Introduction to Fortunatus


Brief History of the Text

Fortunatus was first published in Augsburg in 1509 (printed by Johann Otmar, and sold in Johannes Heyblerfs apothecary).  Many sources were integrated to create the text.  These include:


- The Itinerarius of Johannes von Montevilla (John de Mandeville), 1355; translated into German 1480, the oldest extant dated editions having been printed in Augsburg (1481 and 1482).

- The Story of Wlad IV. Drakul (1456-62, 1476 Lord of Wallachia), the oldest extant dated German accounts having been printed in Nuremberg (1488), Bamberg (1491) and Augsburg (1494).

- The Gesta Romanorum, printed in Augsburg in 1473.

- Two accounts of St. Patrickfs Purgatory printed in Augsburg in 1489. The second is called Wije man in sant patricen fegfewer mag kommen.

- Hans Tucher der Ältere, Beschreibung der Reyß ins Heylig Land [1479-80] (Augsburg, 1482).

- Bernhard von Breydenbach, Peregrinationes in terram sanctam (1486); Die heyligen reyssen gen Jherusalem (Mainz, 1486; Augsburg, 1488?).

- Rudolf von Ems, Willehalms von Orlens und Amelies. 13th C; printed in Augsburg, 1491.

- Perhaps the travels of the Bohemian nobleman Leo von Rozmital (1465-67). These can be read in: Malcom Letts (ed.), The Travels of Leo of Rozmital through Germany, Flanders England, France Spain, Portugal and Italy, 1465-67. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1957.


The author is not known; it has been suggested that he may have been Burkhard Zink (1396-1474/5), an Augsburg merchant, councillor, chronicler and traveller.  His Augsburg chronicle covers the years 1368-1468 and comprises four books, of which the third, an autobiography, is considered the best, and he is praised for giving gEinblicke von seltener Eindringlichkeit in die Lebensrealität des SpätMAh (goutstandingly penetrating insights into the reality of life in the late middle agesh)[1]; such insights elevate Fortunatus above its contemporaries, those members of the Volksbuch genre (Die Haimonskinder [The Children of Aymon], Vom gehörnten Siegfried [Horned Siegfried], and so on) in which it is categorised.  However, Zink died too soon.  Fortunatus was released during the Schützenfest in July 1509 – the most important social event of the year in Augsburg – and I see no reason to give the text an earlier date than 1509.  Nor do I see any reason to try to link it with Nürnberg or with a lost original in another language!  The most plausible suggestion to date is that Johannes Heybler was himself the author.


There were numerous editions in Germany in the 16th century, which can be divided into two groups: the Augsburg Group, based on the editio princeps, and the Frankfurt Group, based on the Frankfurt 1549 text.  There were alterations to the editio princeps as early as the second edition (1518), where the epilogue was omitted (which had probably been added by the printer to the first edition), and after the fourth edition (1531) the travel descriptions were considerably shortened.  The texts in the Frankfurt Group show extremely little variance from one another; they rather constitute a simplification, and a Protestant revision, of the Augsburg text.  Whereas the editio princeps was an expensive quarto tome, the Frankfurt texts were sold in octavo and aimed at a lower class of audience.  During the Renaissance, Fortunatus was an extremely popular text, finding translation into Dutch (composed 1552-57, printed 1610), Polish (ca. 1570), Danish (1575), Hungarian (1577-83), Low German (1602), English (1610/2-15; oldest extant edition 1640), French (1615; oldest extant edition 1626), Swedish (164?), Icelandic (1667), Italian (1676), Yiddish (1699) and Czech (early 18th C.).  The absence of a Spanish translation is worthy of note, and it has been suggested that there was a Spanish original; the French translation claimed to be based on a Spanish text.  However, this was merely cultural snobbery and a concession to fashion; we can find the same claims in French translations of the German continuations of Amadis da Gaula in the same age.  The Spanish language enjoyed a prestige in France in the first quarter of the 17th-century that it had not previously known, and which it has not been accorded since; the German language, however, was considered harsh and barbaric.


