31 JANUARY 1970, Page 26

Machiavelli's friend Sir: Mr Alexander (Letters, 10 January) is mistaken

in thinking that my objections to his version of Guicciardini's Story of /tab' arose directly from his theories of transla- tion. They sprang rather from his frequent inability to convey in English the full sense

of the original. Opening his volume at ran- dom, at, for instance, page 26, one finds

'fiorita' rendered as 'valorous', `suo primogenito' as 'his eldest son' (which in context is an error), 'intrinsecamente gravissimi pensieri lo tormentavano' as 'he was actually very disturbed', and regno di inclinazione non mediocre a rebelli as 'his subjects . . . were quite inclined to rebel' (a distortion of the sense). Why go on? Almost every page can yield a similar harvest of infelicities. One thing which particularly struck me throughout was Mr Alexander's readiness to write down sentences which did not make sense in English. eg. (p.16): 'But it is certainly most true that wise men do not always discern or pass perfect judgments: often it is necessary that they show signs of the weakness of human understanding'. 'It is necessary'? A glance at the Italian (`. . . bisogna the spesso si dimostrino . . .') sug- gests that Mr Alexander has been literally translating the words of an idiom rather than

rendering their meaning, ie. . . often, inevitably, they ...'

As to Mr Alexander's theories of transla- tion I am at a loss to know how the 'pinch of antiquity' which he declares should be added to a version of a sixteenth century text can blend easily with his passion for modern jargon. Did he have to translate (a few ex- amples from a giant store) 'proposta' as 'in- citation', 'tenuto' as 'obligated', ordinario di nuovi re' as 'a new regime', `picco/issirne as 'minimal', and (above all) `considers' as `evaluate'? I should certainly like to hear more from Mr Alexander about the 'kind of historical osmosis' designed to make a translation 'redolent of its period' which pro- duced 'evaluate' at this point. I am afraid, none the less, that however much he writes about Cicero and Proust, he will still be unable to persuade me that his is a better translation than that of Mr Grayson.

A final point : Mr Alexander appears to imagine that the second citation from Guic- ciardini in my review is taken from his version. This is not so. After consulting the original I silently emended his text on p.142 in the interests of clarity and grammar (as in- deed I see he himself has done to the same passage in his introduction on p.xx).

John Larner Department of History, The University, Glasgow w2