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DACIER, Anne Le Fèvre

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  • Date of Birth: August 5, 1647
  • Born City: Preuilly-sur-Claise
  • Born State/Country: France
  • Parents: humanist Tanneguy Le Fèvre, classicist and humanist, and wife.
  • Date of Death: August 17, 1720.
  • Death City: Paris
  • Death State/Country: France
  • Married: Jean Lesnier, 1664; André Dacier, 1683.
  • Education:

    Educated by father.

  • Publications:

    Callimachi Cyrenaei Hymni Epigrammata et Fragmenta (trans.) (Paris: Mabre-Cramoisy, 1675); Dictys Cretensis De bello Trojano, et Dares Phrygius De excidio Trojæ (trans.) (Paris: Roulland, 1680); Sexti Aureli Victoris historia Romana,(trans.) 2 vols. (Paris: Thierry, 1681); Anacréon et Sappho (trans.) (Paris: (1681); Eutropii Historia romanae breviarium(trans.) (Paris: 1688) Les Comédies de Térence, (trans.) 3 vols. (Paris, 1688); Comédies grecques d’Aristophane (trans.) (Amsterdam: Gallet, 1692); Les vies des hommes illustres de Plutarque (trans with André Dacier) (Paris: Barbin, 1695); Cupidon dans la bain: ou les avantures amoureuses des personnes de qualité (The Hague: Uytwerf, 1698); Reflexions morales de l’empereur Marc Antonin (with André Dacier) (Amsterdam, 1707); L’Iliade d’Homère avec des remarques (trans.) 3 vols. (Paris, 1711); Des causes pour la corruption du goust (Paris: Rigaud, 1714); L’Odyssée d’Homère avec remarques, (trans.) 3 vols. (Paris: Coignard, 1716); Homère Défendu contre l’apologie du R.P. Hardouin, ou Suite de la corruption du goust (Paris, 1716); Les oeuvres de Plaute en latin et français (trans. with others) (Amsterdam: Gallet, 1719).

  • Notes:

    Anne Dacier was raised in Paris where her father had been appointed publisher at the Louvre by Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642). On Richelieu’s death Le Fèvre converted to Calvinism, abandoned his religious  and joined the faculty as professor of classics at the Huguenot academy at Saumur. There he acquired a considerable reputation as both a teacher and translator of Virgil, Horace, Sappho, Anacreon and others. His daughter showed such facility with Greek and Latin that Le Fèvre decided, very much against the culture of the times, to give her advanced training to develop her aptitude for translation. Her teen-age marriage to Jean Lesnier (1639-75), her father’s publisher, resulted quickly in separation. Within 1674-5 she lost both her impoverished father and her estranged husband. Her earliest editions were of authors her father cherished, Florus (1674), Callimachus (1675). In need of support, she was approached by her father’s friend, the scholar and churchman Pierre-Daniel Huet, (1630-1721), who was launching the Delphin Classics, a series of texts and paraphrases of Latin authors. He encouraged her to move to Paris and offered her the opportunity to contribute a volume of Dictys and Dares, which she published in 1680. She subsequently contributed volumes on subject2 particularly useful for a future king: the Roman histories of Florus, Aurelius Victor, and Etropius. She was the only woman to contribute to the series and Wilamowitz called her and her husband’s contributions “the only works in the series worth mentioning.”   

    She had known her father’s prize (male) pupil, André Dacier, from her childhood. He had moved to Paris after the death of Le Fèvre in 1672 and the two began living together out of wedlock in 1681, the year that she published versions of Sappho and Anacreon (Her father’s views on Sappho generated some notoriety.) Their Protestantism, her maintenance of her father’s views on the “immoral” Sappho, and their cohabitation did not endear them to Louis XIV so both found it convenient to abandon Paris for a time. They married in 1683, and converted to Catholicism two years later, as Anne produced editions of Plautus and Aristophanes and collaborated with her husband on editions of Plutarch and Marcus Aurelius. That a woman should translate authors known for obscenity and immorality raised controversy, but she triumphed with a highly influential three-volume edition of Terence in 1688. The Daciers returned to Paris and the good graces of the king. André assisted in compiling the official “medallic history” of Louis’s reign and was ultimately named librarian of the Louvre in 1720. 

    Meanwhile, began in the year of her conversion the work by which she is best known, a translation of Homer (Iliad, 1699, Odyssey, 1708) with extensive commentary. Refusing to bow to current literary style or to allow that any modern French work could compare with Homer. Although Alexander Pope (1688-1744) called her translation “equally careful and elegant,” her exaltation of Homer and her dismissal of modern French poets led to attacks, chiefly by the young modernist Antoine Houdar de la Motte (1672-1731) who, though he knew no Greek, produced his own “updated” shorter (she was accused, according to Sandys, of “a too frequent resort to periphrasis”) verse version of her translation in 1714 and an essay criticizing the moral and stylistic lapses of Homer. Anne, now known popularly as “Madame Dacier” produced her own response Réflexions sur la critique (1715) Of the Causes of the Corruption of Taste in which she picked de la Motte’s arguments apart based on the actual texts and in support of Aristotle’s theories of poetry, which had also been expounded by her husband. Her translations were hugely popular, widely reprinted in Amsterdam, and dominated through the end of their century.   

  • Sources:

    Sandys, 2:292; Wilamowitz, 63; Johannes Göbel, Brill, 137; Paul Mazon, Madame Dacier et les traductions d’Homère en France (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1936); Enrica Malcovati, Madame Dacier: una gentildonna filologa del gran secolo (Florence: 1953); Fern Farnham, Madame Dacier: Scholar and Feminist (Monterey, CA: Angel Press, 1980);  E. Bury, “Madame Dacier” in Femmes savants, savoir des femmes Du crépuscule de la Renaissance à l’aube des Lumières,ed. C. Nativel(Paris 1999) 209-22; Fabienne Moore, “Homer Revisited: Anne Le Fèvre-Dacier’s Preface to Her Prose Translation of the Iliad in Early Eighteenth-Century France,” Studies in the Literary Imagination 33 (2000) 87-107; Bruno Garbier, “Anne Dacier, un esprit modern au pays des anciens, inPortriats de traductrices, ed. Jean Delisle (Ottawa & Artois, 2002) 13-54; Julie Candler Hayes, “Of Meaning and Modernity: Anne Dacier and the Homer Deate,” in Strategic Rewriting, ed. David Lee Rubin (Charlottesville, VA: 2002) 173-95; Éliane Itti, Madame Dacier: femme et savante du Grand Siècle (1645-1720) (Paris: Harmattan, 2012).

  • Author: Ward Briggs