All of these translations were based on the Frankfurt texts.  The Italian version was based on the French translation (the Rouen 1670 edition), which was composed from the Dutch translation, which took the Frankfurt 1549 edition as its source: there is thus a considerable distance between the Fortunatus of Pompeo Sarnelli and the German edition of 1509.  The English translation of 1610/2-15 refers to several contemporary works, including a manual on civic life (The Mirrour of Policie, 1598), a medical reference book (Jacob Mosanfs A General Practise of Physike, 1598), an Elizabethan Romance (Robert Greenefs Gwydonius, 1584), the Elizabethan Homilies (1547 & 1563), and Thomas Dekkerfs Old Fortunatus (1600); an anonymous adaptation of this translation (the oldest dated one being published in 1682) also incorporates the influence of Dekker, while adding touches from the Faustbook.  Around 1700 an abridged version of Fortunatus was released, and this text continued to be regarded as a chapbook by the majority of those who had actually heard of it for the following three centuries.  Dinah Maria Mulock (The Fairy Book, 1863) and Andrew Lang (The Grey Fairy Book, 1900), produce abridged versions, based on the chapbook, which manage to make this fascinating story appear trite and boring.  It deserves far better.  My translation represents a return to the eoriginalf, and is thus the first accessible complete English version of the eAugsburgf Fortunatus.  (I believe that John Van Cleve had completed a translation by 1996, but I do not think that it has been published.)  There is nothing wrong in the fact of deviation from the original; this can widen the scope, and increase the depth, of a tale, so that the name of the hero acquires mythic resonance; however, the majority of deviations are poorly handled and offer less than they remove.  20th-century German editions of Fortunatus use the editio princeps, for it is the best version; the Frankfurt text deletes much relevant detail and simplifies merely to cater for its new audience, not to improve the text.


The Original

What is the authorfs style?  In contrast to my translations of Hoffmann or Chamisso, I find myself here translating an unknown author who has no recognizable eartisticf style.  His vocabulary is bare, his sentence formation basic, and the impression of the whole is one of roughness and rawness.  He writes in a Bavarian-Swabian dialect.  To the modern German, the language is heavy, difficult, and impeditive; the text needs the renewal of translation.  An excerpt from the German, followed by an eexactf translation, is here given as representative:


Ain land genanntt Cipern / Ist ain inßel und künigreich gegen der sonnen auffgang im moer gelegen / fast [sehr] wunsam / lustig und fruchtbar aller handen edler natürlicher fruechten. manigem wissend / der tzu dem hailigen land Jerusalem gefarn / und im selben künigreich Cipern zugelendt / und da gewesen ist (Hans-Gert Roloff ed., Fortunatus, Stuttgart: Reclam, 1981, p. 5.  My translation was based on this text, the most accessible modern edition of the editio princeps.  One can also find Fortunatus in Jan-Dirk Müller (ed.), Romane des 15. und 16. Jahrhunderts (Frankfurt; Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, 1990); it is handsomely presented, the notes are excellent, and I wish I owned that book!  Unfortunately, I do not possess Fortunatusfs Pursec).


A land named Cyprus / Is an island and kingdom towards the sunrise, set in the sea / very pleasant / enjoyable and fertile in all kinds of noble natural fruits. Known to many / who have travelled to the holy land Jerusalem / and landed in this same Kingdom of Cyprus / and been there.


