The Latin poetic collection of maxims known as “Disticha Catonis” was one of the most popular texts in the Middle Ages and early Modern Age. Translations, adaptations and quotation of this gnomic poem are to be found in all vernacular European literatures (Greek, Old French, Spanish, Italian, Middle High German, Middle Dutch, Old and Middle English, Old Norse, Old Czech), since it was used as both a source of wisdom and as textbook for Latin language classes. Around the middle of the 14th century the Disticha were translated in Middle Low German by Stephan von Dorpat. This very translation – preserved in seven manuscripts (Berlin, Mgq 643, Danzig, Ms. 2416, Danzig, Ms. 2417, Göttingen, Müller I 10, Cracow, Berol. Mgq 1303-9, Rostock, Philol 86a, Wolfenbüttel, Helmst. 417) – appears to be fully independent from all other German versions of the text. In particular, Stephan’s work is distinguished by its verbosity (2345 lines vs. the 306 of the original). In this study, I focus on this Middle Low German version of the Disticha, paying attention to its language, to translation technique employed, but also to the insertion of materials and quotations from the Scriptures, the Church’s Fathers or other pieces of Classical wisdom literature, in order to ascertain if these can, in some way, be ascribed to the particular social and cultural situation in which Stephan realized it.
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