex argumento facta est simplici? [“a single play crafted from a single plot” – Tr.]

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 And in all seriousness: that is the way I would most prefer to read it. Look at the passage in context, and consider my reasons.

ex integra Graeca integram comoediam

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0             hodie sum acturus Heautontimorumenon:

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0             simplex quae ex argumento facta es simplici.

[“Today I am about to perform a complete comedy from a complete Greek play, ‘The Self-Tormentor,’ which has been crafted as a single play from a single plot” – Tr.]

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 The accusations against Terence made by his envious colleagues in the theater are well known:

multas contaminasse graecas, dum facit

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0             paucas latinas

[“contaminated many Greek plays while creating few Latin ones” (181)]

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 Namely, he often fused two plays into one and made one Latin comedy out of two Greek ones. In such manner he put together his Andria out of Menander’s Andria and Perinthia, his Eunuchus from the very same writer’s Eunuchus and Colax, his Brothers from Menander’s Brothers and a play by Diphilus. He justifies himself against these accusations in the Prologue to Heautontimorumenos. He concedes the matter itself, but he claims to have done nothing other than what good poets before him had done.

[…] id esse factum hic non negat

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0             neque se pigere, & delinde factum iri autumat.

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0             habet bonorum exemplum: quo exemplo sibi

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0             licere id facere, quod illi fecerunt, putat.

[“He does not deny that this is so; he does not regret it and he declares that he will do the same again. He has good writers as a precedent, and he reckons that with them as a precedent he is permitted to do what they did.” (181; 183)]

41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 I have done it, he says, and I think that I will do it again, and often. But that refers to earlier plays, and not the present one, the Heautontimorumenos. For this latter was not taken from two Greek plays but rather from a single one with the same name. And that, I think, is what he wants to say in the disputed line, as I propose to read it:

simplex quae ex argumento facta est simplici.

43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 Terence wants to say, my play is just as simple as Menander’s play; I have inserted nothing from other plays; as long as it is, it is taken from the Greek play, and the Greek play is completely included in my Latin one; consequently I give

ex integra Graeca integram comoediam. [“a complete comedy from a complete Greek play” – Tr.]

45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 The meaning Faerno found given for the word “integra” in an old glossary, that it is tantamount to “a nullo tacta,” [“touched by no one” – Tr.] is obviously wrong here, because it would only apply to the first “integra” but in no way the second “integram.” – And so I believe that my assumption and interpretation deserve a hearing! Only we will bump up against the line that follows right after:

novam esse ostendi, & quae esset – [“I have revealed to you that it is a new play and given you its name” (181)]

47 Leave a comment on paragraph 47 0 It will be said: if Terence acknowledges that he has taken the whole play from one single play by Menander, how can he pretend to have proven through this same acknowledgment that his play is new, “novam esse? – I can alleviate this difficulty very easily through an explanation of these very words; in fact, an explanation which I venture to maintain is absolutely the only true one, even though it belongs to me alone, and no other interpreter, as far as I know, has even come close to it. I say, namely, that the words

Novam esse ostendi, & quae esset

49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0 by no means refer to what Terence has the prologue speaker say in the previous lines. Rather, “apud Aediles” [“to the Aediles” – Tr.] must be understood; “novus” does not mean here what flowed from Terence’s own mind, but rather simply what had not yet existed in Latin. He wants to say: I have proven to the Aediles, who purchased it from me, that my play is a new play, that is, it is a play that has not yet appeared in Latin, which I myself translated from Greek. To readily agree with me on this point, one need only remember the dispute he had with the Aediles over his Eunuchus. He had sold it to them as a new play, translated by him from Greek, but his adversary, Lavinius, wanted to convince the Aediles that he had not taken it from Greek but rather from two old plays by Naevius and Plautus. To be sure, Eunuchus had much in common with these plays, but still Lavinius’s allegation was false, for Terence had only drawn from the very same Greek source that, unbeknownst to him, Naevius and Plautus had already used before him. Consequently, in order to forestall aspersions against his Heautontimorumenos: what was more natural than for him to have shown the Aediles the Greek original and instructed them about its contents? Indeed, the Aediles themselves could easily have demanded it of him. And that is what

Novam esse ostendi, & quae esset

51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 refers to.

52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 0 [‡] Tusc. Quaest. Bk. III, sect. 27.

