William Barker, Xenophon’s ‘Cyropædia’

Grogan, Jane (ed.). 2020. William Barker, Xenophon’s ‘Cyropædia’ (Tudor and Stuart Translation 13). Cambridge: Modern Humanities Research Association.

William Barker’s translation of Xenophon’s Cyropaedia is the first substantial translation from Greek directly to English in Tudor England. It presents to its English readers an extraordinarily important text for humanists across Europe: a semi-fictional biography of the ancient Persian emperor, Cyrus the Great, so generically rich that it became (in England as well as Europe) a popular authority and model in the very different fields of educational, political and literary theory, as well as in literature by Sidney, Spenser and others.

This edition, for the first time, identifies its translator as a hitherto overlooked figure from the circle of Sir John Cheke at St John’s College, Cambridge, locus of an important and influential revival of Greek scholarship. A prolific translator from Greek and Italian, Barker was a Catholic, and spent most of his career working as secretary to Thomas Howard, fourth Duke of Norfolk. What little notoriety he eventually gained was as the ‘Italianified Englishman’ who told of Howard’s involvement in the Ridolfi plot. But even here, this edition shows, Barker’s intellectual patronage by Cheke and friends, and their enduring support of him, his translations and the Chekeian agenda, can be discerned.