Setting Plato StraightTranslating Ancient Sexuality in the Renaissance

Setting Plato StraightTranslating Ancient Sexuality in the Renaissance

Todd W. Reeser

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780226307008

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


As fifteenth-and sixteenth-century European Humanists read, digested, and translated Plato, they found themselves faced with a fundamental problem. On the one hand, the rebirth of the Ancients in the Renaissance implied a “fidelity” to the words and the sense of Greek texts. On the other hand, many Humanists refused to translate faithfully, and thus to propagate, the institution of pederasty or the other homoerotic elements in the Platonic corpus. Because Plato and Neoplatonism were difficult to ignore in the period, the question of same-sex sexuality could not be ignored either. As a result, the basic questions asked in this book are: with the widespread and diffuse nature of Plato in the Renaissance, what happened to the same-sex elements represented in the Platonic corpus? How were they read or reread? What hermeneutic lenses were employed? Although it is often thought or assumed that Humanists simply transposed Plato and Platonic eros into a strictly heterosexual context and transformed male-male love into male-female love or into male-male friendship, this book argues that recurring traces of same-sex sexuality imply a complicated and recurring process of “setting Plato straight.” This book undertakes the first sustained and comprehensive study of Renaissance textual responses to Platonic same-sex sexuality through readings of translations, commentaries, and literary sources from Italy, France, and Germany. Comparative in scope, Setting Plato Straight begins with the first Latin translations of Plato’s erotic dialogues in early fifteenth-century Italy and concludes with Michel de Montaigne’s critique of translators of Plato in late sixteenth-century France.