It is generally recognized that the reception of antiquity and its most distinguished literary works and authors is of central importance to the literature of the 15th and 16th centuries. In contrast to the Latin and vernacular Romance literatures, however, German literature of that period has often been thought to fail at reacting appropriately to this challenge. But although modern scholarship has rarely acknowledged it, there were in fact attempts to translate and incorporate major classical literary and philosophical works into German culture. These projects were transmitted in the form of 15th-century manuscripts, and, even more importantly, in medially ambitious, experimental prints of the 15th and 16th centuries. The aims of this research project are to investigate the complex processes of medial transfer and the cultural contextualisation that enable the naturalisation of Latin classics into a vernacular environment. It focuses on a careful selection of these translations (Aesop, Boethius, Cicero, Terence) from a long and crucial phase in the history of printing (c. 1460/70 – c. 1580/1600), which have never been analysed systematically from this point of view.
The project has a two-pronged approach: (1) It analyses how and why the textual presentation of these complex literary and philosophical works changes with the transfer from script to print. (2) Following on from the point above, it explains how these material differences impact on the functional formation of new contexts of communication within lay culture. German translations of Latin classics offer a particularly pertinent treatment of this complex and long-term typographical development and its cognitive implications, because a particularly demanding strategy of transfer was required for connecting the different cultural spheres so that these authoritative works could be naturalised and adopted. By focussing on the typographical presentation of texts, these processes can be observed in a methodically controlled manner. Contrary to what might be expected, it is precisely the highly conventionalised layouts that characterised the transmission of the classic texts before the advent of printing that allow the following question to be asked with particular acuteness: what effect did the shift in mediality have on their presentation and communicative transfer?
In addition to this, the project investigates the connections and communicative environments that developed in the context of individual printers, cities, courts or educational institutions which worked at and experimented on the integration of the Latin classics into German vernacular culture – often in cooperation and frequently in competition with each other.