The authorfs style is not only eroughf; his prose often bears the stamp of the echancelleryf style, for example in the frequent employment of doublets: gDo Cassandra sach und marckth [gWhen Cassandra saw and markedh], gFortunatus gedacht und betrachteth [Fortunatus thought and considered] (Roloff 100, 101), and so on.  His language is at times clumsy and redundant.  When the kinsman of the murdered noblemanfs widow hears that she has found the jewels, he speaks in an unnecessarily verbose style: egso ir meines rats begerent so will ich ratten das mich das best bedunckt unnd ist mein radt daschf [as you desire my advice, I shall advise what I think best, and my advice is thatch] (Roloff, p. 40).  Another phrase that occurs three times in quick succession is gder pfeffer wechßth [gthe pepper growsh] (Roloff, p. 108). Many of these redundancies were ironed out by the Frankfurt reviser.  However, this text may show the German written language to be at a fairly primitive level, but close reading reveals how well Fortunatus is actually written.  It certainly has its flaws and inconsistencies: the Count of the Wood lets Fortunatus go, one feels, purely in the interests of the narrative; Andolosia is not so lucky.  Nevertheless, the author tends to say the right things in the right order at the right time.  His words are rough, but they are powerful, and they bring us close to the experiences he describes.  There is a stark, unaffected, convincing directness about his language; one meaning fills his words.  The impression of reality is heightened by his acute psychological insights, which balance the fantastical elements of the story; we feel as if the author were imagining the thought-process of a person to whom these unrealistic events occurred, and his imagination is made all the more convincing by the fact that he believes in the possibility of what he is depicting.  Thus Fortunatus takes time to be convinced of the efficacy of the Purse (Roloff, pp. 58-9); it works at first, but this means little, for there are many fairy-tales in which magical items are believed to have lost their power by the recipient, when in fact the item has been swapped with an identical, but ordinary, one by a thief (often an innkeeper).  Likewise, Andolosia wishes to hasten back to London from Hibernia, for fear that the magic apples will go rotten (Roloff, p. 154).  The author also has an eye for detail and the ability to capture a character in a few words and actions: the minor characters (the Count of the Wood, Agrippinafs Chief Lady-in-Waiting, the cabinet-makerfs wife, the King of England, the Queen of England, Countess Nemina) come to life, the major characters – Fortunatus, Andolosia and Agrippina – are depicted with great psychological insight, and Ampedo, who is frankly neither major nor minor, is also a complex character.  The interaction of the characters, and their reaction to events (being pursued by a bear, being robbed, being deceived, growing horns on their head), is handled with great skill, and the story provides many memorable moments.  It is a literary cornucopia.


Translating Style

Now, the first task of the translator is to recognise the authorfs style; the second task is to judge it; and the third, and most demanding, task is to decide how to translate it.  Could we replace German prose at an early stage of artistic development with a correspondingly inchoate English?  That would not ring true; the use of such language in this age lacks the stay of authenticity.  The effect on us of the German text depends in part on our knowing that it dates from the early Renaissance.  Pseudo-language is no equivalent.  There are also the not unimportant considerations that I cannot write such language, and the intelligent reader cannot read it; it may be supportable in a short poem, but not in a substantial narrative.  Only by using current language can we create the illusion of the past; we build a clock and turn its hands back, but its components belong to our age.  We cannot write as we read, when the text read dates from a distant age.  This does, of course, give rise to complications, notably the issue of how to define ecurrent languagef, but the point holds.


When an author completes a text, his work is done, but the text is not; every sentence is strewn with the seeds of choice.  To write is to leave more choices than are made, for this act of composition is restricted to one language.  When the eyes of a foreigner pass over the text, then, as if through a magic glass, a host of possibilities and alternatives are revealed.  Some alternatives are more plausible than others; but even the ones that seem least suitable can be accommodated if the translator is consistent – if he exerts greater effort in order to change the context.  A translation can be thought of as a huge and extremely complex flow-chart.  If we once divert the stream from its original course, we must follow the diversion throughout; if we open one lock, we must open all others.


However, we tend to prefer not to move away from our original, choosing instead to pursue the idea of recreation.  Knowing all too well that what has once been said is unrepeatable, we attempt to repeat it; accepting the inevitability of difference, and indeed celebrating that difference, we strive towards identity.  The goal is impossible, but it is not the end that matters, any more than the point of life resides in its termination; of true importance are the results of the experiment.  It is the process – the journey – that is of the essence, and not the destination.


There are two conflicting forces, two opposing loyalties at work: loyalty to the text; and loyalty to the translatorfs language.  These concepts are often taken too literally.  Thus loyalty to the text is construed as being the reproduction of its entire matter, which may involve the preservation of the authorfs mistakes and moments of failed judgement.  But what manner of recreation is eloyalf?  Writing in a style close to the authorfs language and time, or in one lifted from the translatorfs language and age?  Loyalty to the translatorfs language is believed to be found in the usage of accepted forms and phrases, but this is not necessarily the case; the translator who attempts to refresh his language, to open it to new possibilities, or to revive turns of phrases which were dealt premature deaths, is every inch as loyal.  Of course, this must be done sparingly, or his efforts will be viewed as precious or eccentric.  Where language and currency are concerned, the English mind has always been extremely conservative.


