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Thomas Wilson's Demosthenes and the Politics of Tudor Translation

Alastair J. L. Blanshard and Tracey A. Sowerby
International Journal of the Classical Tradition
Vol. 12, No. 1 (Summer, 2005), pp. 46-80
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/30222776
Page Count: 35
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Thomas Wilson's Demosthenes and the Politics of Tudor Translation
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Abstract

In 1570, Thomas Wilson translated Demosthenes' Olynthiacs and Philippics during a period of considerable tension in Anglo-Spanish relations. What appears at first sight to be a work of classical humanism was simultaneously a hard-hitting piece of anti-Spanish propaganda and a critique of Elizabethan foreign policy. By controlling the typography of the translation and adding polemical marginalia and other peripheral material, Wilson masterfully directed his readers' interpretation of the text. He unequivocally advocated military intervention in the Netherlands as the consequences of inaction would be dire: England would lose its current bulwark against Spain's military might, just as Athens had lost Olynthus. Wilson deliberately appealed to the intellectual background of those Tudor statesmen who formed the 'Cambridge Connection' in the Elizabethan government. Moreover, he articulated his message without compromising the integrity of Demosthenes' text or his own humanist credentials. By subtly reconfiguring the role of Demosthenes from orator to statesman, Wilson gave his orations greater political authority. Wilson's Demosthenes also marked an important moment in English intellectual history: it clearly politicises classical translation.

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