Anne Le Fèvre Dacier (1647 – 17 August 1720), better known during her lifetime as Madame Dacier, was a French scholar, translator, commentator and editor of the classics, including the Iliad and the Odyssey. She sought to champion ancient literature and used her great capabilities in Latin and Greek for this purpose as well as for her own financial support, producing a series of editions and translations from which she earned her living. She was the dedicatee of Gilles Ménage's Historia mulierum philosopharum, whose characterisation of her and of Anna Maria van Schurman was used to provide leading examples in treatises arguing for female education across the following centuries.
Early life and education
The exact date of her birth is not known and sources differ in their opinions: 1647 is proposed by Frade and Wyles and also Conley in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy; the Encyclopædia Britannica suggests 1654; and the Catholic Encyclopedia 1651. The only known portrait of her, dated 1854, has her death at the age of 68, suggesting 1651–52. Dacier was raised in Saumur, a town in the Loire region of France, and taught both Latin and ancient Greek by her father, Tanneguy Le Fèvre. In 1683 she married one of her father's students, André Dacier (also engaged in classical studies and translations albeit his work is considered by encyclopedia editors to be far inferior to hers).
Classical editions and translations
Her father died in 1672, after which she moved to Paris, carrying with her part of an edition of Callimachus, which she published in 1674. She gained further work through a friend of her father, Pierre-Daniel Huet, then assistant tutor to the Dauphin and responsible for the Ad usum Delphini series of editions (commonly known as the Delphin Classics). He commissioned her to produce editions of: Publius Annius Florus (1674), Dictys Cretensis (1680), Sextus Aurelius Victor (1681) and Eutropius (1683).
In 1681 her prose version of Anacreon and Sappho appeared, and in the next few years, she published prose versions of Terence and some of the plays of Plautus and Aristophanes. In 1684 she and her husband retired to Castres, with the object of devoting themselves to theological studies. In 1685 the Daciers were rewarded with a pension by Louis XIV of France for their conversion to Roman Catholicism.
In 1699 her prose translation of the Iliad appeared, which earned her the esteem in which she is held in French literature. It was followed nine years later by a similar translation of the Odyssey, which Alexander Pope found useful. Dacier in turn published in 1724 remarks on Pope's translation of the former (1715–20), which gained her some fame in England as well.
The Iliad, which made Homer known for the first time to many French men of letters (including Antoine Houdar de la Motte) gave rise to a famous literary controversy. In 1714, La Motte published a poetical version of the Iliad, abridged and altered to suit his own taste, together with a Discours sur Homère, stating the reasons why Homer failed to satisfy his critical taste. Mme. Dacier replied in the same year in her work, Des causes de la corruption du goût (“Of the Causes of the Corruption of Taste”). In defending Homer, Dacier "developed her own philosophical aesthetics. She insists on the centrality of taste as an indicator of the level of civilization, both moral and artistic, within a particular culture."
La Motte carried on the discussion with light gaiety and badinage, and had the happiness of seeing his views supported by the abbé Jean Terrasson, who in 1715 produced two volumes entitled Dissertation critique sur L'Iliade, in which he maintained that science and philosophy, and especially the science and philosophy of René Descartes, had so developed the human mind that the poets of the eighteenth century were immeasurably superior to those of ancient Greece.
In the same year, Claude Buffier published Homère en arbitrage, in which he concluded that both parties were really agreed on the essential point that Homer was one of the greatest geniuses the world had seen, and that, as a whole, no other poem could be preferred to his; and, soon after (on 5 April 1716) in the house of Jean-Baptiste de Valincourt, Mme. Dacier and La Motte met at supper, and drank to the health of Homer.
- Frade, Sofia (2016). "Ménage's Learned Ladies: Anne Dacier (1647-1720) and Anna Maria van Schurman (1607-1678)". In Wyles, Rosie; Hall, Edith (eds.). Women Classical Scholars: Unsealing the Fountain from the Renaissance to Jacqueline de Romilly. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198725206.
- "Ménage's Learned Ladies - Anne Dacier (1647–1720) and Anna Maria van Schurman (1607–1678) - Oxford Scholarship". Oxford Scholarship. 22 November 2017. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198725206.003.0004.
- Jean Delisle (1 January 2002). Portraits de traductrices. University of Ottawa Press. p. 14. ISBN 978-2-7603-0546-5.
- "The Encyclopedia Britannica". Encyclopedia Britannica. 24 November 2017.
- Chisholm 1911.
- One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). . Encyclopædia Britannica. 7 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 727–728. This cites:
- C. A. Sainte-Beuve, Causeries du lundi, vol. ix.
- J. F. Bodin, Recherches historiques sur la ville de Saumur (1812–1814)
- P. J. Burette, Éloge de Mme Dacier (1721)
- Mémoires de Mme de Staël (1755)
- E. Egger, L'Hellénisme en France, ii. (1869)
- Mémoires de Saint-Simon, iii.
- H. Rigault, Histoire de la querelle des anciens et des modernes (1856).
- The Feminist Companion to Literature in English, eds Virginia Blain, Patricia Clements and Isobel Grundy (London: Batsford, 1990), p. 259.
- John J. Conley in Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy Retrieved 5 December 2015. This provides a thorough account of Dacier's thinking.
- Lejay, Paul (1908). Catholic Encyclopedia. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company. . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.).