Book and Article Reviews: Conti

Natale Conti’s Mythologiae.  Translated and annotated by John Mulryan and Stephen Brown, 2 vols.  Tempe, Arizona: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2006.




An English translation and edition of Natale Conti’s Mythologia was long overdue. Although fundamental for Early Modern and Renaissance Studies, Conti’s mythography had paradoxically never found its way into English, so that modern scholars used either the original sixteenth-century Latin text, which has not yet found a modern editor, the Garland Press facsimile of the 1627 edition of Jean de Montlyard’s translation into French, or the Spanish translation by Montiel and Moran (Murcia, 1988). Not content with providing a graceful, accurate translation into English, John Mulryan and Stephen Brown can be said to offer the first modern, complete, scholarly edition of Conti’s major work.

A careful examination of all sixteenth-century editions has enabled the authors to establish that, pace Jean Seznec, the princeps editio of Conti’s Mythologia was not printed, as was believed, by Aldus at Venice in 1551, but at Venice in 1567 by Comin da Trino. This discovery changes radically the relation of Conti’s mythography with Vincenzo Cartari’s Imagini de i Dei de gli Antichi (1556), the latter becoming a possible source of the former.

John Mulryan and Stephen Brown’s annotations usefully provide all the references (not given in the original editions) of Conti’s numerous quotations and allusions, also signalling erroneous ones. This careful editorial work, combined with an analysis of Natale Conti’s sources, suggests why the Mythologia so quickly became one of the most popular Early Modern mythographic treatises. It was a compact storehouse of quotations from not always easily accessible Latin and Greek authors (the latter competently translated into Latin), together with Conti’s own original contributions in Greek and Latin verse, and his moral, historical, and natural interpretations — food for thought, and for the imagination.

As a reference book and mythographic compendium, Conti’s Mythologia was extremely popular and influential, as is testified by Marston’s quip on “Natalis Comes” and “Imagines Deorum”, the inescapable bases of “Poet’s Index”. John Mulryan and Stephen Brown are right to insist that the Mythologia was not only source material for the authors of Renaissance dictionaries, emblem books and commentaries of classical texts; nor was it solely used by writers with an encyclopaedic turn of mind like Robert Burton and Sir Thomas Browne or learned dramatists like Chapman and Ben Jonson. It was also a major source of personal inspiration for Spenser, Michael Drayton, Samuel Daniel and others right up to Milton. The contributors of A Dictionary of Shakespeare’s Classical Mythology, which is hosting this review, will add Thomas Heywood to the list and assess what traces of Conti’s influence, if any, can be found in Shakespeare’s works.

Equipped with a convenient index of authors and titles together with an index of mythological characters which might have been more detailed, this scholarly translation is an indispensable tool for all students of Early Modern English literature.  


How to cite

Natale Conti’s Mythologiae.  Translated and annotated by John Mulryan and Stephen Brown, 2 vols.  Tempe, Arizona: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2006.  Reviewed by Yves Peyré. 2009.  In A Dictionary of Shakespeare's Classical Mythology (2009-), ed. Yves Peyré.

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