Speaking Directly to People from Other Periods of Time

Several of my friends, on hearing that I was translating Utopia, have looked faintly puzzled and asked: ‘Into what?’ Educated people are often unaware that the book was written in Latin, and many imagine that they have read the original, when what they have actually read is Ralph Robinson’s translation (1551). This is rather a pity, because the great merits of Robinson’s version, its liveliness and readability, have now largely evaporated for those who are unfamiliar with sixteenth-century English, and his archaic idiom is liable to obscure More’s perfectly plain meaning.

Some such obscurity is inevitable when a sixteenth-century author writes in English; but when he writes in Latin, it is quite unnecessary. For hundreds of years Latin served as a universal language through which one could speak directly, not only to people of other nationalities, but to people of other periods as well. Utopia is expressed in a timeless medium, which cuts it loose from its own particular age, and saves it from ever seeming linguistically old-fashioned or difficult.

– From Paul Turner’s introduction to Thomas More, Utopia, tr. Paul Turner, Penguin Classics Edition, 1965.

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