To claim that it is necessary to reproduce the effect of the original is not enough.  What is this effect?  And how does the author achieve it?  Do we mean its effect on its original readers, on its present readers, or on all the intervening generations of readers? And will it really have the same effect on all readers of one generation?  A manuscript or printed text allows us to study the passage of preserved thought. However, when we read or translate it, we are changing a written past.  Writers often wish language to be static, so that the reader will contain and keep in the mind that which they have written; at the same time, they celebrate its vivacity, its instability, its perpetual motion.  In the present age, the reader is allotted a more positive and active role; it is acknowledged that his experience of a text is affected by what he brings along to the reading.  As far as ereproducing the effectf of the original is concerned, the arguments are highly unsatisfactory, and too easy to refute.  I could say that I wish to impart to the reader some of the enthusiasm that was generated by my encounter with the text – that same enthusiasm which encouraged me to undertake the translation, and which sustained me throughout the lengthy process.  I would go no farther than that.


To return to the relationship between the style of the translator and of his original.  The translator may reproduce the means employed (in this instance, basic and terse language), but he will be condemned by his audience – with justice – and pronounced guilty of writing with the hand of a child.  They know that they are reading a 21st-century English translation of late 15th-/ early 16th-century dialect German; they do not need to be told this in every sentence.  In order to give them a window on to the linguistic patterns of the original, it suffices to provide a sample, like that given above.  To maintain that style throughout the translation would be to write no language and to place oneself in no time.


Could the translator attempt the other extreme and aim for wordy elegance?  (The talk of eextremesf is not entirely satisfactory, for it suggests that we are pointing the reader towards our proffered esolutionf, when in fact our method is one of several alternatives; however, the human mind does tend to think in threes, forming two extremes and a centre rather than an equilateral triangle).  That would diffuse the concentrated energy of the text, especially where dialogue is concerned.  In Fortunatus, we meet many characters, and although the meeting is usually brief, it is memorable.  They are skilfully drawn with a few bold strokes; words are not wasted on their appearance, but are employed to explain the motivation and reasoning behind their actions.


My attitude towards the style to be employed changed during the process of revision. This translation has been considerably revised: I was 28 when I completed the first version, and it employed far more colloquial language.  Such was the effect that the bluntness, the vigour, the force of the original had on me; such was my way of finding equivalence, of expressing the rawness of the late 15th-century/ early 16th-century German in modern English.  Now I am six years older, and I no longer think that the text is best served with such an approach; and if this style is undertaken, then it should be at the hands of a writer with a better command of colloquial idiom than I can claim to possess.  I have not gone far in the other direction, but I have attempted to avoid that easy, conversational style which can be found in many supposedly literary texts at the present time.  In fact, there were three stages to my translation. The first version was plain, literal, and poor; the second was an elaborative revision; and the third constituted a slight simplification, a restrained movement back towards the original.


This movement towards the original is significant.  When we learn a language, we find that improvement in our grasp of advanced vocabulary and grammar is often accompanied by forgetfulness of the basics.  A similar phenomenon can be observed in the practice of translation: the translator finds himself leaning too heavily on the original text.  Not because he is a novice who is learning his trade – he has years of experience under his pen – but because he has accustomed himself to justifying the authorfs choices, to searching for artistry, to finding (or inventing) reasons why this word here, or this sentence there, is essential to the harmony and entirety of the text.  It may be seen as a crisis of confidence, but that is only part of the truth.  The nature of a revision depends upon the presence, or absence, of the source text: if we have it at hand, then it becomes increasingly influential and persuasive; the strains it strikes enchants us, and we feel that the magic generated by that combination of notes can be recreated only if the combination is preserved.  Only by ignoring the source can we break the spell, and measure our translation against the current motion, and the living and overlooked traditions, of our language.


Some translators like to eride beside the railway linef – in other words, take the quick and easy route. This has happened throughout history, but the emphasis on eaccessibilityf bears greater weight in an age in which languages are being simplified and reduced. Such translations have a role to play; I personally prefer to take the scenic route from A to B, to admire the scenery, to think, and to make the reader think. I have no interest in accessibility or econveniencef, but I do have faith in the intelligence of my audience.


