Leverhulme Research Fellow
Email Maddalena Italia
Sanskrit literature; Greek and Latin literature; erotic literature; Reception Studies and Classical Receptions; Comparative Literature and World Literature; Translation Studies; Book History; History of Indology.
Maddalena is a Research Fellow working on the Leverhulme-funded project “Comparative Classics: Greece, Rome, India”. Before joining this research project, she taught Sanskrit at SOAS – where she completed her PhD in 2018 – and at the British Museum; she also taught Classical Greek and Latin at City Lit in London. She is currently completing a monograph on the modern reception of Sanskrit erotic poetry.
Covering a kaleidoscope of sources that range from 19th-century Latin translations-cum-commentaries to early 20th-century risqué editions in English, Italian and French, her book is the first study to map the modern reception of the three most popular collections of Sanskrit love lyrics – Bilhana’s Fifty Verses of a Thief (Caurapañcāśikā, late 11th-early 12th century), Amaru’s Hundred Verses (Amaruśataka, 7th century?) and Bhartṛhari’s Hundred Verses on Love (Śṛṅgāraśataka, 5th/7th century?). The trajectories followed by the modern translations and pseudo-translations of these collections often intersect, and in so doing create a colourful tapestry populated by Prussian philologists, Victorian readers, and risk-taking publishing houses in the Paris of the Belle Époque, in Roaring-Twenties London and New York, and in early-Fascist Italy. The uninterrupted success enjoyed by translations of Sanskrit erotic verses between 1830 and 1930 – the chronological limits of this book – attests to an interest in the ‘exotic erotic’ that coexisted with an evolving discourse on sexuality and with varying levels of censorship.
One of the key themes that the book explores is the problematic comparison of Sanskrit poetry with its Greek and Latin counterparts. Not only were Sanskrit erotic poems translated into Latin (the lingua franca of positivist philology, but also the language used in popular publications to translate/obfuscate the more graphic passages), they were interpreted and commented upon as if they had been part of the same intertextual field as the Graeco-Roman classics. To the Sanskrit-Graeco-Roman intertextual field were added the literatures of other ‘Eastern/Oriental’ or ‘Asian’ peoples, who provided further repertoires of imagery and tropes that could be compared with the Sanskrit materials. These deeply intertextual comparative exercises often informed translation practices, so that many modern versions of Sanskrit erotic poems bear traces of creative ‘contamination’ with other literary cultures. At the far end of the spectrum of cross-cultural contamination stand ‘faux Sanskrit’ erotic verses that – just like contemporary translations of the Arabian Nights – were more Western in origin than they purported to be.
Edward Powys Mathers (1892–1939) – alias Torquemada, recently a TikTok sensation as the author of the murder mystery puzzle Cain’s Jawbone – is one of the many Orientalist translators that populate Maddalena’s book. His ‘translation’ of the Caurapañcāśikā as “Black Marigolds” (1919) is discussed in Maddalena's paper “Eastern Poetry by Western Poets” (Comparative Critical Studies 17 (2), 2020). The other philologists-translators and poets-translators Maddalena has worked on are: Antoine-Léonard de Chézy (1773–1832), author of the pseudonymously published Anthologie érotique d'Amarou (1831); Peter von Bohlen (1796–1840), editor, translator and commentator of Bhartriharis sententiae et carmen quod Chauri nomine circumfertur eroticum (1833); Hippolyte Fauche (1797–1869), author of the French translations Bhartrihari et Tchaaura, ou la Pantchaçika du second et les Sentences érotiques, morales et ascétiques du premier (1852); Gopinath Purohit (died 1935), author of the Hindi and English translations-cum-commentaries The Nītiśataka, Śriṅgāraśataka and Vairāgyaśataka of Bhartrihari (1896); Edwin Arnold (1832–1904), author of the verse translation The Chaurapanchâsika: An Indian Love-lament (1896); Franz Toussaint (1879-1955), author of the second-hand versions and pseudo-translations contained in L’amour fardé (1913 and 1927); Giuseppe de Lorenzo (1871–1957), author of the Italian translation and commentary Il canto del ladro d’amore: Caurīsuratapañcāśikā (1925); Ugo Ghiron (1876-1952), author of the second-hand translations in Canti d’amore indiani (1930); and Umberto Norsa (1866–1943), author of the translations La centuria [Amaruśataka] (1923) and Le tre centurie di Bhartṛhari (1933).
Journal Articles and Reviews
Italia, M. (2020). “Eastern Poetry by Western Poets: Powys Mathers’ ‘Translations’ of Sanskrit Erotic Lyrics.” In Comparative Critical Studies 17 (2): 205–224.
Italia, M. (2018). “Translation Immoral? Contamination, Hybridity, and Vociferous Silences in Early Twentieth-Century Translations of Sanskrit Erotic Poetry.” In Sanglap: Journal of Literary and Cultural Inquiry 5 (1): 7-21.
Book review of Yigal Bronner, Extreme Poetry: The South Asian Movement of Simultaneous Narration, published in Pandanus ’11: Nature in Literature, Art, Myth and Ritual, Volume 5, Issue 1, 2011, pp. 152-6.
“Eastern Love, Western Beloveds: Sanskrit Heroines in a Frontier Territory”, published in Espacio Fronterizo • Espace–Frontière • Borderland, 1 June 2021. (https://espaciofronterizo.com/borderland/eastern-love-western-beloveds/)
“Untranslatable word: That feeling of living vicariously through fictional lovers”, published in Clove, 12 May 2020.