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Ioannis Evrigenis

Truly Comparative Politics

In the academic subfield of comparative politics studies often take the form of side-by-side comparisons, wherein the majority of a scholar’s attention is devoted to understanding and documenting individual instances of a phenomenon, and less time is spent on comparison across cases. There are good reasons for this imbalance, as the solid understanding of any single case study is not an easy feat. Moreover, the better one understands any single case, the more difficult it becomes to resist the challenges of nuance and make comparisons across complex, ultimately dissimilar cases.

As one makes one’s way through the Six Books, what becomes clear is that on one level Bodin is involved in comparative politics. In so doing, he is once again engaging with Aristotle, who organized his treatises mainly around topics and drew on a multitude of examples. Although Bodin’s sources are sometimes questionable by today’s standards, they are far richer than Aristotle’s and represent a much broader array of political practices, as Bodin also had access to detailed accounts of Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean islands.

Methodologically, the choice to begin a section with a definition is often risky, since that definition could become a stumbling block for someone who disagreed with it. Yet, Bodin’s quick deployment of examples generally works to draw the reader in, and the result is often an opportunity to sharpen one’s understanding of the definition in question, by considering the similarities and differences of practices and institutions from a wide range of states. For instance, terms are sometimes so closely associated with specific institutions or practices (e.g., “senate” with the Roman Senate) that both the definition (of a senate) and one’s understanding of the specific institution (in this case, the Roman Senate) become too narrow. Bodin is well-aware of the controversy surrounding some of his choices (e.g., to emphasize that a senate is an advisory body without power), but he makes a strong argument in almost every case, not least because he examines specific topics in depth and ventures beyond well-trodden examples.

Bodin’s risky focus on the definition pays off insofar as the examples and case studies do not become the main attraction, but are rather examined in relation to the phenomenon he is studying. Moreover, Bodin’s often iconoclastic approach to definitions broadens the scope of potentially relevant information. Thus, for instance, advisory political bodies of all kinds, rather than just ones called “senate,” become eligible for consideration as he works his way towards a more precise definition of a senate. While in many cases the reader would have to work hard to assemble information about a specific state or people, given that it is arranged thematically across the entire treatise, within individual thematic sections the Six Books is a work of truly comparative politics.

Using the French to Translate or Confirm the Latin

There are numerous terms in one language that do not have a direct equivalent in the other. The most notable example of this issue comes in the form of the French term “souveraineté” and its cognates. At the beginning of I.8 in the Latin version, Bodin defines it as “maiestas” and goes on to use the term “jura maiestatis” to refer to the rights of sovereignty frequently. But because “maiestas” is the “summa in ciues ac subditos, legibusque soluta potestas” according to that definition, he also often uses “summa potestas” (among other terms) to describe in Latin what in the French he had called “souveraineté.” There are other terms that perform the same function. A more systematic survey and assessment of these needs to take place once a proper edition has been put together.

There are much easier cases, such as the confirmation that “civitates imperiales” means “imperial cities” (“villes imperiales”) rather than “imperial states,” despite the fact that most of the time Bodin uses “civitas” for “estat.”

New Look and Updates

I recently moved old posts to this new, easier-to-read look.

Work continues on the annotation of Book I. Unsurprisingly, the biggest challenge lies in matching Bodin’s references to commentaries on Roman Law, although certain references to arrêts of the Parlement of Paris have also proven hard to track down. Bodin had access to an Olim [register of the arrêts] that is unlike the selective summaries contained in Beugnot’s 19th-century survey. Thus, even though the cases can be cross-referenced through other sources, Bodin’s specific citations to folios and numbers cannot. An example of this problem can be found towards the end of I.8, in the Latin version, where Bodin cites an arrêt from 1256 in support of his claim that sovereigns are not bound by the promises of their predecessors.

Greg Crane recently brought to my attention a tool called Rescribe, which is aimed at improving OCR of historical texts. I am looking forward to testing it on French and Latin copies, to compare its results to the early attempts at OCR using a trained version of ABBYY. I will report the results here.

NEH Fellowship Funds Bodin Edition

I have been privileged and honored to have received an NEH Fellowship to work on a new edition of the Republica. Although my initial plan was to update Knolles’s text and annotate it anew, as I indicated in an earlier post I have come to the conclusion that the Republica needs a new edition. The NEH Fellowship will allow me to begin working on one that will make this crucial treatise accessible to modern readers.

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.