Subduction and the Corridor of Expression

In the act of translation, two languages are brought into contact.  The relationship between them is not equal, for the translator does not, in most cases, have an equal command of both; furthermore, one is in an active state, while the source language remains passive.  This passivity induces creativity, and sparkles with suggestion, but it is passivity nonetheless.  In the context of the collision of the two languages, and of the two minds, the source language and the mind through which it finds expression are subducted under the language and the mind of the translator.  The exchange is reciprocal, in that a wider audience is introduced to the original author and (a nympholeptic desire from which we can never entirely free ourselves) to his language, while in return the foreign language reveals the limitations of the translatorfs mother tongue.  From my perspective, each English phrase is seen to be only a door in a corridor of expression; every time that I encounter a phrase in another language, another light is switched on, and another door is illuminated.  Translators from other nations, working with the same phrase, will enter the same corridor through other doors.


The Patient Denial of the Translator

Translation is a learning process; unfortunately, much of what the translator learns must remain in his mind and await future expression, for the immediate context often does not provide the opportunity to convey this knowledge.  This is particularly so when the knowledge is pertaining to individual words; to attract the readerfs attention away from the ordinary, to make him dwell on an unusual habit of expression, or to show him a familiar habit in a new light, may be our artistic end, but it is one that must be pursued with moderation.  We do not wish to sacrifice the passage to the phrase, or to lose sight of the wood for the trees.


The translator must also resist the temptation to attempt too much; should he wish to say more than the actual translation allows, then he has the ideal instrument in the eTranslatorfs Introductionf.  Translation of a literary text creates a surplus of lexemes, a hoard of ideas that surpass the immediate context.  We unearth more than we can carry home, and all we can do is to preserve the surplus in a safe place for future use; yet we doubt that this opportunity will arrive, and we wonder whether we shall remember the location, or indeed the object of our search.  It is difficult to put ideas to the side; they demand instant attention, for they seem to shine with the glow of inspiration, and even if we do manage to return to them at a later date, we do not believe that it is possible to recover that initial impulse, that first breath of creativity.  The state of mind which gave birth to them, which prepared them for development, is gone, and we find ourselves eating a reheated dish with little relish.  However, we must learn to reject, and accept that practice is necessarily more conservative than theory; and once we have done this, and acknowledged the distance that separates practice from theory, then we are able to make a substantial contribution to our field.  Translatorfs introductions – at least, the more interesting ones – often exceed the translation, containing claims that are not realised, abstract remarks that are not dressed in concrete examples; they are the ideal home for the surplus of language and thought generated by the practice of translation.


Audience and Intent

Ultimately, the questions the translator must ask are: what is my purpose in translating this text?  Who is it for?  And what is my relationship to the present condition of my mother tongue?


The first two questions are easily answered.  I translated Fortunatus because I wanted to, because it made so strong an impression on my mind that I had to attempt to come to terms with this in my mother tongue, and because it is an excellent text, full of incident and rich in character, which needs to be available in a modern edition for those people who love literature but do not know German.  It is many things to many people: it can be read on several levels, as a fairy-tale, a myth, a parable, a travel chronicle, or a socio-historical document; it can be read for its action-filled plot or impressively realistic characters.  So I am translating for those people, but primarily I am translating for myself; this is not a commission, and I am receiving no emolument for my grinding toil.  It is a labour of love.  My ultimate loyalty, as a translator, lies to myself; I have to be true to me.


The last question is more difficult.  Do I want to translate Fortunatus in to plain English – in to that unlovely language, that Anglo-American construct, which presently spans the globe?  Do I want to overlook the difference between written and spoken language?  No.  Written language is the product of time and reflection; spoken language, in our age, is the child of the moment, and it is a thoughtless, unimaginative, badly-behaved and boring child.  I wish to write with considered language, and to put considered speech into the mouths of the characters, without making this speech seem too eprepared.f  If you are instructed in good habits at an early age, then such usage of language requires little effort throughout life; if, like me, you are deprived of instruction into the grammar of your mother tongue because some gibbering imbecile at the head of the educational system decides it is not necessary, you will be faced with a constant struggle to catch up, and careless errors will occur at unguarded moments.  When a text presents no distinguishable style, I shall translate according to my understanding of the ideal English language.  Perhaps eidealf, like eEmpiref, is an unfashionable word nowadays.  I do not care.  The English language and the English sense of humour are the best things about our country; the latter lies in no danger of labefaction, but the former must be handled with care.  There is right, and there is wrong; I prefer prescriptive to descriptive grammars.  Give the child rigid rules; as the individual becomes more mature, he will apply those rules with increased understanding and flexibility.  To encourage laxness in language – to emphasise relativity and the predominance of eintelligibilityf over correctness, as do certain linguisticians – is to encourage laxness in life.  If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well.


