You have probably never heard of Sir Thomas North (1535-1604), and neither had I until recently. Among other things, North was a highly skilled translator. But he was not just known for what he translated, but North’s writing style was highly influential — even of Shakespeare. North’s translation of Plutarch’s Parallel Lives, for instance, was used by William Shakespeare to inform the history he used in writing several of his plays. Some scholars have called North the first master of English prose — early Modern English (illustrated here – click to enlarge the chart).
North’s three most influential translation (with links to the originals) are as follows:
- 1557 Diall of Princes: Guevara’s Reloj de Principles: Meditations of Marcus Aurelius
- 1570 The Morall Philosophie of Doni: The Fables of Bidpai
- 1579 – 1603 Plutarch’s Parallel Lives
Note that all three of his major works are books of moral importance. And of special interest for this post is that the second, The Morall Philosophie of Doni, is another name for the Panchatantra — an ancient Indian moral text ( see my other posts here on the Panchatantra). North’s translation was the first English version of this text even if it was the translation of an Italian text — not the original Sanskrit. Indeed, none of North’s translations were from their original languages but translated from the translations of other European languages.
If you want to get a flavor of Early Modern English and the first English rendering of the Panchatantra, please take a look at the above links. I enjoyed them. Thomas North’s works also made me reflect on how much we owe to translators, who names are soon forgotten.