A New Edition, But of Which Text?

Several years of work on a multilingual variorum edition have made it clear that a new translation of Bodin’s great political treatise is necessary. Each of the French, Latin, and English has been influential in different ways and with different audiences over the centuries, so the question is: which of them should form the basis of a new edition?

As far as we know, there are no surviving manuscripts. It seems clear that a new edition should be based on the last version published during Bodin’s lifetime, by his publisher, du Puys. Although McRae lists an “exceedingly rare” 1587 French edition by du Puys (McRae was able to locate only one copy), the last major publication of the French edition during Bodin’s lifetime was in 1583, three years before the appearance of the “much richer” Latin. The 1586 Latin was followed by an updated edition, in 1591, which was the last one published by du Puys while Bodin was still alive.

A translation of the 1591 Latin would solve a number of problems. It would make the text available to students and scholars who cannot access the original. It would render the multitude of references and allusions in the text intelligible. Although Knolles’s text can give a modern reader a sense of the original, that sense is misleading, given that Knolles’s text stems from two often divergent sources. Despite his great service, however, Knolles chose not to reproduce the vast majority of Bodin’s notes. To make matters worse, even the heavily-annotated French and Latin editions from the sixteenth century are often cryptic and inaccessible to a modern reader. To demonstrate this issue, we took Chapter 1 of Book 1 and collected every note from the original French and Latin, as well as notes from subsequent editions, such as McRae’s facsimile and Isnardi-Parente’s monumental translation of the French into Italian. We then scanned the text for references that required annotation but lacked it. The end result was striking: we ended up adding 60% more notes. No edition has a biographical register. Given that, according to McRae’s index, the text refers to over 2,400 persons, this is another important gap. The same principle applies to locations and events.

Ideally, a critical edition would record changes from one version to another (not just between French and Latin, but also between the different editions), but the size of the text makes that a challenge for a team of specialists. A digital variorum edition of the kind that we have been working on at Tufts would be a crucial first step to allowing readers to track the changes in the text and hypothesize about their significance, and Knolles’s text can serve as the pivot text, as it does in our beta. But Knolles’s text is not a reliable source to Bodin and a student or scholar who cannot read the original is back to square one when it comes to variants. For these and many other reasons, a new translation must be the starting point.