College of LAS « Illinois

Connecting the Gods

Classics professor is translating massive mythology treatise into English.

Over 600 years ago, Italian poet and scholar Giovanni Boccaccio wrote 15 books detailing the lineage and connections between more than 700 deities. Classicist Jon Solomon is beginning to translate them from Latin to English.
Over 600 years ago, Italian poet and scholar Giovanni Boccaccio wrote 15 books detailing the lineage and connections between more than 700 deities. Classicist Jon Solomon is beginning to translate them from Latin to English.

The lineage of every Greek god and every Roman god, along with the complex connections among them, was first spelled out in a set of 15 books written more than 600 years ago. Called Genealogia deorum gentilium, the massive compendium of more than 700 deities was assembled at the request of King Hugh IV of Cyprus by the Italian poet and scholar Giovanni Boccaccio.

To a classicist like Jon Solomon, the Robert D. Novak professor of Western civilization and culture at the University of Illinois, this rich resource seemed ripe for researchers. One hitch: It was in Latin. “It was such an interesting and influential text, I couldn’t believe that it had not been translated,” Solomon says.

He undertook the task himself, and the first of Solomon’s three-volume series, Genealogy of the Pagan Gods, recently was published by Harvard University Press. A review in Open Letters Monthly described Solomon’s translation as “a mighty achievement” and a “long overdue monument to its beloved author.”

Solomon says the job suits his professional niche. He has taught courses in mythology for more than 30 years, and has focused on the precise slice of literary history that Boccaccio’s magnum opus inhabits.

“Renaissance scholars are more interested in the Italian language products of Boccaccio’s output, while classicists are more interested in his scholarly writings in Latin. My specialty is really in classical reception —what happens to the classics after antiquity—so this is right up my alley,” he says.

Boccaccio was best-known for his famously bawdy allegory “The Decameron.” His Genealogia comprised 723 chapters in 15 volumes, but the only portion commonly studied was the section in which Boccaccio outlined a defense for Christians who wanted to study the poetry of ancient pagans.

Solomon’s edition is published by Harvard’s I Tatti Renaissance Library—an imprint that provides the Latin text on the left and the English translation on the facing page. He plans to finish the second volume during the summer of 2012, and then start on volume three.

Dusty Rhodes
12/1/2011

Related Topics

  • Classics