  • 53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0
  • [87-88.1] Actually published Easter (March) 1769.
  • [87-88.2] Lessing continues his discussion, begun in [84], of Diderot’s dramatic theory. In [85] and [86], he addresses criticisms of Diderot’s play Le Fils naturel [The Natural Son] (1757) made by Charles Palissot de Montenoy in his Petites lettres sur de grands philosophes [Little Letters on Great Philosophers] (1757).
  • [87-88.3] Lessing paraphrases here. See Palissot, Petites lettres 45.
  • [87-88.4] For the plot of Le Fils naturel, see [85.5].
  • [87-88.5] See Diderot, Entretiens sur Le Fils Naturel 190–1; for an English translation directly from the French, see Diderot “Conversations on The Natural Son” 50.
  • [87-88.6] Heautontimorumenos [The Self Tormentor]: comedy by Terence, modeled on a play by Menander that now exists only in fragments. Tr. note: with “Heautontimorumenos” Diderot seems to be referring simultaneously to the title of Terence’s play and to the central character, Menedemus, the father who torments himself.
  • [87-88.7] The following are references made by Lessing in his extended footnote. Anne Lefèvre Dacier; see [72.7]. George Colman (the Elder): his blank verse translation, The Comedies of Terence, with accompany commentary, appeared in 1765; Lessing provides Colman’s original English. Adrian (Hadrianus) Barlandus (von Baarland) (1486–1538): professor and classicist from the Netherlands; published a commentary on Terence’s comedies in 1530. Glossa interlinealis: intertextual or marginal notes. Jodocus Badius Ascensius (1462–1535): Flemish humanist and pioneering printer; published an edition of Terence’s comedies in 1493. Chremes, Clitipho: characters from Heautontimorumenos (father and son, neighbors of Menedemus, the titular “self tormentor”). Julius Caesar Scaliger (Giulio Cesare Scaligero, or Scaligeri) (1484–1558): Italian-born French classical scholar whose posthumous Poetice [Poetics] (1561) widely influenced neoclassical theorists of the baroque period. Eugraphius (6th century): Roman grammarian who authored a commentary on Terence. Gabriele Faerno (1510–61): Italian humanist whose commentary on Terence appeared in 1565. Diphilus (born c. 350 BCE): playwright who lived most of his life in Athens; a major influence on Plautus and Terence. Aediles: ancient Roman magistrates in charge of festivals and games (as well as other public works). Luscius Lavinius: ancient Roman comic playwright, considered a rival of Terence. Gnaeus Naevius (c. 270–c. 201 BCE): one of the earliest playwrights of ancient Rome. duplex quae ex argumento facta est duplici “a double play crafted from a double plot”: this reading is found in the Codex Bembo, the manuscript belonging to Cardinal Pietro Bembo (1470–1547). simplex quae ex argumento facta est duplici “a single play crafted from a double plot”: this is the reading of Tanneguy Lefèvre (Faber) (1615–72) and of Richard Bentley (1662–1742) in their editions of Terence (printed 1671 and 1726, respectively). simplex quae ex argumento facta est simplici “a single play crafted from a single plot”: Lessing’s reading is doubtful; Boris Dunsch suggests that Lessing is being “characteristically self-ironic and only half-serious,” and that his translation, “although possible metrically, must be regarded as desperate” (103).
  • [87-88.8] “ὦ Μένανδρε καὶ βίε, πότερος ἄρ ὑμῶν πότερον ἐμιμήσατο”: “Menander and life, which of you imitated which?” This assessment of Menander is attributed to Aristophanes of Byzantium; see Goldberg, The Making of Menander’s Comedy 109.
  • [87-88.9] The passage that follows is taken loosely from Horace, Satires I.ii.12–22 (Satires, Epistles, and Ars Poetica 18–21). See Diderot, Entretiens 191–2; Diderot, “Conversations” 50. Lessing translates Diderot’s quotation (rather than the original Latin).
  • [87-88.10] non se pejus cruciaverit: “never tortured himself worse.”
  • [87-88.11] “Now all these things are done in grief, from a persuasion of their truth and propriety and necessity; and it is plain that those who behave thus do so from a conviction of its being their duty; for should those mourners by chance drop their grief, and either act or speak for a moment in a more calm or cheerful manner, they presently check themselves and return to their lamentations again, and blame themselves for having been guilty of any intermissions from their grief; and parents and masters generally correct children not by words only, but by blows, if they show any levity by either word or deed when the family is under affliction, and, as it were, oblige them to be sorrowful. […] What does that man say in Terence who punishes himself, the Self-tormentor?” (Tr. by C. D. Yonge from Cicero, Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations 118–19).
  • [87-88.12] Dorval: the title character of The Natural (Illegitimate) Son.
  • [87-88.13] Lessing’s translation here is loose; see Diderot, Le Fils naturel 76; Diderot, The Illegitimate Son 40–1.
  • [87-88.14] See Diderot, Entretiens 192; Diderot, “Conversations” 51
  • [87-88.15] Serious drama: see [86.3].
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Source: http://mcpress.media-commons.org/hamburg/essays-87-88/