Extracting Text from Early Modern Books

Early modern print books present important difficulties when it comes to optical character recognition.  Some copies were printed using more or less ink, the pressure applied varied, and the passage of time may have introduced smudges, tears, holes, and stains:

Example of a tear.

Heavily annotated page. The notes on the left margin
contain numerous abbreviations.
Examples of stains.

Different kinds of difficulties are presented by Greek and Hebrew characters, which were often misunderstood during typesetting:

Aligned Edition Mockup

Given the significant differences between the French and Latin versions of the Republica, and Knolles’s decision to use both, thereby producing a work that is not a translation of either original, we decided to investigate the possibilty of a parallel, aligned edition. One facet of this work that is independent of the text involves the design of the tools necessary for a parallel and/or aligned display.

You can find an example of our first attempt (2013) here:

NB: The text in this version has not been corrected after optical character recognition and contains errors.

In this setup, Knolles’s English edition serves as the pivot text.

Try clicking on a word, to see how the alignment is intended to work.


Du Bois’ depiction of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, the event that epitomized the French wars of religion.

The concept of sovereignty underwent a radical transformation between the Reformation and the Peace of Westphalia. Horrific religious and civil wars forced rulers and diplomats to figure out ways in which people of different faiths could coexist.  By the time more than one hundred delegations gathered in Münster and Osnabrück to establish peace (1648), the principle that the ruler gets to decide the religion of her realm (cuius regio, eius religio), which had been introduced in the Peace of Augsburg (1555), had become the basis of a new political landscape, in which borders were redrawn and religious minorities granted protections.  At the same time, disputes over newly-discovered lands and open or closed seas all over the world sent statesmen and jurists on urgent quests to define borders and jurisdictions, so as to maximize the benefits to their states from discovery, trade, and fishing, while keeping their competitors and adversaries in check.  The death of the childless Queen Elizabeth I and the accession of King James VI of Scotland to the throne of England set in motion the process of the union of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland into that of Great Britain.  Once on the throne, James I of England initiated the translation of the Bible into English.  At the center of all these developments lay questions about authority, boundaries, rights, and obligations, that is, questions of sovereignty.  It is little wonder that this period produced two of the greatest theorists of sovereignty, Jean Bodin and Thomas Hobbes.

Between the publication of his Les six livres de la république in 1576 and the nineteenth century, Bodin’s political treatise was universally recognized as a work that transformed political science and yielded the modern definition of sovereignty.  Its decline is the result of two reasons, in particular.  The first is the sheer size of the work, which numbers over 800 packed pages (please see the attached sample).  The second, related, reason is its curious publication history.  After publishing the first edition, Bodin issued several revised French editions, until in 1586 he published a Latin version, intended for a wider audience.  That edition was not simply a translation of the French into Latin.  Advertised on its title page as “much richer,” the Latin edition featured many important changes, such as different examples and notes, omitted passages, and new additions, including a new chapter.  Both the French and Latin circulated widely.  For instance, a mere three years after the publication of the French edition, the poet Gabriel Harvey noted that it was very likely that one stepping into a scholar’s study at Cambridge would find it on the desk.  Ben Jonson described his character, Sir Politic Would-be, as someone whose opinions were inspired by Machiavelli and “monsieur Bodin.”  Despite the success of the French edition, in 1606, Richard Knolles who was known for having published a massive history of the Turks published an English edition entitled The Six Bookes of a Commonweale.  For better or worse, Knolles worked from both the French and the Latin.  Thus, his edition is unlike either of the original two on its own.  It is, however, similar in size, at over 600,000 words.  Knolles’s edition was the only one ever produced in English.  A facsimile of it was printed in 1962 by Kenneth D. McRae, who also compiled a masterful apparatus.  That edition too, however, has long been out of print.

Bodin’s influence on modern political thought is far-reaching.  He was one of very few near-contemporary authors whom Hobbes cited with approval.  King James VI owned the French edition and his own political writings betray Bodin’s influence.  Although Locke did not cite Bodin, he had to respond to Robert Filmer, one of whose works has been described as a series of paraphrases of Bodin.  Indeed, a search on Early English Books Online restricted to books published between 1576 and 1699 returns 2626 hits in 752 records for the term “Bodin” and 778 hits in 279 records for the term “Bodinus.”  More broadly, Rousseau, Montesquieu, and Kant all grappled with Bodin’s theory, as did Gentili and Grotius, the two thinkers credited with having established the field of international law.  The same is true of America’s founding fathers—John Adams’ copy is in the Boston Public Library. The Republica is the most important work in political thought that is currently unavailable in print.