The word ecompromisef is often used in discussions of translation, and I came to the conclusion that there is a time to be plain, terse, and forceful, and a time to elaborate.  The authorfs plain speech does not always fulfil a specific function.  In fact, this issue is one that occurs whenever anyone attempts to write literary English: he finds himself swaying in the balance between elegance and force of expression, between Latinate diction and Anglo-Saxon phrasing.  I sometimes feel that writing English is like trying to run with two legs of different length.  Some readers may be thinking that they could have told me this; I may have made the same observation before I began to translate Fortunatus and to study previous translations of the text; but learning often consists of discovering what other people already know.  It is achieved, and consolidated, by understanding; and this understanding is acquired on our own personal journey.


This introduction is mainly theoretical; the introduction to Peter Schlemihl is more illustrative and text-based.  I shall conclude with one or two practical points.  The division into two parts and the chapter headings are my responsibility.  In the original, there are many excellent woodcuts punctuating the text and giving the impression of separation into chapters; and I am not the first continuator to respond to the invitation implicit in the original to divide the text into two parts.  The break is complete; neither Andolosia nor Ampedo says a word until Fortunatus is dead and buried.  Although I have translated the whole text, I very occasionally had to summarise, for the original was needlessly wordy at times.  I shall limit myself to two examples, the first being the account of the jousting prizes awarded at Fortunatusfs wedding festivities (Roloff 94-5).  Three prizes are given for three ranks of society, and the author tells us the worth of each prize, the rank of those competing for that prize, and then a clause along the lines of ewer da das best thet unnd dem der preyß geben wurd / solt das klainat habenf (for the reader who has no German, this is literally: ewho there the best did and to whom the prize given was / should the prize havef).  This is a recognisable tripartite pattern, an old device which conjures images of oral tales, charms, and childrenfs stories; however, it serves no effective function in this particular written narrative.  Furthermore, it is a cumulative effect that builds to a climax; yet this description begins at the (social) top and works its way down.  The second example concerns the travel descriptions.  I give merely one example of the authorfs habit of cataloguing cities and giving their distance from one another:


Von Pariß gen Biana an das moer ist .lxxv. meil. von Biana gen Panplion ist die haubstat des künigs von Naverren. ist xxv. meil / von Panplion auf die lincken seitten gen Sarragossa / ist die haubtstat des küngreichs von Arrogon ist .xxx. meil / von dannen gen Burges und gen dem hailigen Sant Jacob / haißt die stat Compostel. ist lij. meilc (Roloff, p. 63)


From Paris to Bayonne by the sea is 337 miles. from Bayonne to Pamplona is the capital of the King of Navarre. is 112 miles / from Pamplona left to Zaragoza / is the capital of the Kingdom of Arragon is 135 miles / from there to Burgos and to the holy Saint James / the town is called Compostela. is 234 miles c  [emeilf ≈ 4.5 miles]


And the list goes on.  These descriptions are taken from sources such as Hans Tucherfs eBeschreibung der Reyß ins Heylig Landf (eDescription of the Journey to the Holy Landf) 1482, and the successive editions of Fortunatus in 16th-century journey soon saw them condensed or omitted.  At such times the text seems very old and dead, and there is little justification for the reproduction of that lifelessness.  These lists do not impel the narrative or inform the characters; they are simply a sign of their time, and not an especially interesting one.  Everything does not need to be preserved; existence is not in itself so wonderful an entity that it is automatically worthy of an afterlife; I have no interest in the dregs of the past.  Besides, the information these catalogues give, such as the distances between cities around 1500, can easily be found elsewhere.  Another dated feature is the use of doublets; they are simply an affectation which imparts nothing to the narrative, and they are not missed.  The reader of this introduction will know that they are a feature of the authorfs style; that is enough.


If I had to summarise my approach in one clause, then I would claim to have attempted to observe the timing of the author, for his control of time is impressive.  I followed the virgule.




To the Translation


[1] Citation from The Archives of the City of Augsburg, at: