Die Prins: Du Toit’s Afrikaans does justice and pays tribute to a great writer

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Die Prins
By Niccoló Machiavelli

 
Afrikaans translation and commentary by Delamaine du Toit
Published by the translator, DAH du Toit:
1 Longkloof Street
Hout Bay
7806
 
 
Dr Du Toit has translated true to the Machiavelli text and has rendered it possibly even more readable than the Italian. The commentary on each chapter, at the end of the text, greatly facilitates an understanding of the work. Much time has therefore been taken to render it "reader friendly" especially for those who might find a work such as this tough going. For instance, words such as virtú and fortuna have their very specific meanings in context and these are explained. Chapter VI, "De principatibus novis qui armis propriis et virtute acquiruntur" (translated in Afrikaans as: Oor nuwe prinsdomme wat deur eie wapens en bekwaamheid verkry is - Concerning new principalities which are acquired by one's own arms and ability), for example, contains a fair amount of discussion around these two terms. Du Toit has carefully translated each in context, because these two words can have a different meaning each time they are used. For instance: for virtú: bekwaamheid, vaardigheid, bedrewenheid, kundigheid, begaafdheid, vernuf en vindingrykheid, verdienstelikheid, doeltreffenheid, kragdadigheid, manmoedigheid, moed, dapperheid, talent, bestuursvernuf, politieke insig en vaardigheid; and for fortuna: die fortuin, gunstige of ongunstige toeval, die wispelturige geluksgodin, die rol wat die lot speel, die onbeheerbare elemente wat die handeling van die prins kan beïnvloed en beperk.
 
Machiavelli uses long sentences in The Prince. Some of these sentences can go on for up to ten lines. It is no easy task to put the Italian into a readable and manageable Afrikaans. Comparing the two texts, the Italian and the Afrikaans, it is evident that the translator has a good command of the Italian. A solid test is to look out for the way the frase ipotetica has been handled by the translator. Du Toit passes with flying colours.
 
The construction that is called Machiavellic disjunction leaves no grey area for the ruler. In this sense the end justifies the means (a saying attributed to Machiavelli). There is no moral upper ground for the prince wishing to maintain power. He must do either this or face that. Chapter 1, "Quot sint genera principatuum et quibus modis acquirantur" (translated into Afrikaans as: Hoeveel soorte prinsdomme daar is en hoe hulle verkry word - How many kinds of principalities there are, and by what means they are acquired) sets the tone for this ruthless modus operandi that the princes of this world have to follow to survive. Du Toit captures the tone beautifully, in fine Afrikaans which reads pleasurably:
 
Alle state, en alle dominium wat heerskappy voer en gevoer het oor mense, is òf republieke òf prinsdomme. En prinsdomme is òf erflik, waar die prins se familie lank gevestig is as heersers, óf hulle is nuut.
 
MachiavelliSadly the text is not indexed, but this is a massive undertaking in itself. The Prince can serve as a history. Machiavelli was born in Florence on 3 May 1469 and from 1494 to 1512 held an official post as a diplomat, attending various European courts. He was, therefore, well equipped to write on matters affecting princes. Du Toit provides a chronology at the front of the book to enlighten readers about the life and times of Machiavelli in the context of the history of the time and place – Florence in the fourteen and fifteen hundreds.
 
As a young man Machiavelli saw the city’s power soar under Lorenzo de' Medici, Il Magnifico,although ironically it was at the time of the downfall of the Medici in 1494 that he entered the public service. With the despotic Medici gone, Florence enjoyed freedom, which lasted until 1512, when the Medici returned to power. At this juncture, unfortunately for him, Machiavelli was removed from office. In 1527 the Medici were deposed for a second time and the influence of Machiavelli escalated, cut short, lamentably, by his untimely death on 22 June 1527, at the age of 58, and without office, despite repeated attempts to regain his position.
 
Machiavelli’s perceptions can be regarded as somewhat strange. Why, for instance, did he write so little about the massively influential priest Savonarola who was burnt at the stake for admonishing the Florentines and exhorting them to a more virtuous lifestyle?
 
Why was Machiavelli so fascinated with the opulence of the Medici family, and particularly Giuliano, for whom he wrote The Prince? They were the perfect example of what he was saying: what to do (and what not to do) if you as a prince wish to maintain power. And lose power and gain it back they certainly did – at a price!
 
In 1519 a copy of Machiavelli’s manuscript was sent to Lorenzo, grandson of Lorenzo the Magnificent. Lorenzo received the book with little enthusiasm. It might well be that with Lorenzo’s death in 1519 the prospects of seeing his book published during his lifetime diminished.
 
However, copies of Machiavelli’s manuscript were floating about in Florence at the time of the Austrian occupation under Carl V. Machiavelli returned to Florence only to find that he was not well received. His writing had been interpreted as subversive and dangerous. To ingratiate himself he dedicated the book to Lorenzo de Medici, hoping for a post in the Florentine government.
 
Machiavelli’s untimely death in 1527 followed, and closed a revolutionary chapter in Florentine history. But not in the world of political science, and the question of how to hold on to political power!
 
Machiavelli’s work ranks as one of the leading examples of a treatise to rulers to tell them how to rule. His magnificent work has been used around the Western world to explain business models. 
 
Du Toit’s Afrikaans does justice and pays tribute to a great writer. Du Toit is one himself. He has translated Dante’s Divine Comedy into Afrikaans – a Herculean task, to say the least. Du Toit’s work is in the same league as that of NA Blanckenberg, who translated all of Virgil’s work into Afrikaans.
 
Delamaine du ToitThe insights of Machiavelli are thus brought closer to home by Du Toit’s rendition. If you can read Machiavelli you should, whether you are a prince or not. The intrinsic wisdom of Machiavelli ranks alongside the wisdom of the Chinese Sun Tzu, who is the author of the oldest military treatise in the world. Machiavelli uncovers for us the reason for the Romans' behaving as they did towards their colonies: did the British learn these lessons when they assumed power over their 44 or so colonies in the 19th century?
 
Die Romeine het in die provinsies wat hulle werower het altyd hierdie riglyne noukeurig nagevolg: hulle het kolonies gestig, die swakker magte in die land ondersteun sonder om hul mag to vergroot, die magtiges onderdruk, en nie toegelaat dat magtige vreemdelinge daar aansien verwerf nie.
 
The advice to the new aspirant conqueror of an existing ruler, such as Alexander over Darius (Greek over Persian), is worthy of note, even to modern-day businessmen involved in massive company take-over bids and the take-overs themselves:
 
Maar later, wanneer jy besit wil behou, ontstaan daar baie moelikheid; moelikheid met dié wat jou onderdruk het; en dit help ook nie om die familie van die vors uit te wis nie, want daar is nog die edelmanne wat die leiding in nuwe opstande sal neem, en omdat jy hulle nie tevrede kan stel of kan uitroei nie, sal jy die staat verloor sodra die kans daarvoor hom voordoen.
 
Du Toit and Blanckenberg both received awards in their own countries and in Italy for their work as translators of the classics. They deserve it. One trusts that the current translation, so beautifully rendered, will receive the same honour that it deserves, as it also honours a great writer, Niccoló Machiavelli: Florentine, philosopher, political scientist and above all, one who knew what was going on in the hearts and minds of man and had an undying passion to rule over others.
 
Dr Delamaine du Toit has brought great honour to his language by enriching its literature beyond measure.
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