4.19 Imports from the Empire of Latin

Geography as a school subject remained largely in the Latin realm, at least in the first instance. Once textbooks in Latin had proven their utility in the classroom, they were sometimes translated, digested, or popularized for broader, non-Latin-reading audiences. Obviously, it was easier to accomplish such work of popularization when the starting point was an elementary textbook than when the source was an academic treatise. The new vernacular products were market-ready and, in a sense, market-tested, because they had already proved useful for beginning students. At the point of translation, however, such popular-level books also begin to seem (to us certainly, and perhaps also to their intended audiences) more like how-to books than textbooks. They were no longer part of a Latin-school curriculum, and they served useful and recreational purposes almost equally.

In her influential Le latin ou l'empire d'un signe (1998), Françoise Waquet explained how the Latin language created an international cultural empire that predated the nation state and continued to exist as a Europe-wide ideal into the twentieth century. Our study of Latin grammars and elementary geography books suggests that the Empire of Latin also determined the way book markets functioned in the early modern period. Europeans invented printing at a crucial time, near the high-water mark of the humanist Latin program. Among philosophers and other scholars there was still hope for a unitary Europe, culturally if not politically. The market for high culture was as cosmopolitan and international as it would ever be, with all kinds of luxury goods and art (books and prints included) traded freely and frequently from the Balkans to the Baltic and the Irish Sea. Printers, like musicians and authors, were peripatetic. They followed the market for their services, whether the consumer was an individual patron, a church body, or the population of an entire city.

The long sixteenth century, however, saw the rise of national monarchies and, not far behind, new national literatures and increased literacy in the vernaculars. Books, suddenly mass produced and plentiful, could not help but follow. Printers at first devoted by far the largest and most prestigious part of their work to books for international, learned audiences, and therefore in Latin. But printers also quickly discovered the value of local markets, even micro-markets like the students of a single school. We have seen how this localism functioned to limit the wide marketing even of Latin grammars. Local markets continued to exist for local Latin schools.

In other fields, like geography, localisms also required the phenomenon we have called cultural translation, or, to use a different metaphor, the importation of ideas and information from the relatively borderless realm of Latin into other, smaller kingdoms. The change of language required other changes -- of format, type, or advertising pitch -- that were determined by the habits and preferences of readers on the local level. These changes were the effective minimum a book needed to cross the borders between one Latin market to another or to move from the Latin markets to vernacular ones. Sometimes, changes of genre followed. Versified geographies offer a particularly good example, one that bears more study. For, although the genre was popular, it is fairly clear that the authors envisioned several different audiences. Each work must be evaluated as to its intended readers; and, as in other genres we will explore in chapter six, the actual readers were sometimes not those envisioned by the author.

Like political and language borders, moreover, the borders between book markets also had barriers. Import fees were a frequent source of complaint by booksellers. Religious differences and the consequent facts of censorship were equally problematic. In chapters five, six, and seven we will see that the authors of textbooks also exercised a considerable amount of self-censorship when they moved ideas from the homeland of Latin out to farther-flung, vernacular provinces.

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